Robin Shapiro, global president of TBWA\WorldHealth, was named Cannes Pharma Lions jury president this month. MM&M caught up with Shapiro to talk trends in pharma marketing, the challenges of regulated work, and the very elusive Pharma Grand Prix.

What trends and themes have you noticed in pharma marketing this year?

A big movement right now, a trend that’s happening, is moving toward more authentic communications. Not based on metaphor, not based on borrowed interest, but based on true stories and authentic moments. We have such rich content possibilities within healthcare if we just tell the true stories of what’s happening. There are so many inspiring things going on, but it often gets boiled down into something quite trite and minimizes the overall impact of what we’re trying to do.

What makes an entry stand out to you?

It has to be extremely iconic and change the way you look at a category or be a transformation that we’re helping to usher by virtue of the brand. When you’ve seen something that will totally change the way people look at it as a topic, I think that’s when you know you’ve seen something that’s meets the standards, which we know are very high.

What does it say to you that there hasn’t been a Grand Prix in Pharma for the past two years?

As an industry, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to win awards, and I wish we would spend as much time or more trying to figure out how to do this kind of work that is iconic, that is authentic, that tells the real stories of people who are overcoming health challenges. We can all see when an attempt is being made to win an award. Instead, we should turn our attention to how to work on clients and build those relationships to the point where clients are willing to take a risk with us.

Does the regulated nature of pharma make the Grand Prix even more difficult to attain?

That’s the big challenge in Pharma, as opposed to Health & Wellness. You don’t have to adhere to the very strict regulatory standards that branded communication does and so you have an open playground for creativity. But when it comes to brand communication, we obviously have a high regulatory hurdle that has to be factored into the equation, but it is possible.

I think people need to not be discouraged but be encouraged to really ask, how is it that we’re going to enroll our clients [in creative work]? Because creativity works, it’s been proven. Cannes proved it. So how do we enroll our clients in this journey with us?

What will it say about pharma marketing if there’s no Grand Prix again this year?

It says that our work is not done. The standard has to be maintained. Our first order of business is that we have to live up to the very high bar that Cannes has created. Awarding something that isn’t deserving, does that help us at all?

What does the jury president role mean to you?

It’s obviously a huge honor, but in the same breath, it’s a huge responsibility. I feel the weight of that. It’s serious business and I look at my role as being the one to uphold that standard. Being a jury member is one thing, but being the president is another. I want to create a very collaborative environment in the jury room where everyone has a voice.