World Health Day: Meet Your Customers Where They Are

Q&A with Founding and Strategic Planning Partner at IPNY, Andy Semons, as published in

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a strategist to the core. Part psychologist, part architect, neuroscience geek and lover of great creative communication that not only gets the message across but motivates real behavioral change. I guess it’s the promise of being able to do all this that draws me to Pharma and Healthcare – I started working in direct to consumer (DTC) back in the mid-90’s when it was an emerging business and found it fascinating. Pharma and Healthcare have the potential to do such good in the world.

But we all know that getting people to act in their own best interest isn’t always a rational decision, so a fundamental understanding of how people think and act, is critical to motivation. That’s what excites me – how to influence behavior that results in real change for brands. Fortunately, I have the chance to do this every day.

I’m one of the three founding partners of IPNY, a nine-year old privately held agency. We have deep credentials in healthcare and pharma, along with other verticals such as nonprofit and financial services. Our expertise is both in brand positioning and messaging, and we measure the quality of our work by its ability to drive real results.

Pharma and healthcare have been slower to embrace digital marketing compared with other industries. Has there been a shift since the pandemic started?

I don’t think it’s 100% correct to say that Pharma and Healthcare have been slower to embrace digital marketing – in fact, before the world of HIPAA in the mid ‘90’s digital marketing was on everyone’s minds. I think that things like data privacy, adverse event reporting and many important regulatory constraints make it harder to put digital marketing into practice for Pharma and Healthcare.

That being said, I’ve seen quite a bit of use of digital and social channels during the pandemic – not for the marketing of brand name drugs but rather aimed at building awareness of key issues and changing behavior. To begin with, we learned early in the pandemic that people with preexisting conditions were foregoing important medical treatment and even procedures for fear of coming in contact with the virus that causes COVID-19. The impact on the healthcare system and patient quality of life was significant. Many hospitals implemented messages through digital and social channels urging people not to delay routine or necessary care and reassuring them that they provided safe environments.

More recently, I’ve seen unbranded work on social media that talks about monoclonal antibody treatment for high-risk patients who have just been diagnosed with COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies have been proven to keep people out of the hospital, but they work best if given within 10 days of diagnosis. These ads aim at a key behavioral change, as we’ve all been conditioned to hear that if we get COVID we should just quarantine and not call our doctors unless symptoms get worse. It’s important that these ads go through social channels because that’s where folks are getting their information. Even more so during the pandemic.

Additionally, I’ve seen a lot of campaigns on social media where hospitals have been honoring their own frontline workers. These tend to drive enormous goodwill and give employees who are so overworked and tired the reminder they need, that we all appreciate their selfless dedication. One such campaign was done by IPNY for Dana-Farber. The photos and shoutouts to local heroes kept on coming throughout the initiative.