Tara Powers is the creative director of Philadelphia-based Elevate Healthcare, which recently won the professional print campaign category at the MM&M Awards for its Synera ‘Stop the Sting’ campaign. During her more than 24 years of work in healthcare marketing — with stops at Dudnyk and Xavier Creative House, Tara has created award-winning brand campaigns for Fortune 500 firms such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Novartis as well as specialty biopharmaceutical companies like AMAG, Galen, Grifols and Medexus Pharma. She has BFA in communication design from Kutztown University, and recently took the time to answer a few of Chops’ nosy questions.
So, what do you do all day?
What don’t I do? Meetings. Seems like I’m attending lots of meetings. But other than that, I am designing. Concepting. Strategizing. Creating. Helping clients understand the value of producing aggressive creative work. Making the logo bigger. Having fun. Putting out fires. Talking too loud. Inspiring teams to create better work. Doing the supermom thing, or at least trying. It’s chock-full. And that’s like, a Monday.
How would you describe life as a creative to someone who’s not familiar with your job?
I get to work with amazing people every day. I get to brainstorm ideas that push the envelope creatively and express the brand strategy in a bold, unique way. And then I get to share those ideas with our clients and eventually produce them for multiple media platforms. And, you know, there are those meetings.
Did you ever think you’d be doing this? If not, what did you think you’d do?
My goal was always to work as an artist and creative person, but pharma advertising wasn’t part of the picture early on. I thought maybe I could end up doing some Pepsi, Budweiser or GoDaddy Super Bowl commercial type of work. Falling in with this whole pharma crowd happened later, and I loved it, but I have known since tenth grade that I wanted to work in advertising as an art director.
What can you point to in your past and your education that prepared you for this career?
That’s the thing — back then there weren’t any programs that prepared creative people for pharma. I graduated from Kutztown University with a BFA and specialization in communication design and happened to land an interview at an agency that did healthcare work, but work like nothing I had ever seen in that category. They were pushing the boundaries, and I wanted in. I had no idea what pharma marketing was or how specialized it was and was blessed to have two amazing bosses and mentors, Barry Schmader and Carleen Niemiec, who helped me learn and grow in this business. I’m lucky to have come full circle in my career and am now back working with Barry at Elevate.
Any quirks in your career path? Odd jobs? Bad jobs? Cool jobs?
From the perspective of an average person, everything we do is a bit odd. But let’s talk bad jobs. I started my own “small boutique marketing shop” when I was between agencies at one point in my career. I thought the freedom of working for myself and being my own boss would be liberating. Boy, was I wrong. I learned that I am truly a “creative” at heart and that the rest of the stuff it takes to run a business is…well…life-sucking and dare I say a bit soul-wrenching.
What’s the ideal office set up for you to do your best work? Quiet? Music, and if so, what? Open work space or closed door? Home or office?
Definitely open door. I prefer face-to-face conversations over email. I work both in the office and have the flexibility to work from home, but I prefer to be in the office because I think good work — better work — gets done when you’re having those conversations with your teammates, hashing out ideas and having open communication. I love my standing desk and try to listen to podcasts when I’m working. I usually have a stream of people coming in and out of my office, so I never really get through any of the interviews while I’m at work, but that’s okay. It’s just a soundtrack I use to get into an alpha state to create.
Name five things that help you do your job better.
- Paul Wesemann
- Clients that want to do creative, differentiating work
Ripped jeans, black top, big hair.
What piece of work/project/campaign/creation are you most proud of?
As far as recent work, that’s an easy one! Our Synera ‘Stop the Sting’ campaign that shows a bad-ass scorpion syringe just won gold for Professional Print Campaign at the MM&M Awards. It’s so satisfying to push the limits, have it work for a client like gangbusters out in the real world, and on top of that get recognition for its boldness and visual aggressiveness. Brand nirvana.
What’s your favorite color right now?
Black/red or red/black.
Which individual has had the most influence on you as a creative?
That would have to be Frank X. Powers, founder of Elevate. Most everyone in this industry knows, respects and loves him. Frank is a thought leader in pharmaceutical marketing and accomplishes any career goal he sets his sights on. Oh, and by the way, I’m also lucky enough to be married to this amazing man. While we try not to make our home life circle around work, he has always taught me so much and continues to help guide, support and push me to produce amazing creative work. I truly don’t know what I’d do without him both professionally and in life as a whole.
Do you create on your own time? If so, what do you do and why?
I try. But unfortunately, there is hardly any free time between being a creative director at a hot shop that is growing by leaps and bounds and also being a mom and stepmom to three amazing teenage girls. And right now, any free time I have feels like it’s spent being the chauffeur who gets them where they need to be, which is seemingly everywhere at once. Maybe that will change once they start driving next year (which scares the crap out of me). But creatively, I am lucky to be doing what I love, and it’s really satisfying to be able to do what I do at work.
Name a single piece of work, in any medium, that gives you the greatest pleasure.
I love to laugh, so campaigns that are cleverly funny and make me laugh, like the Geico camel commercial “Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike…” “You know what day it is.” That goofy shit cracks me up. Or the Durex condom balloon animals — come on — you know you loved that campaign too!
Name a single piece of work, in any medium, that leaves you thinking, I wish I had done that.
It’s really hard to narrow it down to one because there is so much great work in our industry. I’m personally drawn to aggressive, bold creative with killer CGI art. The Kalbitor “Where Will HAE Attack Next” campaign with the hands around the throat is very striking. Also, the “Battle in the Bone” Bayer awareness campaign by Area 23 is a CGI masterpiece. Love it.
Name a single work, in any medium, that leaves you wondering, How the hell did they do that?
Like I said, I’m drawn to in-your-face creative work that really breaks the mold and stands out. The “Silence Sucks” campaign by Concentric for PPD. Simple. Bold. Impactful. Beautifully done copy, art, strategy. How did they get the client to agree? Being in this industry, we all know how highly conservative and regulated the marketing can be. It can sometimes seem like an impossible task to get the clients to see the beauty in a bold, impactful idea.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Shark cage diving in South Africa, shopping in Paris, sunbathing in Greece, dining in Italy, drinking in Ireland…you get the idea.
How do you recharge?
I love listening to top podcasts, like Joe Rogan Experience. I also enjoy sauna therapy. I excel at therapeutic shopping. Recharging often involves lots of wine as well.
What’s your happy place?
Home with my family.
Pastel or oil? Neither. Adobe Creative Suite
Sound or vision? I’m all about the visuals
Strings or horns? I’m all about that bass
Clear or cluttered? I think I may have a touch of OCD
Morning or night? The early bird gets the worm
Design school or liberal arts? Kutztown University, BFA