Next up in our 32 Under 32 series is another fabulous found ad professional - Sarah Larcker, Vice President of Account Planning at Digitas Health. Check out her interview and check back tomorrow for another honoree sit down.
Congrats on being chosen as one of the top 32 advertising and marketing professionals under 32.
We selected people who really go above and beyond in their work. How do you think you approach your job differently than other people?
As a Millennial who has grown up in a connected age, understanding the reality that customers have the power and actually "own" brands has been critical. This is the first time that people can respond to marketing en masse, instead of being relegated to a passive role. For brands to remain relevant and successful today, they have to listen and find ways to help and add value, not continue to shout and add to the noise. I keep this in mind with all the work I do, asking myself the question, "how is this helping?" and also remembering than we're communicating with people, not targets. It's all about solving problems to make people's lives better. Because of the immense opportunity for impact, I've focused on the healthcare space so far. But I believe this approach can apply to all good marketing today. So I work hard to understand real unmet needs of people and identify ways to help, which in turn drives sustainable competitive advantage for the brands we represent.
What kind of accounts/projects are you working on these days?
I've spent the better part of a decade working on projects that help people with health conditions find the information they need to make informed, confident decisions. Today, I'm primarily focused on HIV/AIDS, cancer, and vaccines within this broader category. As an Account Planner, my role is to "hang the dart board" – doing the work to identify the area with the most potential for helping customers, and then working with the creative teams to get to the most compelling idea within this range. To do this, I spend a good amount of time on brand strategy, synthesizing inputs including social media, competitive analyses, primary research, search analysis, and market sizing, among others.
What is it about where you currently work that really pushes you to be better?
The people at Digitas Health are intelligent and motivated. Knowing that there's always something new to learn from my colleagues that will make my work better, and in turn help people live healthier lives, motivates me every day. This company is committed to hiring and retaining the best in the business, so we can keep creating ideas that drive effective programs for real people.
In thinking over your career so far, what work had made you the proudest?
Although many Americans believe the HIV/AIDS epidemic is over, the fact is that new HIV infections are actually increasing among young gay men, and especially among young black gay men. A young black gay man in the U.S.today has roughly a 1 in 4 chance of being infected by age 25, despite representing only 1 in 500 Americans. By the time he is 40, these odds increase to approximately 60%. Along with my team, I spent countless hours working to understand the specific concerns, fears, and challenges these men have - the collective barriers that prevent successful management of their HIV and health more broadly. Combined with insight into media consumption habits and preferences (so we can be where they are), we built a program that helps connect people living with HIV, especially young black gay men, with the information they need to successfully take the next step in managing their health. This work has been extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally, in terms of contributing to the goal of ending the epidemic and helping continually underserved people.
I started my career in research and social strategy, and helped negotiate with Facebook to enable my clients to create a meaningful new media presence. I launched the first branded Facebook page from a pharma marketer and also convinced clients to allow open commenting on other pages, even within a highly regulated environment, because that's what people want and expect. This important step was indicative of our success in shifting the mindset,of what can be a very traditional, highly regulated industry,from one-way communication to true engagement.
We hear you've done lots of work for the HIV/AIDS community. Tell us about that.
Did you know that more than 50,000 people are infected with HIV every year in this country? Or that HIV isn't treated with medication cocktails anymore? That some physicians say it's easier to successfully manage HIV compared to diabetes? Or that people with HIV have every chance of living just as long as people without it?
Most people simply aren't aware of how much HIV management has changed since the 80's and 90's, and this misinformation fuels a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding. Identifying ways to address this knowledge gap is core to my workand important to our society in terms of helping people get and stay healthy.
There are countless barriers to 'ending the epidemic,' but also more opportunity than ever before. Medically, we actually have all the tools we need to end HIV/AIDS today - right now. The remaining problems that stand in our way primarily have to do with everything else around the science: stigma fueled by lack of information, policy challenges, poverty, etc. While this category is incredibly complicated and full of debate, the fact that all the necessary tools exist to eliminate the disease is heartening and incredibly motivating.
We are dedicated to this category both on behalf of our clients and from a corporate responsibility perspective, and partnered with a local AIDS service organization,to create a new online platform to better serve their clients.
Here’s a ridiculously clichéd interview question for you: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Leading brand strategy for visionary clients who believe lasting value comes from helping people and solving problems. I look forward to being supported by a team of smart, talented Planners and Strategists who I've helped select, mentor, and grow, and by colleagues who are equally as committed to making peoples' lives better. Preferably near a beach.
This might be tough, but here’s your chance to give a shout out to one person who has helped you get to where you are today. Go.
I refuse to only pick one! Professionally, I have to give a shout out to Steve Schiller and Sue Manber in our New York office, and Cara Levinson in Philadelphia, who saw potential in a young, confused social media lead and helped me truly understand the role and potential of Account Planning. They keep pushing me to do better work every day. Personally, I'm giving a shout out to my hubby and parents, because of their unwavering belief that I'll do something great with my career. Working on it!