FCB Health CCO Rich Levy Wants Healthcare Advertising To Swing Big

As Chief Creative Officer of FCB Health, Rich Levy is tasked with engaging both the audience in need of clients’ life-changing prescriptions, and fresh new talent coming into the industry.

His agency’s network is often awarded for its novel approach, including talked-about campaigns such as the Spiriva “Elephant” which was named one of the top ten best DTC campaigns of all time.

This year, Levy serves on the 2016 Clio Health jury—we checked in with him ahead of the awards to discuss approaching the industry through an inventive lens.

You originally wanted to be an investigative reporter. How does that mindset inform your work?

First, I’m always looking to simplify. When I started out in my journalistic career, I was always working to a very exact count—headlines could only be a certain number of characters long, so you’re counting every word.

Today, I still use the thought of reductionism in the way that I work; less is more.

The other part is the investigative aspect. Throughout my career, I have very rarely taken direction at face value. I try to look at all different angles of a story to make it interesting for the consumer.

I think that questioning has served me very well in my career, especially when I got to healthcare nine years ago. Healthcare had been done in a very singular way, and there was very prescriptive work in the marketplace.

I came to it saying, shouldn’t we do it a different way? Part of the creative success we have had at the agency has been attributed to questioning everything.

FCB Health is consistently named “most creative agency.” What is at the heart of the agency that sets it apart?

I think it comes from every single person in the agency going in the same direction.

When Dana Maiman, our CEO and president, hired me she said she wanted to improve the product at the agency. It had been very successful, yet she felt the creative could improve.

We had incredibly talented people who were not allowed to take big risks, and part of my job was to make it OK to strike out.

To make a baseball analogy, the greatest home-run hitters are also the ones who strike out the most. The only way to hit big is to swing big, and sometimes when you swing big you miss.

I would rather have a group of people who are always swinging big. My job is to create an environment that makes it OK to try audacious ideas, and to weed out the one that won’t succeed.

Having worked in product categories from cars to shampoo, what have been the challenges of navigating creativity within healthcare’s regulatory environments?

My consumer background has definitely helped. If you ask people here, most would say that we don’t want to be the best healthcare agency—we just want to be the best agency.

We initially think as though we do not work in a regulated environment.

If you think inside the box, you’ll only create work that’s inside the box.

You need to say, what’s the biggest and best way of doing this?

In the seven years I’ve been at FCB and the nine years I’ve been in healthcare, there is not one time the regulatory environment has said we couldn’t do something.

We know where the line is and we try to get as close as possible, but we work within the boundaries. With Spiriva, even when the FDA came back to us initially and said the elephant may be an over-dramatization of the problem, we worked with our client and the FDA so we could do it.

When we worked with Novartis on their multiple sclerosis treatment, we knew it affected women in their 20s, so we had to be on social media to reach them, which was very taboo at the time. Working with Novartis, we came up with a way of doing it that made everyone feel like we were working within the guidelines.

We did that for over a year before the FDA released its social media guidelines — and it was actually less restrictive than what we put on ourselves.

You’ve said that no matter how large healthcare advertising gets, there are still people who don’t know what it is. What are your goals in shaping healthcare-specific marketing curriculum?

It boggles my mind that when I go to colleges and universities, still to this day they are not even thinking of healthcare advertising as a career. They’re getting the impression that it’s not cool.

But when I show them the work they say, “I didn’t know you could do that.”

As an industry we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves. Things like the Clios helps tell the story that if major shows are going to give us an award, the work must be pretty good.

The other thing that helped healthcare right now is that frankly, millennials are really looking for a career where they give can give back to society and humanity, and feel good about what they’re doing. We save people’s lives every day, and that message resonates.

Is a successful ad defined by different parameters within the healthcare industry?

I think that healthcare has an extra layer. Just like everything else it needs to be a great idea, well crafted, executionally excellent, and have incredible results.

On top of that, it needs to be life changing. It needs to change behavior that will have people take action to do something about their health.

It can’t just be creative; it’s got to be creativity that improves lives. 

What would you name as a few of the most successful healthcare ads?

One of my personal favorite campaigns from last year was the “I Touch Myself” [breast cancer awareness] campaign from Australia. It was a great campaign because it was beautifully done and well executed, but my favorite part was the activation—within a couple of weeks half the women in Australia were aware of it.

How has your experience as a CLIO Healthcare juror shaped your perspective?

I think every time you’re on any jury and you’re charged with looking at work from all over the world with different regulatory environments and different taboos, it opens your eyes to the possibilities.

When you start thinking in broader way, universal human truths emerge into timeless ideas.

My time on the Clio jury helps me get a much more global view. I think award shows do wonders for an industry because it gives us all a bar to measure ourselves against every year. Award shows keep us on our toes and never let us get complacent—or maybe that’s just me.

Entries for the 2016 Clio Awards are open. The first deadline for submissions is April 22. For more information, please call 212.683.4300 or visit clioawards.com.