My fellow Princetern Kristi and I arrived at LLNS Healthcare Communications early on a Wednesday morning. After a warm welcome from Kathy Bardong in Human Resources, we were surprised to find that LLNS had set aside an office for Kristi and I to share, complete with desks, computers, and our very own LLNS email accounts. We took a short tour of the office and settled into our office space, where our alum host, Associate Creative Director Jessica Wey ’07, greeted us with brisk enthusiasm and took us to our first “hot sheet meeting,” a meeting to organize the day’s tasks and check on the progress of current projects. For the first half of our first day, Jessica and Robin Rostron, director of HR, gave us a cursory explanation of the healthcare and pharmaceutical advertising industry. I had originally thought that healthcare advertising would be mostly similar to commercial advertising, but, as Jessica and Ms. Rostron were sure to inform me, the healthcare advertising field is quite distinct from its industry counterparts. LLNS, specifically, develops drug promotions for healthcare professionals, so every ad campaign has to abide by a certain set of FDA regulations designed to promote fair and true advertising. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical advertising field is relatively small, so only a handful of companies compete for the attention of “big pharma.” But, like any ad agency, pharma agencies are divided into typical function-specific divisions: account, creative, operations, production. As I witnessed at LLNS, these divisions must work together in an organized manner to accomplish any given task.
After this informative debriefing (and a wonderful lunch with Jessica), Kristi and I split up to meet with employees. I met with Jeff and Lian from the account division, who were both so friendly that we ended up chatting for a while. The account division mostly deals with client relations and communication about the project at hand; Jeff and Lian explained to me that they often developed close working relationships with representatives at pharmaceutical companies. Another interesting aspect of the industry is that of advancement: advertising associates move from agency to agency quite frequently, providing many opportunities for promotion and increased salary.
Aside from meeting our host Jessica, the highlight of my first day at LLNS was meeting with Steve Hamburg, LLNS’ Chief Creative Officer. Mr. Hamburg was not only delightfully friendly, but also very encouraging: he urged Kristi and I to develop strong writing skills and also stressed the scientific aspect of the pharmaceutical advertising field. For instance, our host Jessica, as a former molecular biology major, possesses a reliable knowledge of scientific terminology/jargon and of the biological mechanisms that make drugs effective.
For our second day, Jessica assigned Kristi and I some simple tasks dealing with one of LLNS’ forthcoming projects, a campaign for a new cancer drug. I was given the task of rewording some complex descriptions of its side effects into simple language that even patients without much formal education can understand. This was really exciting for me; my little blurbs about these side effects will likely be featured in a future iPad application for doctors and have the potential to be emailed to cancer patients around the globe. After completing my revisions to the text of the app, I met with Peter Wiswesser, Director of Operations, who regaled us with the story of his entrance into the pharmaceutical advertising field.
Following this meeting, Kristi and I met with Denise Roland, Director of Production Services. Production, as we learned, is involved in only the final stages of a project: the final selection of colors and paper types, the exact dimensions of a pamphlets, the type of ink. Denise even gave us some sample books and some embossed LLNS notebooks, which was very kind of her.
On our final day at LLNS, Kristi and I arrived early to find that LLNS set out free bagels for breakfast. It might seem trite, but I think that this action really represented the strong community spirit of LLNS; I felt so welcomed and appreciated at LLNS and I feel that I made some lasting connections with the employees I met there. After a hearty bagel breakfast, I worked for a few hours finding and citing credible references for the side effect symptoms I had researched the previous day. Following that, I met with Jessica D’Amico, the Account Group Supervisor. Of all the positions at LLNS, I was most interested in Ms. D’Amico’s, mainly because she deals with global client relations. She talked with me personally about my goals and aspirations and tried to help me get a sense of where I might fit within an ad agency, which was quite helpful.
After lunch, Kristi and I were lucky enough to sit in on a pitch rehearsal. LLNS is currently gearing up for a very important campaign pitch (with our host Jessica Wey as one of the key players in its creative aspect), and we learned a bit about the structure of a pitch. Delivering a pitch is a huge undertaking, requiring hundreds of hours of practice, and its success depends on how thoroughly you demonstrate your knowledge of the product to the company in addition to your creative ideas. After pitch practice ended, I met with Robin Rostron in HR once more, where she encouraged me to stay in touch via LinkedIn and offered to put me in contact with some other agencies for summer internship prospects. Kristi and I finished up our day with Jessica at a coffee shop and then headed back to campus.
Despite my initial trepidation, my experience at LLNS was overwhelmingly positive. My time spent shadowing cleared up many misconceptions of the advertising industry and showed me just how engaging a job in advertising can be. This Princeternship sufficiently piqued my interest, and I hope to return to the advertising field as a full-time intern this summer. Many thanks to Jessica Wey for her hard work in assembling an engaging itinerary, for her time, and for her honest mentorship.