Susan Flinn Cobian

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EVP and managing director | HYC Health


What would you do if you didn't work in healthcare?

I love to entertain and approach every event with the aim of knocking my guests' socks off. If you don't, it isn't worth the effort. To the delight of our staff, this passion often spills over into the office. If I could get paid to throw parties, that would be the best job in the world.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.

This past year I stepped out of my comfort zone – getting new business through my Rolodex – and challenged our agency to come up with a head-turning multi-media campaign to raise our visibility, not only in Chicago, but throughout the industry.

We nailed it. Our strategy was based on reducing the distance from engagement to outcome, a frustration many healthcare brands have. We answered with a campaign called, “We Get It. We Get It Done.” Within four months, we turned two leads from this effort into $2.5 million in business.

When was the last time you endured an “agony of defeat” moment? What did you learn from it?

I didn't win a piece of business I sorely wanted. Instead of licking my wounds and moving on, I doubled back. I kept in touch with the team – sending articles, competitive intelligence, and other thought-leadership initiative ideas. I even flew to Zurich on my own dime for a one-hour meeting with the new leader of the business unit whom I had never met. There, the client mentioned they were unhappy with the agency they had chosen and she was worried about how she was going to meet a crucial milestone – facilitating a two-day workshop for the entire women's health core team. I offered up my services on the spot, flew to Montreal the next day, ran that workshop for 25 key stakeholders, and was handed the business on the spot.

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?

Mostly, my batteries are charged by the work I do every day. I feed off of my team's energy.

Recently, my “rest” has been spent renovating my great-grandmother's 100-year-old house in Michigan. The last “traditional” vacation I took? A classic: Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, where I spent seven amazing days hiking, swimming, spinning, and just generally being pampered. Thinking about those morning yoga classes and nightly massages make me think it's about time to schedule a return visit. And did I mention they have a “no cell phone” policy? It was truly heaven.

What do you find frustrating about working in healthcare marketing? 

Too many decisions are made out of fear – fear of making a mistake or fear of being wrong. The healthcare marketing world has become too politically correct and, as a result, many people are afraid to speak up or challenge conventional thinking. Being innovative means being disruptive, even if it makes people feel a little uncomfortable. The only way to truly innovate is to try something new and different, something that's never been done before, or that's been done before in a different way. Shouldn't we be applauding that way of thinking? Shouldn't we encourage everyone to look at innovation the way we look at creativity–that it's everyone's job? I think so.

What are your words to live by?

Go heavy or go home. I'm the squeaky wheel in our company. I'm constantly challenging the status quo and chirping about never settling for “good enough.” I read everything, from industry journals to The Skimm to People magazine, passing along ideas and thoughts on a daily basis. Some people love my enthusiasm for demanding an innovative culture, although I suspect others wish I would just stop talking.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?

To always trust your instincts. More often than not, my gut is right, but many people second-guess themselves out of fear. I have learned it is better to be “roughly right” than 100% wrong. 

What is one thing you would tell women starting their careers in healthcare marketing?

Get it done. Concentrate on performance, not office politics. You can control the former and not the latter. Focus on what you have the power to achieve.

Favorite drink? Moscow Mule.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say as you enter? Hello, gorgeous.


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