Marla Kessler is SVP, strategy, marketing and communications at IQVIA.
What would you do if you didn’t work in healthcare?
I’d probably be doing something with data science. I am such a nerd and love the idea of being able to tell stories with insights from data.
Talk about the last time you experienced a fist-pumping victory moment.
When we were given the charge to reposition the combined entity of Quintiles and IMS Health, it was clear we had to retain the value of two legacy brands with 70-plus years of history while still painting a picture of something truly new and distinctive. My team involved 100 people that tacked everything from a new brand, value proposition work, new visual system, thousands of new assets including websites, offerings, and even a new way to speak about our space – Human Data Science. The fist-pumping moment came when we shared the progress of our efforts six months post-launch to the CEO and board, showing that the trust they placed in us had paid off for our companies, clients, shareholders, partners, and patients.
When was the last time you endured an “agony of defeat” moment? What did you learn from it?
While probably not as bad as agony, I will share a lesson learned during our corporate rebranding. It was a wonderful cross-functional team effort – people and ideas coming together to create an entirely new company. We built excitement for the new name and new positioning among 55,000 employees. After the brand launch, I learned several employees in my own group felt excluded even though we were trying not to distract them from keeping the business-as-usual running smoothly. While they were the foundation that gave rise to the rebranding success, their disconnect made me feel like I had really let them down.
How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
This March, I spent a weekend in Florida with seven women friends I have known for 15 years. We have grown up professionally together and become close friends. It recharged my batteries because they always inspire me with their professional and personal successes but more importantly, because we spent time discussing what we were going to do to help each other. How often do you get to feel supported, brave and humbled at the same time? Not surprisingly, one of the seven women is so accomplished that she, too, is part of the MM&M Hall of Femme, Dawn Halkuff.
What do you find frustrating about working in healthcare marketing?
There is so much to be inspired by in healthcare. I feel exceptionally lucky to work at IQVIA, where we have a unique opportunity to create a vision of how everything could work together to improve human health. But the ideas and issues are so complex that, as a marketer, you’re sometimes forced to focus on one sliver at a time. For example, telling the story of a single patient when really you want to talk about all of humanity. So sometimes in the need to be pragmatic, we don’t get to inspire others to be as inspired as we are.
To ensure pay parity and career advancement for women I will…
Continue mentoring and developing talented women inside and outside my organization and speak up when I see opportunities for improvement.
Words to live by?
To paraphrase Grace Murray Hopper, “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” The most inspirational people in my experience have been brave and bold in their thinking and actions.
What is one thing you would tell young women starting their careers in healthcare marketing?
I introduce all my employees to Harvey Coleman’s PIE model (how success is a composite of one’s performance 10%, image 30%, and exposure 60%). So many women early in their career believe success is based directly on hard work. Quality work is important, but image and exposure are even more so, and we need to look for ways to promote ourselves.
For work, it is chai tea. But between us, I will take most options for getting caffeine in the morning.
What three people, alive or dead, would you like to host at a dinner party and why?
- First, I would invite Queen Elizabeth. I loved how she navigated politics to not only survive without being forced to marry but also to enable England to reclaim its financial and military power.
- My next guest would be Cleopatra. She was an exceptional strategist who was the first Pharaoh to actually learn the language of her people. Her understanding of history, languages and diplomacy kept Egypt from being swallowed up by the Roman Empire.
- My third guest would be Winston Churchill. A fascinating and impressive man in his own right, I would love to hear his thoughts on Brexit.