A look back: Q&As with Lester Barnett, C. Marshall Paul, and Steve Girgenti

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From left: C. Marshall Paul, former president of ACNielsen/HCI; Steve Girgenti, founder of Ogilvy Healthworld, and Lester Barnett, founding principal, FCB Health, and Meaghan Onofrey, managing partner at TBWA\WorldHealth.

The Medical Advertising Hall of Fame in October held an event for young staffers called the Young Executives Night Out. Three industry leaders — Lester Barnett, founding principal, FCB Health; C. Marshall Paul, former president of ACNielsen/HCI; and Steve Girgenti, founder of Ogilvy Healthworld — discussed their careers that night and also in here, in more detail.

Q&A with Lester Barnett Q&A with C. Marshall Paul Q&A with Steve Girgenti


Lester Barnett

2004 Hall of Fame inductee and founding principal, FCB Health


What was your biggest career challenge? How did you address it?

When I moved to the West Coast after 10 years in New York pharma agencies, I was met with a completely different way of thinking and working.

First of all, it was healthcare, not pharmaceutical. But more importantly, it was the science of medicine meets the science of communications.

I started working with people who did not learn from being in the agency business. They learned from going to comms scientists in the universities and bringing fresh ideas to the industry. None of the awards I earned mattered. It was a whole new world.

See also: Millennial staffers at agencies seek work-life balance and strong supervisors

Addressing it was difficult, yet ultimately simple. One of my associates pulled me aside one day and said two words to me: “Just listen.” And I did.

My mind opened up. I adopted a different platform of ideas and my creative work could not be done in the same way. My creativity had blossomed in New York, but now it was based on strategic thinking that was just as creative. This was more pertinent to growing the brands I worked on.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting a career in healthcare advertising?

Get to know the business from a broad range of perspectives. Learn about a wide scope of accounts by asking people around you if you can help out when they're in a crisis. And learn about the other agency disciplines by sitting down with key people in other departments and learning just what they do.

Also, learn about a broad range of marketing problems and solutions by volunteering with nonprofit organizations. These are the kinds of experiences that prove to both your bosses and yourself that you have the energy, interest, and knowledge to take on greater roles in the business.

What was the best moment of your career?

When I started to focus on how people feel as much as how they think.

Even before the advent of consumer advertising in our industry, it occurred to me the doctors on focus panels were making far more decisions emotionally than I had ever imagined. And everyone around me in the agency business seemed to only focus on the logic of every decision.

See also: MM&M launches Young Jurists program

So I started to look not only at the brand's unique selling proposition, but also its unique feeling proposition. This became particularly important in crowded marketplaces and then, of course, when the consumer came into the picture.

If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?

I retired at 52. I should have done so at 50. Years earlier I found myself acting in an off-Broadway show, writing a book on the history of American packaging, working hard in agency business, and committing important time to my family. Frankly, something had to give.

What I realized is that as much as I loved the business, the other three gave me deeper personal pleasure. So I set about doing what I could to make retirement real. Did I succeed? Yes, but two years quicker would have been better. It's been 22 years now and every day is another great adventure.  

C. Marshall Paul

2016 Hall of Fame inductee and former president of ACNielsen/HCI


What was the biggest challenge in your career? How did you address it?

It took 20 years to know exactly what I wanted to do. I graduated from college with a degree in economics, which did not prepare me for anything. I always knew I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, but I had no idea how I would get there.

My first job was at a major bank in Philadelphia. I took the position because it was available and because evaluating companies would give me a good business background. While at the bank, I determined I wanted to move ahead in marketing. Pharmaceuticals represented an industry that relied heavily on large marketing departments.

Accordingly, I landed a job at Merck. It gave me the background to take a position at Lea Associates [now QuintilesIMS], where I ran the consulting department.

Read the MM&M eBook: Takeaways from the Young Executives Night Out

I subsequently wound up running a publishing division, for which I was not well-qualified. As a result, I took this opportunity to go out on my own and — with a partner — I took over a bankrupt company, which had a readership study as its greatest asset. On seeing the company's Media-Chek questionnaire containing four-color photos of medical journals, I recognized the same technique could be used to assess the quality of ads contained in the journals.

I finally realized I wanted to become an expert in measuring the effects of journal advertising. I developed services to that end over the next 25 years.

What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting a career like yours?

Become thoroughly involved in each position, embrace change, and look for opportunities to excel at what you do. I am convinced opportunities exist all the time and we fail to recognize them. They should also proactively look for ways to either reduce costs or increase sales.

What was the best moment of your career?

When I was able to prove the causal relationship between advertising budgets and the degree to which they raise product awareness, message retention, first-choice therapy, and resulting sales. Most importantly, it is realistic to ensure successful advertising.

If you could change anything in your career, what would it be?

Nothing. I have been extremely fortunate to be passionate in what I do.



Steve Girgenti

2010 Hall of Fame inductee and founder of Ogilvy Healthworld


What was your biggest career challenge? How did you address it?

It's difficult to say, but the two biggest challenges had to do with my people. One had to do with protecting them from unreasonable and, in some cases, abusive clients. One time we had a situation where the CEO of a company we were doing work for was sexually harassing some of my staff.

When I learned of it I informed my EVP that he had to speak to the CEO and make sure he understood this had to stop and, if it didn't, he would have to find a new agency.

This was at a time back in the early 1990s when we were getting more than a million dollars annually from this client. When I discovered the abuse was still a problem, I terminated our relationship with the company.

See also: The next generation: Q&As with 3 agency staffers

The issue then became about assuring the staff their jobs were not in jeopardy. I personally spoke to each individual to make certain they knew they had jobs. All were reassigned to other clients or to new business initiatives.

The other challenge, which is very big in a growing business, is making sure as you expand your staff to instill in your people the importance to perform smartly and to always remember that, although we are in a service business, they never need to behave in a subservient manner.

I always stressed the importance of knowing as much or more about the assigned product than the client does. We were being paid for our intelligence and executing programs and campaigns in a highly creative way to drive a client's success. We were not being paid based on lunches or theater tickets.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting a career in healthcare advertising?

Work exceptionally hard, cooperate with your colleagues, and establish a strong professional relationship with your clients. And, most of all, admit when you're wrong, but fight for what's right. You must have conviction, otherwise the product you are selling will be badly compromised.

What was the best moment of your career?

Not selling my business to all the companies that were looking to buy us at a big discount.

I knew our business had great value, but certain things had to be done to maximize our value. Instead, I grew the business by using profits to hire good people, and to create new business units to expand our services.

When we became very involved with DTC, I realized it would be important to have a consumer agency to help us grow in that area. We acquired a small, but well-established consumer healthcare agency, which then allowed us to dominate the DTC space with about 12 assignments.

I also set up a cooperative agreement with the leading independent healthcare agency in every major country in the world to give us a true global operation. The best moment came in 1997, when I took my business public. The IPO was a great success in that it allowed me to raise millions to further increase the size of my business. This led to the firm being acquired for $225 million in 2000.

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