Reporting on the life and career of Maureen Regan presents something of a challenge. No matter how hard one might try to steer the conversation toward Maureen the professional, it always veers back to Maureen the person.
The stories are legion and hilarious. There was the time she kept a client’s private plane idling on the runway so she could grab doughnuts for the flight. There was the motivational speech she gave in advance of a major pitch, described by one person who heard it as “in the style of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.” There was the unauthorized bagpipe parade through the offices of Lally, McFarland and Pantello on St. Patrick’s Day, complete with copious quantities of green beer.
“We had a lot of fun,” Regan says with a knowing laugh. “We worked our tails off, but we were always laughing. You’re working with the wittiest group of people in the world — how can you not be laughing?”
Entertaining as they are, these stories shouldn’t overwhelm Regan’s ceiling-smashing tenure as an agency chief. The first woman president of a major healthcare advertising agency, Regan succeeded everywhere she went, presiding over long relationships with a laundry list of A-list clients (Procter & Gamble, Allergan, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and Boehringer Ingelheim among myriad others).
Regan charted an unusual course to the Hall. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Regan and her five sisters grew up around her father’s service station. The family business, she recalls fondly, helped forge her business perspective and her work ethic.
“Everything I learned, I learned in a gas station,” she says with a laugh. “The business educated us and it fed us. Our lives revolved around it.” At an early age, Regan learned to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty, often literally: “If the gas jockey didn’t show up, well, guess who was the gas jockey?”
After graduating from high school, Regan attended nursing school, which proved a less than ideal fit from the outset. “At the time, there were only three professions the average woman went into: nurse, a secretary or a teacher,” she notes. “Nursing is one of the greatest professions, but it wasn’t for me. I joke that the numerous times I had to do CPR on the street, I always did a little curtsy and said, ‘Second from the bottom in my nursing class!’”
Following a short stretch at the “insanely understaffed” Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan (“you go from being a 21-year-old kid partying up a storm to being in the middle of all this trauma”), Regan briefly carried the bag for Abbott Laboratories. Her first agency job was at Lally, McFarland and Pantello, where she soon cut her teeth on the firm’s Procter & Gamble business.
It proved a pivotal experience. “They had just bought a pharma company, but they didn’t know the [HCP] customer. They worked on Tide,” Regan explains. “So these incredibly brilliant people would listen to everything I said. I was maybe 27.”
Regan stresses that she learned more from P&G’s people than they learned from her. “Between my nursing degree and my MBA, it was like I went to industrial school,” she continues. “I didn’t know how to write a business memo or a recommendation — well, P&G had a formula for that. I was a math and science girl, and that wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to go.”
However, her Lally colleagues recognized something in Regan from the start. She counts founding partner Ron Pantello, the former chairman of Havas Health, cofounder of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame (with MM+M founder David Gideon) and a 2009 MAHF inductee himself, as a mentor — and as a groundbreaking leader in his own right.
“At 32 I was director of client services, and at 34 I was president,” Regan says. “Ron didn’t care, like so many people did at the time, what the gender of the person was. He was just about the results. He gave opportunities to a lot of women.”
Pantello remains a good friend. He enthusiastically backed Regan for the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame, joking in his nomination that “if Mo was in the room, you knew it .… There is only one Mo; maybe that’s a good thing.”
Regan left Lally in 1997 with two longtime colleagues, strategist Rich Campbell and creative exec Brendan Ward, to form Regan Campbell Ward. “It was a weird time for me personally to start a business. I got married late and just had a son,” Regan says. “But I knew I wouldn’t get an offer like this again.”
The McCann-backed firm got off to a fast start, snaring business from Sanofi in its second year and claiming Novartis as its largest client before long. Still, the work took a toll, with many late nights and weekends spent in the service of growing RCW into a potent force.
Regan recalls day trips to California and Basel, Switzerland, not to mention a 72-hour turnaround to and from Japan. “When you have so much passion for one thing, there’s a lot you miss out on,” she says.
At the same time, Regan jokes that her son was “kind of the agency mascot,” playing hide-and-seek in the office and attending most company parties. “He hasn’t been institutionalized,” she adds brightly. “He wrote in a school essay, ‘My mom goes to California for lunch.’”
Regan’s successful leadership of RCW resonated with her female colleagues in particular. Charlene Prounis, a 2019 MAHF inductee who shared Regan’s nursing background, is quick to tout her personal and professional generosity.
“When we were looking to start our own agency back in 1999, she told us about how to get a good lawyer, how much equity to get back, things like that,” Prounis recalls. “Other people were so secretive, but she was willing to share.”
Regan’s passion for advertising similarly left an impression on Prounis: “A media person interviewed us after the CEO of BMS said, ‘I don’t believe in advertising.’ Maureen almost jumped up: ‘You gotta advertise! It’s the only thing that works!’ She was a fervent believer.”
That belief, Prounis adds, translated into everything Regan did. “She showed how you could lead a group of people with heart.”
Regan remains disappointed about McCann’s elimination of the RCW brand. “It wasn’t a decision we really had a say in. It kind of died at the $40 million point and the regret is that we have no idea where it might have gone,” she says.
At the same time, when she is asked to share her thoughts on the state of the medical marketing agency union, Regan responds, “I’m glad I’m not doing it right now, because there are hundreds of agencies and there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of drugs. I’m glad I operated in an easier landscape, frankly.”
As for what might come next, Regan dismisses such talk, noting that “the ‘r’ word” is not in her vocabulary. She lists her current occupation as “ski bum,” describing the sport as “a great passion of mine, and probably not a smart one at my age.”
When it comes to her legacy, Regan hopes it will be the fun she helped inject into a pressure-filled business.
“That’s what business in general, and not just advertising, is missing: The fun,” she says. “These faux parties that people have to show up to now — is there laughter? Is there spontaneous dancing? The best people go into advertising not only because they love it, but because it’s more fun than accounting.”
At a memorial service in December for Sander Flaum, one thought was expressed again and again by speakers and attendees alike: He was a true mensch.
For all his professional successes — and there were many, in his tenures at Lederle Laboratories and Euro RSCG Becker, as well as in his publishing and speaking endeavors — Flaum was first and foremost one of the industry’s genuinely kindest people.
“He always started conversations with, ‘How are you?’ and you couldn’t just say, ‘Fine.’ He wanted to know how you were really doing,” recalls Deb Stevens, who headed up human resources at Becker under Flaum’s leadership and remained a close friend until his death on December 11, 2022, at age 85. “There was no bigger advocate for, and fan of, all the people who worked with him.”
Indeed, there’s a case to be made for Flaum as the medical marketing industry’s foremost mentor. Jay Carter, EVP, director of business development at AbelsonTaylor, recalls meeting Flaum in the earliest stages of his own career — when Carter was, in his own words, “a lowly account executive” at a different shop.
“Already a mover and a shaker, Sander made time to mentor a young and impressionable account guy,” Carter says. “Every time our paths crossed he remembered me, and was equally warm and kind.”
That decency was infused in his every interaction and a great deal of his work. It was evident in his extensive service on the boards of The Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, The James Cancer Center at the OSU Medical Center and the Fordham University Graduate School of Business. It informed the books he wrote, which included The 100-Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, co-authored with his son Jonathon, and Boost Your Career: How to Make an Impact, Get Recognized and Build the Career You Want, co-authored with his wife Mechele, who died in 2017. And it certainly played a huge part in his secondary career as an in-demand public speaker, during which he discussed his triumph over stuttering with grace and empathy.
“I wish more people knew how much he actually did for others, because he was not someone who put his name on everything he did,” Stevens says. That extended to colleagues past and present: “If he heard somebody in pharma lost their job, he was the first person to call. I mean, I ended up writing resumes for some of those people.”
A proudly type-A personality who ran five miles a day for much of his adult life, Flaum’s path to the hall of fame started at Ohio State University (where he dual-majored in journalism and psychology) and in the military. Upon landing at Lederle, Flaum quickly became one of the company’s most respected in-house marketers, launching or restaging 80 products over the course of 18 years.
In 1988, Flaum transitioned to the agency world at Becker, where he rose to assume the role of chairman and CEO. Later, he founded and led Flaum Idea Group and Flaum Navigators. Among numerous other innovations, Flaum is credited with having devised the industry’s first adherence, patient-guarantee and indigent-patient programs.
“Sander embodied the pursuit of greatness in all aspects of his life and career, and this pursuit carried him to success after success,” says Calcium founder and chairman Steven Michaelson. “Even more importantly, Sander’s passion for greatness changed the way the industry markets its brands and inspired legions of individuals to live and work according to similarly high standards.”
Coming so soon after his death, Flaum’s MAHF induction is tinged with bittersweet. Even as his health failed him, Flaum was practicing the speech he planned to give at the organization’s annual gala. By all accounts, the honor meant the world to him.
And yet Stevens feels that the professional honor would have paled beside the personal tributes that came with it.
“Right until Thanksgiving, Sander was talking about people and clients and business,” she says. “I wish he were here to hear how much he meant to so many people across the industry.”