Cannes Lions Health: 5 Questions With R. John Fidelino


R. John Fidelino / Lions Health / Cannes Lions

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity brings together industry leaders across creative fields globally. Kicking off the festival since 2012, Lions Health is a two-day specialist event that celebrates innovative communications in the healthcare and wellness sector.

With Lions Health awards into a Health & Wellness category and a Pharma section, Lions Health juries are comprised of chief creative officers and industry leaders who come together to judge innovative ideas and campaigns at the intersection of health, creativity and technology.

“Lions Health juries are tasked with recognising and awarding creativity in a highly regulated industry,” stated Louise Benson, Executive Festival Director of Lions Health. “We’re delighted to welcome this year’s juries to do just that.”

R. John Fidelino, Executive Director of Creative at InterbrandHealth, was selected to be a member of the Pharma Jury this year, along with nine other industry leaders.

The InterbrandHealth veteran plays a vital role in the company’s creative output, both verbal and visual. As a global leader in the healthcare industry and an expert in strategy-driven marketing and design, R. John has helped transform the creative standards in the highly-regulated industry of consumer healthcare.

After reviewing more than 600 submissions, the jury agreed on a shortlist, and then continued to evaluate the submissions that were worthy of various medals, including the final Grand Prix awards.

R. John Fidelino / InterbrandHealthWe had the chance to sit down with R. John (right) and ask him about his experiences on the Pharma Jury this year, including the trends he noticed within submissions and his overall impressions of this year’s event.

You’ve been on the Health & Wellness jury for Lions Health in the past, but this was your first year on the Pharma jury. What’s one thing that surprised you about the experience of being a member of the Pharma Jury as opposed to Health & Wellness?

One of the surprising realizations about being on the Pharma jury was how much the language of healthcare needs to be honed, especially in the context of creativity. It became clear to everyone on the jury that it’s not always obvious where certain types of entries fall.

For example, the term “pharma” alone has an inherent potential for excluding other healthcare-giving institutions that also communicate to physicians and patients, so there may be a need to reconsider the of the nature of the pharma jury. After all, if you think about it, health and wellness are states of being, and Pharma is just one institution of many healthcare-giving institutions, so that was a significant challenge for us on the jury—simply to figure out what we mean when we say “pharma.”

Another surprise came with the situational contexts that these entries are being developed for. We realized the circumstances were not just about regulation, but were instead about how people can understand the disease or treatment needs in the context of a healthcare situation or in the context of healthcare-giving.

On the jury, we spent a lot of time honing the differentiation of this category versus the health category, as well as the overall definition of healthcare creativity, which was an exciting thing to grapple with.

Out of the submissions you saw, what was one rising trend in Pharma communications that got you excited?

In this industry, successful communications are no longer about words on a page. I noticed a lot of innovation in how people brought their messages to either healthcare professionals or healthcare consumers. Those innovations took the form of activations, interventions and new innovative products in order to signal to healthcare professionals or consumers what a brand stands for, or change how they think about a certain disease or treatment.

This year, only three out of 25 Pharma awards went to actual Pharma companies. What is something that traditional Pharma companies can do differently to change that?

Number one: submit. Too often, traditional pharmaceutical companies are uncomfortable about submitting their work for creative awards out of fear that it could trivialize their brands. After all, these are significant medical innovations, and they are scared that by promoting and marketing those products, it could potentially make the innovation seem less substantial.

I understand that challenge, but in reality, by having a venerated awards festival dedicated to healthcare, we’re able to advance the industry through better communications, which ultimately helps patients achieve better outcomes.

Companies also need to change their mindset about serving the public. There’s an over-emphasis on the amount of effort these companies undertake to bring a product to market, but in reality, the consumer doesn’t care.

If the mission of your organization is to create medicines that will change peoples’ lives, there’s no need to overly congratulate yourself for doing so. We need to focus on adding value and relating to how the physicians and patients are living their lives, so we can fit into them and show them that we can help them.

With so many changes happening in the health and wellness sector, companies are veering away from traditional marketing campaigns to focus on providing experiences and tools for better living. How can a company use creativity to stand out in their marketing and ad campaigns?

Companies should first be thinking about how they can add value at every step of the journey, so that physicians and patients better appreciate how a specific drug or medicine fits into their treatment arsenal or into the patients’ lives.

Ultimately, companies need to pivot toward the experience. People in the industry need to start thinking more broadly about the exact experience that the healthcare professional or consumer will have when interacting with the company itself or with the company’s products.

At the first Lions Health, you spoke about “coolness” in healthcare. How does coolness factor into pharma? Should it factor into pharma? Has this changed since Lions Health started four years ago?

The premise of the speech is still critical to the success of creativity in healthcare. As communications agencies within healthcare, we need to stop thinking about how to align ourselves with the broader non-healthcare communications. We have to think more around the special circumstances that our work is placed in, and then embrace those circumstances.

I’m concerned that pharma companies, medical devices, diagnostics, hospitals and health systems feel obliged to communicate in a way that consumer agencies would communicate, and given the context of some of these communications, I feel that a consumer approach can sometimes lead to discrediting the message.

As non-traditional healthcare companies come into the industry, we need to ensure that there is an acknowledgement and an appreciation shown for the uniqueness of the circumstances in which these communications are brought forward in order to preserve the credibility of the message and the respect for the people that we’re trying to help.

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