About a decade ago, Chrissy Rutherford wrote an essay in Harper’s Bazaar about her fear of flying. The topic was part of a larger examination of the anxiety and panic attacks that Rutherford, a digital content creator, had been experiencing since she was a teenager. Ultimately, she started going to therapy and has continued for more than two decades. 

In early 2020, Rutherford quit her job at Harper’s Bazaar after more than eight years and pursued personal plans that were ultimately curtailed by the outbreak of COVID-19. She was undeterred, however, and used her entrepreneurial instincts to launch FWD JOY, a bimonthly newsletter dedicated to mental health, wellness and self-care, in 2021.

A year later, she teamed with Maybelline to launch “I’m Fine, You?,” a podcast series centered on destigmatizing mental health and anxiety. The podcast was part of Maybelline’s “Brave Together” initiative.  

Rutherford noted that while the series was canceled by Maybelline after its conclusion in late 2023, she is committed to remaining open about her struggles with anxiety.

“Getting this opportunity to host a podcast for Maybelline about mental health felt like such an honor,” she said. “That I could be seen as a thought leader in the mental health advocacy space after spending so much of my career in the fashion industry, it felt validating.”

The daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Rutherford said being open about her mental health struggles didn’t come naturally to her. It led her to worry that others would perceive her a certain way for dealing with anxiety or going to therapy.

Ultimately she found community and support online. Armed with the experience of running Harper’s Bazaar’s social media accounts for years and accruing more than 170,000 Instagram followers on her own page, Rutherford understands the power that social media affords influencers.

“Me being open has obviously drawn those people in and they’re, thankfully, the right people who want to be there and care about the same things that I care about,” she said. 

Rutherford is no stranger to working with brands. During the early days of the pandemic, she collaborated with The Upside for a Mental Health Awareness month campaign featuring figures from the fashion industry.

Rutherford said that when Maybelline approached her about the podcast, she was encouraged that key players within the company trusted her and valued the audience she developed over the years. She said her relationship with Maybelline was collaborative but noted that she maintained final say on the guest list, which included Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman and reality TV star Ariana Madix.

Striking the right balance between different guests and topics, ranging from sexual assault to eating disorders, was critical to driving interest in the podcast. For Rutherford, some of her favorite interviews were with HCPs who mixed their professional training with a social media savviness that helped distill heady concepts for listeners.

So what can medical marketers learn from health influencers? For starters, they can prioritize authenticity in their work. 

“Think about the authenticity that an influencer partner can bring to your story and make sure that you give them the reins to communicate their experiences in the way that feels best for them, and that they know their audience is going to enjoy,” Rutherford said.

Smaller creators and niche influencers have emerged as important storytellers in their own right. This phenomenon can make campaigns more effective in reaching target audiences, she added.

As for Rutherford’s own future, she said another podcast could be in the cards – though she acknowledged that the space is increasingly saturated. For the time being, she’s invested in building out FWD JOY as a resource for people going through mental health challenges and embracing the tenets of self-care.

“I enjoy having these conversations and I want to do that in any medium that I can,” she said.