a creative agency that takes care of healthcare brands
Dr Candice O’Sullivan
12 Jun, 2024

Recently, one of my team members had a dream about me:

‘The devil had come to Earth and was looking for his right-hand person. He was very displeased with all the candidates who had shown up for the job, so he said, “Bring me Candice O’Sullivan”. Everyone in the office was terrified, except you. You just rolled your eyes and said, super annoyed, “But the devil is not a healthcare brand”.’

This vivid reverie rather accurately depicts how particular I am about working with brands that serve the healthcare industry – apparently a loyalty so fierce, it gives my team nightmares! So why do I care so much about healthcare communications? Why do they matter?

At the core of every scientific innovation and medical advancement, there is a simple and compelling story to be told – a story of how our health, or that of our loved ones, can be protected, enhanced or restored.

Our job as a healthcare communications agency is to help tell that story.

We distil often sensitive, triggering or highly technical subject matter into meaningful campaigns that engage, educate and empower people to make informed decisions about their health and care – and/or to enable treating doctors, prescribers and other clinicians to deliver better patient care and outcomes.

The messages we share have the potential to build knowledge, shift beliefs, change attitudes and, ultimately, influence positive health behaviours. Therein lies the power of healthcare communications.

A yellow paper crumpled ball on a wall with black lines drawn out and down, representing an idea lightbulb.

It’s hard to believe now but 30 years ago, many health conditions were deemed ‘too personal’ to discuss publicly. Erectile dysfunction, infertility, incontinence, AIDS and irritable bowel syndrome are just some of the conditions that were essentially kept secret.

But the emergence of public health and education campaigns (enacted by creative agencies in partnership with Government, peak bodies and/or industry) have changed the landscape of healthcare conversations for the better, destigmatising and building disease awareness.

In The growth of health communications, author Nancy Hicks shares an example from 1995 when Bard Urological Division partnered with the American Urological Association to create Bladder Health Week, launching a landmark public education campaign for stress urinary incontinence.1 This campaign received extensive media coverage, successfully changing public attitudes about incontinence.

Hicks explains that as new treatments for incontinence became available, drug companies helped to create a new lexicon for clinical terms: urge incontinence became overactive bladder, with direct-to-consumer ads playing a key role in the wide adoption of this new, lay-friendly term.1

She also describes how Novartis later worked with the National Association for Continence to create an award-winning campaign that focused on the needs of people with incontinence who liked to travel but were reluctant to do so because of their condition.1

With the help of travel guru, Arthur Frommer, the ‘Where to stop, Where to go’ campaign was launched. It included a guide to well-kept restrooms in various travel destinations. The guide was so popular that people without the condition sought copies! The campaign stimulated a 318% increase in visitors to the product website (enablex.com) compared to pre-campaign levels. It also garnered  over 100 million media impressions, another key milestone in removing the stigma from incontinence.1

In the decades since, many other diseases have had their profile raised or been similarly destigmatised by these kinds of novel and creative campaigns. Here in Australia, we have a long history of health promotion, including the iconic ‘Slip. Slop. Slap.’ campaign, the ‘Life. Be in it’ fitness campaign featuring Norm, and ‘Every cigarette is doing you damage’.

A cartoon bird dressed in a blue hat and shirt and black shorts is smiling wide while waving his wing over a paper bag on the ground with the words printed on the side: 'Slip! Slop! Slap!' representating a suncare campaign

It’s fair to say that many of us take our health for granted. It is only when our health, or that of someone we know, is compromised that we realise how much of an impact it can have on our capacity to ‘do life’.

After all, injury and ill health can influence and diminish every life domain. Infertility can take away the joy of family. A traumatic eye condition can stop a surgeon’s successful career in its tracks. The management of sugar levels in diabetes can impact on every aspect of someone’s daily life.

And when your health is affected, information becomes everything.

At these times, understanding the options available to you or your loved one, and being able to make healthcare decisions in line with one’s needs, values, lifestyle and preferences, can be the only locus of control a patient has.

Healthcare advertising campaigns can play a vital role in providing this information. As the godfather of modern advertising, David Ogilvy, once said: ‘I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information’.


  1. Hicks, N. The growth of health communications – a story of consumer power and medical innovation. Chapter 1 in: Health industry communication: new media, new methods, new message. Published by Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2017.

Dr Candice O’Sullivan, Managing Director | Head of Strategy & Planning at Wellmark. You can follow Wellmark on Facebook @wellmarkcreative, LinkedIn @Wellmark_Pty_Ltd or Insta @wellmarkcreative.