1. Publicis Health Media pulled it off in a big way

PHM didn’t start planning the HealthFront until March, which gave the company just four months to assemble a mammoth machine with a whole lot of moving parts. Think about it: Two days of programming, 50 or so speakers, 400-plus attendees, green rooms, swag bags (thanks for the avocado slicer, Healthline)… that’s a nine-month project.

On the programming front alone, PHM had to present content that would appeal equally to media sophisticates, enthusiastic adopters of new channels and hardened believers in older ones. While some of the speakers went the self-hype route, most seemed genuinely jazzed to have the opportunity to discuss the evolving health-media landscape in front of a receptive audience. “Thoughtful” was the default tonality of the presentations.

As for that audience, PHM made a big ask: Give us back-to-back midweek days. Thus one of the surest barometers of the event’s success was that the room was as packed on the morning of day two as it was on day one. And day two lacked the mainstream star power – Martha Stewart, Dr. Oz and Ryan Seacrest – that judged day one’s Shark Tank-ish competition. Side note: Apparently Dr. Oz stuck around for Tuesday night’s afterparty, which doesn’t seem like a Dr. Oz thing to do.

2. You should ask GlaxoSmithKline’s Kate Greengrove to speak at your event.

Greengrove, GSK’s senior director of content strategy and operations, came off as one of pharma’s sharpest and most progressive minds, not to mention one of the few eagerly challenging the media status quo. She talked about ushering GSK into the new world of media and the challenges that came with it, with an emphasis on the role pharma can (and can’t) play in creating content.

Greengrove’s bluntness stood in stark contrast to the we-need-to-be-storytellers-who-tell-stories blandness usually heard from others in similar roles. “Pharma has to get away from thinking, ‘We need to create our own content,’” she said, pointing to a Lupus 101 feature created by the Lupus Foundation of America as the type of content with which pharma should be thrilled to associate itself.

“We want to be more of a discovery company [and] put pieces of content in the places where people want to consume it,” she explained. Yup.

3. I learned a bunch about the younger generation of HCPs – and feel like there’s a whole lot more to learn.

“The Doc with the Dragon Tattoo: From Paternalism to Partnership” picked up where an initial panel on the same topic at Cannes left off, and delivered on its promise of deconstructing the modern-era physician/patient relationship. Moderated by Condé Nast chief industry officer Jen Mormile and populated by PHM president Andrea Palmer, Self editor in chief Carolyn Kylstra and Time’s Up Healthcare founding member Dr. Esther Choo, the panel dove deep on the ways physicians have recalibrated their treatment and counseling of patients. As Palmer noted, that’s not an easy switch to flip: Physicians used to being the Voice of God, so to speak, are now routinely challenged by patients who evaluate what they’re told in the context of everything else they’ve seen, heard and Googled.

The panelists covered a lot of ground in their 45 minutes, but I wish they would’ve been able to share more about changes nudged forward by the diversification of the American patient population. Dr. Choo got at this a bit, noting that in 2017, for the first time ever, more women than men started med school. That’s a welcome trend, she said, but more diversity is still needed: “Doctors should look like America.” Damn straight.

4. Even in front of a home crowd, some channels/programs remain a tough sell.

PHM gave a few of its A-list media partners prime spots on the HealthFront agenda – which makes perfect sense, given that the audience was primarily composed of clients who, presumably, were happy to hear the pitch straight from the source. This worked well for Meredith’s head of innovation Corbin de Rubertis, whose downplayed the publisher’s properties in favor of information about its increasing reliance on science and data.

The same 25-minute window seemingly had the reverse effect for the iHeartMedia presenters, whose messaging didn’t resonate quite as well with the crowd. Give EVP/CMO Gayle Troberman credit for the enthusiastic and informed sales pitch, but anything that touts the value of a medium perceived (rightly or wrongly) as stale has to hit harder than “it’s gonna be cheaper and faster to tell the story in audio than in video.” Podcast chief Conal Byrne’s presentation of “Spit,” a bespoke podcast iHeart created for 23andMe, played slightly better in the room.

5. Panels about Millennials need to feature fewer non-Millennials:

You want to install a single 48-year-old as moderator/traffic cop, fine. But the “How Activism Is Reshaping Healthcare: Why Marketers Need to Pay Attention to the Influence of Millennials” panel featured as many non-Millennials as Millennials, which blunted its impact. That’s not to say some sharp advice wasn’t conveyed, especially by non-Millennial Dr. Natalie Azar, an assistant clinical professor of rheumatology at NYU: “I think we had a false perception in the beginning with Millennial culture, that there was lots of doctor-shopping going on… Just spending the time and listening is what any patient is after.”

Also, and I ask this as a craggy, petulant post-Millennial: Do patients, caregivers and professionals in other demographic groups not care about authenticity and transparency? How have authenticity and transparency become virtues that are exclusive to Millennials? They’re not, and panelists should stop saying they are.

6. There’s more to come.

During the HealthFront, PHM announced a series of PHMkr partnerships: PHMkr Influence with Condé Nast, PHMkr Sound with iHeartMedia, PHMkr Stream with Viacom and PHMkr Z with Vice. The agency also pushed HLTHQ, created with Nativo to more accurately measure the impact of content programs, and Validated By, a platform designed to ensure that brand content is credible and placed in brand-safe environments. Given how healthcare marketers have traditionally been lumped together with marketers who don’t face a comparable level of regulation, these health-specific media offerings had to have been received warmly by the attendant throng. Good on PHM for presenting them so enthusiastically.

Check out a preview of the 2024 PHM HealthFront.