Making it Personal

August 30,2018

Our Phoenix Office’s Head of Creative, Craig Mattes, wrote the piece below for Med Ad News’ August Issue. See the the entire issue and Craig’s piece here.

Making it Personal

Things were good. I was an associate creative director, feverishly working on one of my all-time favorite product launches. My group was involved in bringing an allergy relief eye drop into a crowded marketplace of once-a-day itch relievers, which meant that everything we did had to stand out. The brand was funky and quirky and the creative followed suit.

We were given the freedom to use language and artwork that’s often forbidden to pharma brand – and I was loving every second of it.

On top of that, we had a team of rock stars on both the account and creative side. Our days were spent laughing – and sometimes cursing – as we bonded over exciting deliverables and insane timelines.

Then Everything Changed

On a typically sunny Southern California day, I returned back to my desk after a meeting to find four missed phone calls from my father. My dad is apt to call multiple times on a good day so I didn’t think much of it, until I listened to his voicemail. Before he finished the word “hello,” my heart sank. I knew something bad had happened and I had an unbearable dread as I called him back. He told me that my mom had been diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. As a creative in the field of healthcare I often play the role of doctor in my head. I can’t remember ever working on a condition that I didn’t at some point think I had, including low estrogen. My baseline knowledge of ovarian cancer gave me a good idea of what this phone call meant. You can work in heart failure, oncology, rare disease or any other category with a poor prognosis, but nothing prepares you for the moment that it afflicts your own family. I hung up the phone and knew my life was about to change.

An Industry Family

I learned very quickly that my mom’s cancer diagnosis was going to affect more than my personal life. I was now balancing my professional ambition with the needs of my family. To make things more complicated, living and working on the West Coast while my mom was in Pennsylvania left me with a critical question on almost a monthly basis: “Do I need to fly home?” Trying to decide when to go back to my family was something I toiled over. In the end, I did what I could and hoped it was enough (I still do).

Working in the healthcare field meant that my work would affect my mom and her battle would affect my career. My dad has a storied career in the pharmaceutical industry as an executive who made meaningful contributions to the lives of patients with cancer and HIV, among other diseases. When he and I walked with my mom into Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA., she was accompanied by more than 40 years of combined experience in the healthcare industry.

The question that struck me was, “What if she didn’t have us?” If she wasn’t in a healthcare savvy family, how would she grapple with the decisions ahead of her? What information would we get about the treatment options available? Would she know to inquire about potential clinical trials?

Whenever I’d accompany her to visits to Fox Chase I’d make an effort to look at the patient-facing materials available to those entering the facility. It helped ease the tension to play creative director and think about what I would have said about the logo or conceptual idea on the brochure. It also made me realize that the words and images being presented had true power to affect someone at a potentially desperate time in their lives. When it’s a loved one going through desperate times, you realize just how powerful the worlds and images in a brochure can be.

A New Kind of Passion

I’ve always enjoyed what I do for a living, but that first week at the oncology center clued me into something deeper. What we do is important. As the professionals who create communications from the pharmaceutical industry to patients and healthcare professionals, it is our job to translate the benefits and risks of treatment options to our audience, ultimately helping them make better decisions.

Creative team members are tasked with ensuring that pharmaceutical brands are backed by a memorable message that allows them to cut through the clutter. I began to view my job as so much more than creating unique sales materials and patient information. I truly believe that we play a key role in the treatment decision process by giving brands the voices they deserve.

What if somebody in my family needed this treatment? That’s the question I ask myself before I start any new project. It’s allowed me to bring a new perspective to everything I do as a creative director at Fingerpaint Marketing. Fingerpaint has a definitive “people first” mission statement, which as I interpret it, is directly in line with my belief that we can impact people’s lives through creativity and clarity in communication.

My mom battled ovarian cancer for four long years. Her journey redefined what I wanted to be as a husband, a parent, and a professional. Considering I can toil for days (and nights) over finalizing a headline for an internal sales communication, I’m not cut out to be a physician. I do, however, feel that I have a responsibility to use the talent I have to contribute to the world of healthcare by giving great brands a voice. I can thank my mom for so many things. Now, one of them is the fire she instilled in me to do great things for the pharmaceutical industry. That’s why at Fingerpaint, I “make it personal” every single day. So, I’d ask this of my creative colleagues – join me in taking our profession personally, in getting the word out about our clients’ innovations and, ultimately, in getting people the information they need to care for themselves.

Back to all Stories