Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness's Kathy Delaney on Innovation, Craft and Puppies

And why the best work comes when you have nothing to lose

As chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and Publicis Health, Kathy Delaney's bold creative vision has helped make SSW an award-winning powerhouse in health and wellness marketing and innovation. Previously, Kathy spent 14 years at Deutsch, where she helped it grow from a small boutique agency into a world-class communications giant.

From consumer-packaged goods to fashion, from hospitality to pharmaceuticals, Kathy's passion for creating and overseeing integrated campaigns that outperform business objectives has impacted clients such as Ikea, Bank of America, J&J, LensCrafters, Reebok, GNC, Pfizer, Revlon, Almay, Kraft, Unilever and Tommy Hilfiger. Kathy also is passionate about an array of causes and has led pro-bono campaigns benefiting the American Heart Association, Clinton Foundation, Malaria No More organization, Crossroads Communities Shelters, and National Alliance on Mental Illness, among others.

We spoke with Kathy for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.

Kathy, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in the Bronx, a humble but magical place where my Irish grandmother taught me how to tell fantastical stories and dream big. I currently live in New York City's East Village with my husband, Steven, and our French bulldog puppy, Mia. I keep meaning to create Mia's own Instagram account. Until then my social circle will have to go through the puppy journey via my own Instagram.

How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.

Like many people working in advertising, I didn't give healthcare marketing much thought before getting real exposure to the category. I had built my career working on consumer brands like Ikea, Snapple, Reebok and Revlon. At the time, I was working at Deutsch, which was a leader in general market, consumer brand advertising. We had the opportunity to pitch Pfizer's Zoloft, one of the first SSRIs for depression, and we approached the pitch as an outsider, challenger agency with nothing to lose—and we won the business. Not long after, Zoloft became the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication in the U.S., and my eyes were forever opened to the power and possibility of healthcare marketing to positively impact the lives of real people, and I was hooked.

Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.

Healthcare is one of those things that people often avoid or don't want to think about until it's absolutely necessary—or until it's too late. People don't want to be sick or unwell, but oftentimes their first interaction with the healthcare system is during a time of crisis. Navigating a complex and often unequal system like healthcare is challenging for even the most informed consumer.

That's why communication and trust are so important. There's a common misconception that healthcare advertising is simply pharma commercials with lots of fair balance gibberish dumped into the middle of the ad. But the reality is, when done right, healthcare work has the power to give people control of their health and well-being—and save lives.

A recent project you're proud of. 

I'm especially proud of the work that Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness created with Israel-based Tikkun Olam Makers to design the world's first sustainable, open-source Prescription Paper Pill Bottle. Each year, millions of plastic prescription pill bottles needlessly end up in landfills, and the Prescription Paper Pill Bottle provides a meaningful solution to a historically intractable problem. I love this project because it was more than simply about selling a product; it was designed to engage the healthcare industry in a broader, much-needed conversation about sustainability.

Prescription Paper Pill Bottle
Someone else's project in healthcare that you were impressed by recently. 

Few projects have impressed and moved me as much as Sick Beats, created by Area 23 and Woojer. Children with cystic fibrosis need to use airway clearance vests to help break up the mucus in their lungs, a process that can be uncomfortable and distressing—especially for kids. The Area 23 team and Woojer created a new vest that connects to Spotify playlists that the kids can curate themselves and vibrates at the appropriate frequency to break up mucus in CF kids' lungs. It turned an inherently "uncool" experience into one of play and joy. It's such an insightful and compassionate innovation, and demonstrates a level of craft and humanity that I'd like to see more of in our industry.

Woojer | Sick Beats
A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.

For many healthcare brands and the agencies that work with them, the biggest challenge today is ensuring greater acumen and cultural competency when it comes to recognizing and understanding the needs of increasingly diverse patient groups. For people who are suffering the most and who may not be the most visible, knowing how to reach and serve them—whether that's through greater diversity in clinical trials and better engagement through creativity and data—is essential and the most important challenge our industry needs to address now.

One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you're excited about.

We are starting to see a lot more innovation in healthcare. Innovations that speak to personal needs that we understand better now through more sophisticated ways of capturing and interpreting data, or through cultural insights that we know can shift behaviors. Sick Beats and Prescription Paper Pill Bottle are great examples of that—ideas that move the industry forward because they acknowledge that the way things were yesterday need to be challenged and vastly improved upon. More than any other industry, innovation matters the most in healthcare. And I'm excited to see more and more of the industry stepping up. We need to keep going. 

How healthcare can attract more creative talent.

It's a bit of a cliché, but I think it's true: What often attracts creative talent to healthcare marketing is the opportunity to do more than just sell stuff. People who are drawn to purpose-driven work may choose health over other categories because they recognize a higher order mission in their work.

When creatives ask me if they should work in healthcare, I will ask them right back, "What do you want your creativity to do in the world? To simply sell things? Or make a greater impact?" If their answer is to sell things, there are lots of other categories they can work in. But if it's about something bigger, a desire to make a difference or help to make the world just a little bit better, then I think healthcare is the place to do it.

At Publicis Health, we like to say that engagement is medicine. There's something incredibly inspiring and powerful about thinking of the engagement we create through our ideas as essential to every individual person's health outcome.

What you would be doing if you weren't in healthcare marketing.

If I wasn't working in advertising generally, or healthcare marketing specifically, I would definitely be doing something expressive of the human spirit. Either working as a painter or photographer. Whatever the profession, I'd want to stay connected to the arts and creativity and humanity. Or I would be a veterinarian or full-time stay-at-home mom to multiple dogs. With painting and photography as my side hustles. 

Checkup is our new weekly Muse series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with leaders in healthcare marketing. To learn more about Checkup or our Clio Health program, please get in touch.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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