When Hologic’s partnership with the Ellen Digital Network on the digital series “Lady Parts” debuted last month, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work – largely conducted, of course, amid a global pandemic. Here, Hologic VP and global head of divisional communications Jane Mazur shares how the company and its partners pulled it off, as well as four takeaways for other pharma and healthcare marketers attempting to navigate the choppy terrain of health media.

Time is on nobody’s side.

The basic concept of “Lady Parts” didn’t stray from what was originally envisioned: A conversational survey of a range of issues related to women’s health. The tone would be light but informed; the series would likely rise or fall on the chemistry between its hosts (actress Sarah Hyland and Dr. Sherry Ross, billed as “the OB/GYN to the stars”) and their guests (Tiffany Haddish, Nicole Byer, Camila Alves McConaughey, Hilary Duff and others).

But the road from idea to execution was complicated by… well, you know. Mazur recalls that conversations with the Ellen Digital Network began last November and faded in March/April, before they were resurrected in May. An initial August launch date came and went, owing to the complexities that come with content creation during a pandemic.

“The original concept was very much what you see now, this kind of table-talk between Sarah, Sherry and the guests,” Mazur said. “We had wanted some vignettes or some man-on-the-street-type dialogue, but you can only do so much of that within COVID compliance protocols. We left plenty of time but everything slowed down… We can’t be the only ones this happened to.”

It takes a (Zoom) village.

Another of the many casualties of content production during COVID-19 has been in-person contact. Ordinarily, for a show based around two distinct personalities, a degree of familiarity would be forged over coffee, drinks or good old-fashioned sit-downs. The two “Lady Parts” regulars and the production team, however, had no such opportunities.

“Honestly, I don’t know if [Hyland and Ross] have ever been in the same room,” Mazur said. “The trust factor was built through Zoom calls.”

It wasn’t the ideal solution, Mazur allows, but it worked. Her message to other marketers and communicators who find themselves in a similar situation: Make sure those virtual klatches take place early and often.

Force-fed messaging goes uneaten.

Obviously Hologic wouldn’t have participated in “Lady Parts” if it didn’t sense an opportunity to advance its brand and strategic goals – among others, building awareness of cancer screening guidelines – before a wide and receptive audience. At the same time, Mazur notes that the company went to great lengths not to push its agenda too hard.

“We always believed in the concept and the idea, but the way companies do integrations today has to be very organic,” Mazur said. What that meant for “Lady Parts” was that Hologic’s interests couldn’t be overtly inserted into any of the show’s conversations. Thus the hosts and guests enter each episode with a handful of talking points designed to kick-start the back-and-forth, but nothing scripted.

“Everything you see is real and between the women on the show,” Mazur stressed. “The first time we saw it, we were like, ‘Okay, this works.’”

Topics of cancer.

Hologic is a med-tech company focused on women’s health, with particular expertise in the early screening, detection and treatment of cancer. At the same time, any show named “Lady Parts” isn’t going to toe that particular topical line. Mazur stresses that Hologic knew that from moment one and embraces the show’s expansive slate, including episodes on sexual health, health inequity, periods, fibroids and more.

Her overarching message? That marketers need to be flexible in their interactions with content creators. “A lot of what we cover in the first round [of episodes] harnesses the importance of screening, but it goes way beyond that,” she explained. “In any one topic – like sexually transmitted infections – there’s always more that can be talked about. So the bigger goal is encourage everyone to be really thoughtful about their health.”