Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Leadership Is about Creating Change That Everybody Believes In

Advertising Agency
London, UK
WPP Health Practice's Claire Gillis on why there’s no better purpose than improving health

If marketing is all about changing behaviours, there are few areas where it matters more than it does in health. Whether we’re at home or at work, our health is everything – and communications play a vital role in helping us maintain it. Yet the ability of great marketing to inspire change in health has sometimes flown beneath the radar. This month, Women in Marketing handed out its first-ever award for marketing leadership in ‘creating a change in health and wellness’. Its inaugural winner, Claire Gillis, international CEO at WPP Health Practice, has made a career out of fighting for – and delivering – health transformation, leading campaigns that have changed the way people act in the management and prevention of disease. Along the way, she’s also championed organisational change in the promotion of workplace wellness. Here, Claire talks about her win, her views on modern-day leadership and the importance of marketing in health.

Q> How does it feel to be the first winner of a Global Women in Marketing award for creating a change in health and wellness?

Claire> It’s a proud moment, though it does feel a little odd (not to mention misleading) to be the first! It’s great that creativity in health communications is finally being recognised on the wider stage, because when it comes to creating changes that can enhance and save lives, marketing is so important. It’s a privilege to work in a sector where the ultimate rewards are human and real.

On a personal level, recognition is always incredibly satisfying; I’ve spent my whole career trying to help improve healthcare. But I’m not the only one. So the award isn’t just for me – it’s for my colleagues all over the world and for the health comms industry in general. There’s a long history of leaders throughout our industry who have changed the way that healthcare is delivered, improving quality of life for people everywhere. Tomorrow’s leaders will do exactly the same.

Q> What are the key qualities of a leader today?

Claire> ‘Purpose’ is, of course, the must-have quality – and there’s few greater purposes than improving health. But ‘authenticity’ is equally important; to lead, you have to be ‘you’ and unashamedly ‘you’. I’m still driven by the same passion and purpose that fired me up from an early age: removing the inequalities that riddle global healthcare. That goal is the hallmark of everything I do.

But you cannot do it alone – leadership is a team sport. Today’s leaders aren’t autocratic, they’re inclusive and collaborative. They listen to – and learn from – anyone and everyone. That’s particularly important in marketing, where we all know the customer is king. Marketing leaders have got ‘customers’ everywhere, inside and outside their organisation. Authenticity comes from hearing and understanding every one. Every voice matters.

Another important quality is ‘vulnerability’. No-one is good at everything, so acknowledging your weaknesses – and building teams around you that fill in the gaps – is the only way to win.

Fundamentally, leadership is about creating change that everybody believes in. In health, we’re lucky: it’s easy for everyone to share the same goal.

Q> How can leaders promote wellness in the workplace?

Claire> Make no mistake, workplace wellness is a top priority. We spend a third of our life at work, so companies have a responsibility to create cultures and environments that support staff wellbeing. It’s not easy; in the UK alone, a third of adults have experienced mental health problems at work. Paying lip service to the issue won’t wash; employers need to know we care. Leaders must therefore be brave, innovative and authentic. In my own organisation, we’ve created a ‘living laboratory’ to test, develop and establish evidence-based initiatives for workplace wellness. We’re reinforcing it with wearable tech that monitors the baseline markers of stress and anxiety, and allows us to see how our environment is affecting workers’ mental wellbeing. We’re then taking that real-world data – anonymised and aggregated – and combining it with behavioural science and our expertise in health communications to develop mental health support at scale. It’s a total approach to wellness in the workplace; authentic, inclusive and united in purpose. These are key ingredients of creating change in health.