There’s a phrase all too often used within this industry to describe the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (MAHF). And incoming MAHF chairperson Scott Cotherman finds it so offensive he can barely utter the words. (It’s Old Boys Club, by the way.) Sadly, many more industry folks probably have no opinion at all because they are either unaware of the organization’s existence or assume it is of little relevance to them. That’s about to change.
First, there’s something you should know about MAHF. It’s hugely relevant to everyone connected with this industry. It’s the only organization that documents, publishes and preserves the history of this industry. It’s a rich educational resource with a mentor network second to none. And it’s run by industry leaders with a passion and commitment that belies their strained schedules. The bottom line: if it wasn’t for MAHF, the history of the industry—both the past and the future—would be lost forever.
MAHF has reached a watershed. With most of the industry’s pioneers and founding fathers now inducted into its hall, MAHF must widen its net and recruit a new generation of passionate members who can identify today’s influencers and continue to advance the organization’s mission. In short, to preserve the history of medical advertising, to honor those who have made the biggest contributions and to use this knowledge and understanding to advance present-day industry.
“We’re really at the next phase,” says Cotherman, whose day job is chairman and CEO of Corbett Accel Healthcare Group. “We have to look within other areas of the industry to find that next level of high-impact players that may have actually been below the radar screen of anybody who was previously involved with the executive committee and the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.”
Cotherman, who officially takes the reins from outgoing chairman Tom Domanico next month, notes that as the industry has grown and become more complex and diverse, so have the people who have made an impact. “It’s important in turn that we broaden the opportunity for participation in our organization and make sure that nobody is overlooked,” he says.
Key to achieving this goal is an ongoing reorganization which will pave the way for an expanded membership and help the committee “to get things done.”
Essentially, MAHF is creating six specialty working groups, or standing committees, assigned to specific tasks. “Instead of the executive committee trying to do everything by themselves, we’re creating some division of labor,” says Cotherman.
And to fill those extra committee places, MAHF is planning a campaign to reach out to agency leaders. “Not just the top-tier agencies—not top 10, not top15, not top 20—but to reach deep down,” he says.
Cotherman is also aware that the gender imbalance is definitely something that needs addressing.
“I am personally committed to bringing more female representatives into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame,” he says. “Our industry is essentially dominated by females and there’s very little representation. That’s not right, that has to change.”
He also feels the membership could get a little younger. “It’s important that the next generation of agency leadership step up to take control over writing and producing and sharing the history of our industry, especially during the time of their growth within the business itself. It’s time to enlist them as they are creating history right now.”
Domanico, co-CEO at DraftFCB HealthCare, points out that it is easier said than done. “Bringing fresh, new blood, that’s the tough part,” he says. “We want to do things that make people take notice. You need fresh thinking, new ideas. The passion of the old guard needs to be transferred to younger people.”
So how can MAHF demonstrate its relevance to the industry in order to attract a broader, younger and more diverse membership?
“We have to appeal to their sense of place in time in this industry, to their sense of responsibility to carry on and preserve the history of medical advertising,” says Cotherman. “The current agency leaders for the most part have been strong advocates for, and champions of, their mentors and other key influencers in the industry. But those people are all in [inducted] the MAHF now. This next group of people, they have nothing to gain anymore by being involved as influencers over potential inductees. They’re doing it because they have a great passion and commitment for what the industry has done for them, for the client we service, and essentially has created this great foundation for the next generation of leaders.”
Nevertheless he is sensitive to the day-to-day demands placed on potential recruits.
“They are very busy people with enormous responsibilities leading their organizations in an industry that is increasingly focused on short-term results versus long-term gain,” he says. “We need to help them be able to see toward the future and understand that they can have a great impact on future generations by helping to celebrate the heritage of past generations.”
Aside from the reorganization and the outreach campaign, MAHF still has plenty of business to tend to. For starters there’s the annual dinner at The Pierre in New York on Feb. 13, where Lew Miller, Bill Castagnoli and Norm Cooper will become the latest of the 48 industry luminaries to be inducted into the hall.
The organization is also working on volume II of its coffee-table book, Medicine Avenue, which chronicles the history of medical advertising. A classy product and a good piece of promotion for MAHF, the book is also an important education tool. Cotherman is eager to put out the follow-up.
“Medicine Avenue I doesn’t include the impact of DTC advertising on the industry, the move to digital, interactive or the influence of the agency network holding companies,” he says. “These are all significant events in our industry…they need to be recognized, written about and published—and used to educate the next generation of employees in our industry.”
Domanico notes the reaction of his new employees when they see Medicine Avenue for the first time. “It makes quite an impact. They start to feel the industry so it makes a difference,” he says. “It gives them the feeling of ‘Wow, this is something substantial, this is a great industry and I want to be part of that.’ But it needs to be forward thinking.”
Another ongoing project is the archiving of medical advertising creative into a searchable database, which will eventually be available online. MAHF hopes to complete the painstaking task in 2007. An advertising gallery is already viewable at the organization’s Web site and progress to date can be viewed at www.mahf.com.
On top of all that, MAHF plans to expand its program of lunch ‘n’ learn events.
“We want to involve more people in doing more of those kinds of things,” he says.
While Domanico’s tenure as chairperson is coming to an end, he is delighted to be handing the baton to Cotherman. “He’s got a tremendous amount of energy,” says Domanico. “He’s a no BS guy, he pushes hard and he’ll do a great job.”
Cotherman, for his part, has the bit firmly between his teeth.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to engage the next generation of leaders,” he says. “I believe that by the time I’m finished the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame will be more visible to everybody in the industry and more relevant to more people.”