president of global healthcare and chair of Latin America | Weber Shandwick

What would you do if you didn’t work in healthcare? 

I would love to be a motivational speaker. I am a big fan of TEDTalks, for example. I am so impressed by a speaker’s ability to share such fascinating revelations.TEDTalk presentations inspire me to look for pearls in ordinary life. They are also a source of nutrition for my insatiable curiosity.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.

Recently I had been cultivating a client for months, building a relationship, and demonstrating my sincere interest in the business. When we finally were asked to pitch, we were underwhelming to say the least. I could not believe that all that investment went up in smoke. But our team turned the situation around. After the pitch, we put together a plan to demonstrate that we were the right agency after all. It took a few months of negotiations, but we were awarded the account. When the client called to tell me, I was so moved I wanted to cry. We frequently win important accounts, but this one felt special. We had rescued it from the jaws of defeat.

When was the last time you endured an “agony of defeat” moment? What did you learn from it?

Fortunately, I have not faced the agony of defeat in a long time. We win and we lose, but it is par for the course. Many decades ago, I had an account that was integral to the survival of my agency, but unfortunately the client was really upset when I became the agency head because they had a relationship with someone who had left. My challenge, as a newly appointed president, was to overcome the fact that my top account didn’t like me.  

After much agony, I realized that my mission as a leader transcended my personal feelings of being hurt and rejected. With the help of my team, we devised an aggressive client retention plan, and I learned how to manage an account from behind the scenes while the team interacted directly with the client. We kept that business for many years. Instead of losing the respect of my staff, I gained their admiration and loyalty with my commitment to do my best for a client even in the worse of circumstances. 

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?

It was in early 2016. I spent a week at the place where the fictional character, Don Draper, found salvation in the last episode of “Mad Men.”

When I booked my stay I had no idea of the connection with the TV series or of the cultural relevance that this institute had during the 70s. But like Don, I had an incredible experience. It was an adventure in being young again and rediscovering simplicity and peace. The physical setting helped, with its spectacular convergence of mountains and water on the Big Sur coastline. For a week I had no cell phone connection or access to emails and I survived and thrived. My biggest complaint was the sound of the waves at night, which kept me up. 

What do you find frustrating about working in healthcare marketing? 

I am so proud of the opportunity I have had to promote health and improvements in patients’ quality of life through the work we do. What frustrates me, however, is the popular misunderstanding about the value of the healthcare industry. It is very painful to me, for example, that audiences can watch a film like “The Constant Gardner” and believe that some company out there is planning a clinical trial to harm people. In fact, just recently we have seen data showing a dramatic decrease in cancer mortality worldwide. It is through the innovations brought to the market by our clients that these breakthroughs happen. 

What are your words to live by? You can solve most problems if you don’t give up.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self? Don’t be so hard on yourself.

What is one thing you would tell women starting their careers in healthcare marketing?

Invest in yourself to be a professional with substance. Image without content and knowledge is not the path to success. 

Favorite drink? Champagne 

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say as you enter? 

Welcome to a place with no P&L goals, time sheets, or expense report requirements. 

Susan Sweeney


Susan Sweeney

Vic Noble



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