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London International Awards chats to Debra Polkes, 2019 Health & Wellness Jury President

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As we gear up for Health & Wellness judging in Las Vegas, LIA spent a few minutes with Debra discussing Healthcare advertising and the agencies that create it.

LIA: I don’t feel well. What’s wrong with me? Consumers seem to be using Google as a diagnostician. How are health agencies dealing with this?

Agencies are finding creative ways to be part of the rise of Dr. Google. A great example was the Downs Syndrome Answers campaign from a few years ago that served up videos of children with Downs syndrome answering the questions posed by parents who have been told they are carrying a baby that potentially had Downs Syndrome. It was a very powerful use of the channel and proof that every obstacle offers up new and unexpected opportunities.

LIA: The health category seems to be doing some of the most adventurous and exciting work. Why is that?

It could be that healthcare is where so many technologic advancements are happening. At SXSW and CES, the healthcare sector is beginning to dominate the conversation and the innovations. The human stakes are so high and so meaningful – technology is offering up new advancements to help – from robots that care for the elderly to devices that allow blind people receive text messages and read books on mobile devices. Additionally, new partnerships are being formed every day between healthcare companies, tech companies and consumer products that inspire the adventurous in all of us.

LIA: Are agencies giving their health divisions enough credit or attention?

In the past I would have said ‘no’, they were treated as the redheaded stepchild of advertising. But now everyone is getting in on the healthcare game and are capitalizing on it. I see so many companies turning their attention to becoming part of the healthcare conversation, from IKEA and the “Thisables” initiative to Google’s “Creatability” – both of which address the issue of accessibility. If there can be a connection to health and wellness – brands want to find it.  One giant bell weather of this trend is Apple declaring that their legacy will be as a healthcare company, not a technology company. That’s a big statement that people are taking notice of. All this leads to more and more healthcare business opportunities for agencies to go after so they better pay attention! As far as agency life and attracting talent, it’s never been easier – even the cool kids want to be part of the healthcare craze. I think it’s a function of our times where everyone is struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives and in their work and they find more satisfaction creating work that touches lives in a more positive way than breakfast cereal and soft drinks.

LIA: We are seeing that some of the major networks are folding the Health agencies into the consumer agencies. Do you see this trend continuing? Do you see that more independent health agencies will start up?

I think yes to both. The healthcare industry continues to grow and thrive in new and different ways which are requiring new and different skillsets and expertise. Agencies are seeing an advantage to having the best of both worlds folded into one offering – the consumer creative experience with the deep knowledge of healthcare and pharma. On the flipside, the siren call of opportunity- both financially and creatively – for small, independent shops to make their way into healthcare with specialized offerings and different ways of working.

LIA: Tell us why you think LIA has become one of the top international award shows?

LIA has a reputation for being one of the toughest creative awards to win. With that comes prestige and a desire on the part of the creative community to get their hands on one. We all want to be part of a club that no one will have us in!

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