Editor’s note: Marketing and communications roles continue to evolve and branch out in strange and unfamiliar ways. For people just joining the industry (and for our parents) this can be a serious source of confusion. So, to demystify our departments, we asked a fresh-faced cross-divisional intern to give us her initial take on who does what and what skill sets are needed where…
Finding a Fit
I recently finished a master’s degree in communications, so joining an integrated marketing agency was a new direction for me. Like most people starting at a new company or in a new industry, I wasn’t sure exactly what everyone did before I joined. So, my first task was to learn about each department, to connect with staff on an individual level, and to learn about their role at CG Life.
I think this initial insight could be helpful for anyone who is thinking about going into life science and healthcare marketing and communications. If that’s you: Here are some of the areas where you can use your skills and creativity, plus a rundown of what’s involved.
This division of the agency was the most surprising to me. I assumed the creative department was a group of artists that draw, design screen layouts, and mix the right colors for a beautiful aesthetic. They do those tasks — but it’s more complex than I assumed. When I partnered with a director to learn more about her process, I saw a project from start to finish and was deeply impressed with the strategic thinking involved to move their concept to an actual deliverable in an amazingly short amount of time. CG Life puts a heavy emphasis on research and this is where the scientist in me gets so excited. I love the fact that when the creative team gives a recommendation, it is not simply their opinion – it’s the sum total of the hours of research they performed, which includes multiple stakeholders interviews. I also appreciate that they design multiple creative concepts that allow a client to see their message delivered in a few ways, prior to settling on that company’s preferred approach.
For people that are naturally imaginative with graphic design or short snippets of word copy, this is a great way to use your talents. To apply it in the life sciences, it pays to have a methodical and curious approach to how things work, to inform your aesthetic direction. For me, I appreciate the work, but I’m not cut out for the creative life!
The Content Marketers
What I learned from meeting with CG’s director of content marketing is that as typical journalism is in decline, we see more communication specialists channeling their skills into content marketing. The focus is on creating valuable content with an intentional distribution plan to engage a targeted audience. This division connects with key opinion leaders (KOL) and stakeholders to provide the most accurate “voice” for a company. Knowing where the audience is, how they receive messages, what they want to learn, and what tone will they respond to is crucial to provide the most successful marketing plan within the content team.
If you’re a writer, you could join public relations, the creative team (as a creative copywriter), or you could dive into content marketing. So it’s not just about putting words on paper, there is a big strategic and digital component. You’re ultimately responsible for crafting the content but also making sure it is found online and that it drives specific actions (e.g. people filling out a form). The plus for people with a science or clinical background is that you do get to dive really deep into the topics, whether through drafting a whitepaper or doing keyword research to optimize a web page – you absolutely need to understand the work of clinicians and scientists and what motivates them to act.
The PR Gurus
The public relations department instantly welcomed me with projects. My first task was creating a media briefing book, which is a document that prepares a client for an upcoming interview. My role was to research and prepare a profile of the reporter who was conducting the interview. A few days later, after the interview, the PR team asked me to clean up the AI-assisted transcription to make it easier for the team to pick out the most relevant details
As I completed this task, one aspect that stood out to me was how a one-on-one conversation between a client and a reporter can serve as the foundation for sharing a message with the public. The small intimate conversation between a client of ours and a reporter has been translated into a story in the media that is now available for anybody to read and weigh in on. That was a cool moment for me as I recognized that during the interview, our client was not just discussing his work with an individual – he is sharing it with the world. This gave me a new appreciation for the importance of communication and the trust that the client has in CG Life’s public relations team.
PR creates opportunities for both parties (the reporter and the client) and these two groups must trust the PR person as an intermediary. The PR team, in turn, needs to understand what’s being discussed in the industry so they can know what to pitch to whom at which publications and tie the stories they create into the relevant industry trends.
What I learned while completing this project is that ultimately, public relations is about building relationships with the media and influencers and determining how a client can differentiate themselves from the competition. Public relations professionals stay ahead by developing and nurturing their ‘black book’ to pair their client with suitable publications. This kind of focus requires not only knowledge of the industry but also excellent people skills. To succeed, a PR professional has to be passionate about the industry they’re representing. Based on my experience, I can see now how much the brands we have come to know and have been shaped by public relations.
The Paid Media Team
Paid media is an interesting department. They work with third-party publications to secure all the best advertising spots in academic journals, on websites, and around industry conferences. Like the public relations team, they have to intimately understand their client and their client’s audience, in order to make ideal placements that will grab the audience’s attention in a positive way.
The paid media team have some pretty sizeable Excel documents on the go at all times. They possess an attention to detail and an ability to manage multiple parties – the client, the ad rep, and our creative team who produce a lot of the visuals for graphics. Finally, if you like numbers, there is plenty of data tracking. This not only involves gathering the statistics but also determining what metrics should be collected and what success will look like. It’s a fast-changing and fast-moving field.
This team is definitely impressive and I connect with their love of numbers. I have interacted with this team minimally, but observing their work has allowed me to see how on they stay in the know to increase visibility for our clients. This position is not something that can be done half-heartedly; the paid media team are fully committed to innovating and optimizing their work in this field. They also maintain strong relationships with the different publications to ensure they get the best possible media placements.
The Account Management Team
My introduction to the account management team came through a mini training session. I learned that the role of an account manager is complex and that success comes with a strong knowledge of our clients and aligning all the different components and divisions within the agency.
Being an account manager at CG Life requires organization, flexibility, and professionalism when dealing with multiple stakeholders, in many unique situations. This role can be considered a bridge or conduit that connects the client with the agency team. It requires an individual to wear multiple hats for a wide range of situations, often juggling many projects at once.
One example of a challenging situation for an account manager is in communicating a different marketing strategy or direction than what the client envisioned. This would only come after many hours of research and alignment with the integrated team. It requires a style of communication that is honest, clear, positive, and respectful, but also persuasive.
To be successful in account management, it pays to be a direct, but empathetic person. Account managers need to be able to work with many different personalities both internally and externally, bringing them all together and keeping things on strategy, on time, and on budget. This role also needs to know about marketing and communications (PR, creative, digital, content, etc.) and our clients’ businesses (cell biology, clinical research, diagnostics, gene editing, etc.) to be able to speak to those areas knowledgeably and know who and when to tag in for focused expertise.
The Project Managers
This department is the newest addition to the CG Life ecosystem and has definitely made its mark by tightening up the workflow and delivering a more seamless customer experience. Project managers are primarily internal-facing with responsibilities that include team management, organization, time management, and driving impeccable standards for accuracy and quality. While they don’t typically work directly with a client, they know the ins and outs of the project scope to properly direct the workflow around the client’s needs.
Project managers work closely with the account management and creative teams as they create the deliverables and estimates to provide the client with a statement of work (SOW). They will then assign the various tasks to the internal teams with a timeline and budget, making sure those individuals are available to complete the task. Staff in this role are extremely organized, with a persona that can “roll with the punches” while leading multiple teams toward crucial delivery dates and budget estimates.
As a CG Life developer, you have to be adept at programming across multiple platforms, particularly Drupal and WordPress. I recently chatted with a CG web developer who described a typical day as one that includes: “writing efficient code, creating websites using standard HTML/CSS/JS practices for the frontend and PHP on top of Drupal/Wordpress for the backend, maintaining and expanding and/or enhancing the website once built with custom features, implementing contingency plans in case the website crashes, maintaining software documentation, and researching different software programs.” So, a lot of stuff!
People in this position work closely with designers to produce, for example, a website. All the while they need to maintain constant communication with other colleagues in the agency to develop and deploy the desired content. They also need to set expectations upfront around what can be created within what timeframe.
The developers here at CG Life carry a very ‘chill’ vibe. I enjoy interacting with them because they have good spirits and a laid back persona while carrying a heavy load of work. These guys rock!
The Digital Team
The digital team are an important link in many CG Life projects. They have a lot of ongoing projects, such as developing and refining pay-per-click and social media advertising campaigns, as well as background maintenance to ensure clients’ websites are digitally optimized and adequately tracked. Another aspect of their job involves boosting a website’s rankings in organic search engine results. Because so much work and commerce in the life sciences and healthcare fields lives online, the digital team can provide critical guidance that hugely impacts the bottom line. As such, a lot of strategy and thought goes into determining which channel will deliver the best results.
Digital work favors people who are methodical, conscientious and driven to continuously learn. The rules and algorithms are constantly changing and a lot of initiative is often needed to make things work and to communicate the results in the best way through data analytics and data visualization.
Along with all the divisions at CG Life the team also works cross-country. It is amazing to me how the two offices in San Diego and Chicago are so intimately integrated. I work on projects based in San Diego as if those colleagues were just a couple of seats over. The ability to build relationships in this way is a skill in itself, making a phone call just as personal and productive as a face-to-face meeting. It definitely is one company with two locations.
I guess what I have learned in the initial weeks of my internship is that this agency is not typical. I have been shown a workflow in a “typical” agency, and then how CG Life does their thing. They pride themselves on knowing they are different. The departments are closely integrated with each other to drive an in-depth and client-focused process. It’s amazing how many projects these teams can manage while delivering top quality work in a short amount of time. Another idea they promote is their open door policy; anyone can learn from anyone, it’s all about growth. They care deeply about their projects and the clients they are working alongside. This agency is full of positive work ethic.
So overall, I recommend joining an agency like CG Life if you have a passion for communicating science. There are multiple skills that come together to deliver an integrated project, which creates a lot of opportunities if you’re looking to enter this field. For me, I go home every day feeling happy and energized. It truly is alive here at CG Life!