Grand Jury Spotlight: Stephanie Markell

Stephanie Markell is a Creative Director in her 13th year at CDM, taking creative reigns of the rare group in 2018. Her group’s mission is to transform the experience of every individual living with or treating a rare disease.

Global Awards | October 08, 2019

Each year, the Global Awards recruits some of the world’s most prominent award-winning industry creatives and thought leaders to serve on the Global Awards Grand Jury. Stephanie Markell is a Creative Director in her 13th year at CDM, taking creative reigns of the rare group in 2018. Her group’s mission is to transform the experience of every individual living with or treating a rare disease. Stephanie and her team led the launch of SPINRAZA (Biogen) for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which has since earned the moniker of most successful rare disease launch in history. Her unbranded SMA children’s book, “Zac’s Play Day,” won a Silver Lion for Disease Awareness and Patient Engagement at the 2018 Cannes Lions Health Awards.

In 2017, Stephanie and long-time art partner Dan Cohen, joined forces with the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) on their 2017 rare disease awareness campaign. Their brand activation and short-form documentary ”Good Morning Peyton”—about a town who turns night into day for a young boy allergic to sunlight—won two gold Global awards, both a gold Telly and gold Cleo, was shortlisted for two Cannes Lions, chosen as an Official Selection of the Kansas International Film Festival, and was a double merit award winner in The One Show. Stephanie lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her reality TV-producing husband and hilarious 5-year-old.

Global Awards: How have empowered and informed patients changed the way Healthcare & Wellness brands connect with the consumer?

Stephanie Markell: They’ve changed it immensely. It’s no longer just about education. It’s about connectivity between the patient and the brand itself. In everything we do, we have to demonstrate that we understand who the patient is, where they’re coming from, and how best to help them get to where they need to go. By engaging these patients on a deeper level, we are able to create a two-way dialogue—one that is invaluable to both the brands and the patients.

Global Awards: How has advertising in the healthcare wellness sphere evolved in order to be millennial-friendly?

Stephanie Markell: It seems the entire world is evolving to be millennial-friendly. And the healthcare wellness sphere is certainly not immune to that. Now more than ever, brands have to be listening and responding in real time to the needs of their customers, because millennials are some of the most vocal customers out there. It requires a level of transparency that may toe the regulatory line, but to be successful with this audience, it’s imperative. Personally, I’m excited to see the space evolve.

Global Awards: As you make your way through life, you encounter inevitable health issues with friends and family. Are there any diseases, issues, conditions that you have a yearning to work on? Why?

Stephanie Markell: I’ve been working exclusively in the Rare Disease space for the past 5 years, with the deep desire to touch Cystic Fibrosis business. A childhood friend passed away from CF in 2007 at the age of 26 after a life-long battle. Last year, I was lucky enough to pitch and win a portfolio of CF brands that are transforming the way this disease impacts the lives of those who have it.

Global Awards: How about Pharma – has the landscape of Pharma advertising changed in the last few years and where do you see it going moving forward?

Stephanie Markell: Speaking specifically about Rare pharma, every dollar spent is highly scrutinized. As they should be. If there’s no value to the “thing” you’re creating and disseminating, you will be told by a patient or a physician. They will literally say to you: “Don’t waste your money on this, put it toward R&D.” Rare companies don’t want to be perceived as wasteful, so the spend is laser focused. We make sure we understand what our patients and physicians first need, and secondly, want. What falls outside of that usually ends up on the cutting room floor. And what gets created tends to be met with gratitude. Moving forward, and thinking beyond Rare, I hope these principles are considered across all Pharma brands. When there’s a shift from “brand first” to “customer first,” a deeper, more authentic engagement can begin.