Michele Sirkin
Head of HCP, communications design

When Michele Sirkin relocated from New York to Philadelphia, she exchanged national media work on behalf of organizations such as Microsoft for the supposedly unsexy world of pharma — and found herself far happier for it. Here, the 2023 MM+M Women to Watch honoree opens up about the transition, cross-training colleagues and her “tall energy” on Zoom.

What was it like switching jobs during the pandemic?

It was rewarding, because I got one-on-one time that maybe wouldn’t have happened in person. I didn’t start meeting people in person for a year or two, and every time I met somebody they said, “Oh, I thought you were taller.” I give off tall energy on Zoom.

Almost four years later, what are your pandemic takeaways?

It taught me to slow down. Since I wasn’t able to socialize as much, I picked up lots of new hobbies, I learned to knit. I took some film classes virtually. It was a lesson in flexibility.

When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

I always knew I wanted to go into advertising, maybe because I watched a lot of TV and I loved Who’s the Boss? and Melrose Place. They made advertising look exciting and glamorous, and the women at those agencies were very powerful.

What was your fork-in-the-road moment?

I started my career at McCann in TV buying, which was a perfect fit. But when my husband and I moved to Philadelphia together, I realized that TV buying didn’t really exist here and that all the work was pharma. I felt like I had to start over.

What was your first impression of pharma media?

That it’s a lot sexier than people think. I loved it from the start, learning about the drugs and how they help patients. My friends joke around: Because I worked in so many disease states, they’re like, “Don’t call the doctor, just ask Michele.”

Who helped you out along the way?

I’ve stayed close with my first boss out of school — Steve Feldman, who works on Visa at Publicis. We talk about anything media-related, but I also run one of his fantasy football teams. I’d also like to include that I lost one of my most influential mentors recently when Paulette McCarron passed. She had a big personality and wasn’t afraid to be herself. She used to take requests for baked goods for all our meetings. Just a sweet and lovely person.

What’s your most essential daily item?

Definitely my AirPods. My husband and I live in a condo and we both work from home, and we’re both loud and on calls all day. AirPods give me the ability to get up and move around.

What’s something about you that your colleagues don’t know?

I go to the movies at least once a week and I’m a member of the local film society. Every year I see every movie that’s nominated for an Oscar. If it’s on the ballot, I see it.

What’s something about working at Initiative that people might not realize?

It has a lot of powerhouse clients — Nike, Amazon — and obviously lots of non-pharma people. That gives us an opportunity to learn from the non-pharma accounts and see what we can apply in pharma. I can educate and build excitement and create pathways to cross-train, which is something the industry as a whole needs to do. As somebody who moved into pharma from a completely different place, I’m a case study for that.

When you retire, what do you plan to do?

My husband and I met at Penn State and we love the idea of retiring to State College, Pennsylvania. We could attend football games, audit classes … but we also spent some winters in Florida, and football is during the season you want to be down south. So figure on some combination of the two.