Health Awards

Spotlight Interview: June Laffey, 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

NYF Health caught up with June and asked her to share her insights and perspective on her multi-decade career, the healthcare industry, leadership tenets, her new journey coaching creative execs, and more.

New York, New York | April 19, 2023

For 2023 NYF Health honored June Laffey with the LIfetime Achievement Award. The NYF Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes prominent industry leaders, innovators, and driving forces in the industry whose accomplishments have advanced their field and made a lasting impression on the industry. June's contribution to the industry has truly earned her this prestigious title.

June Laffey has built a stellar creative and leadership career within the healthcare advertising space resulting in a remarkable professional reputation spanning more than two decades, from APAC to the Americas. She served a decade at McCann Health, from 2010, starting in Australia as a creative and culminating as CCO of the flagship New York office. While in her leadership role, she led a culture of creativity to elevate the network to world’s number one. 

Respected within the industry amongst top-tier award competitions, June was one of first women to Chair Cannes Lions Health and was tapped multiple times to chair Clio Health and the NYF’s Global Awards.

NYF Health caught up with June and asked her to share her insights and perspective on  her multi-decade career, the healthcare industry, leadership tenets, her journey coaching creative execs, and her new venture FUN, and more.

NYF Health:  What is the most valuable lesson you learned as a CCO and how did that lesson lead you to become an executive creative coach?

June Laffey: Thank you for inviting me to share.

Oh, there were so many lessons.

 I have always loved people, empowering them, lifting them, seeing them shine. Being CCO reinforced what I already felt. People are everything. They are where the ideas come from. We are not a sausage factory. Our currency is ideas from people.  Look after your people and the great work, the new business, the awards will follow. I love people and I love to play. Moving to New York just gave me a bigger sand pit to play in. And more people to play in the sand pit with.

When I returned to Australia through Covid to be with my kids, I was at a crossroads. After a lot of soul searching, and ex colleagues, friends and even strangers reaching out for advice, I realized that my new life could be dedicated to doing what I love best – giving creative leaders the confidence and skills to lead with compassion and heart. I’ve gone all in. Created a retreat space in paradise on earth at Topi Topi, Australia, for creative leaders to come stay, play and heal, along with an online coaching business where I tailor a blueprint for success for each individual.

NYF Health: Your impressive reputation in Healthcare Advertising is known and respected globally, how did you transition from Australia to NYC as CCO?

June Laffey: Carefully!

I went from a small department of 3 creatives to my agency’s flagship office in New York, with over 60 creatives, which grew to over 100 in the 2 ½ years I was there. I had a lot to learn. Including cultural nuances, and who’s who in the zoo. I had to learn processes (including the frustration of scoping!) inter-departmental dynamics, and the importance of grounding. In Australia, I was an ECD, but I also overlapped into writing, producing, dealing with clients, mentoring and strategizing. In America the many layers of roles dictate swimming in your own lane.

I also learnt a lot about myself. Like how resilient I am. My husband of 22 years left me a week before I got on the plane. I was blind-sided. And within a year, my dear mum died, and my amazing mentor left. There was more. Body blow after body blow.  I realized all I had is me, and to take one step at a time. Without expectations.  

NYF Health: You were one of the first Pharma Jury Presidents at Cannes, how did that honor come about and what did you learn via that process?

When I made the transition into health, I saw awards shows as the key to elevating and celebrating the work, attracting new talent, and getting the work seen. I had long been a supporter of New York Festivals, even repped them and co-founded Bravo! the APAC awards show for the Globals, which was soon replicated in New York.  Different awards shows started to see the business and creative value of the emerging lift in health advertising – with shows like Clio Health, London International Awards and One Show all developing their own health shows, I was being asked to help curate, chair and judge year on year. Being a woman, an award winner and based in Australia, I guess helped. Jeremy Perrot and John Cahill from McCann Health were the genius behind Cannes Health Lions in many ways. I remember talking with Louise Benson about the importance of two juries (pharma and health and wellness) and details of categories as the inaugural show was being put together. I guess I had the experience and the passion to be asked to chair. It was an honor. In the jury room I learnt the how far our industry had come – the work and the people were amazing. And on stage, I learnt how to rock a gold sequin dress! What a memory!

NYF Health: How has Healthcare Advertising evolved since you began in the business? And where do you think the opportunities lie in the future?

June Laffey: It’s big business. Bigger than ever. It’s also big opportunity.

Much of the work used to be bland. There were some stand out agencies, like Langland England, creatively led by Andrew Spurgeon. But consistently good work was sparce. A couple of things happened to change that. Firstly, the awards shows highlighted what was possible, and were a beacon in the sea of mediocracy that started to shine brighter. The Globals started to get more diverse and more interesting and tougher judges…other shows started championing health and also getting great judges, and the work followed. The standout was McCann Health, which won network of the year, year on year, at the major international awards shows. Agency Area 23 under Tim Hawkey attracted some amazing talent and did (and continues to do) some fantastic work. Of course, Cannes Lions Health entering the scene in 2015 changed the game again. Having two juries opened the doors for non-traditional health agencies to win a much-desired Lion in health. Health and Wellness continued to grow – approximately four to one entries – compared to Pharma. We saw more and more talented people wanting to come into health and wanting to make a difference. The perception changed from health being the dumping ground for people at the ends of their careers to a vibrant new opportunity to practice life-saving creativity. Doing good became a new motivator for the new generation of talent coming through.

Since Covid and the hunt for a vaccination, there has been a swing towards people wanting to understand the science of health more than ever before. Increasingly, science is becoming a predictor of what next, and scientists are finding a new audience. Smart agencies, like recently formed “The Considered” led by David Hunt, are embracing this, so much so, they have added a world-renowned surgeon to their team.

A massive change in our industry is the focus on Diversity and Inclusion in the past 8 years or so. Happily, we are seeing more women and specifically more women of color coming through. But not enough. And not quickly enough. We need more kids of color, and from different cultures in our industry. This is where the gold is. This is where we really learn. Wouldn’t it be better to grow and nurture more talent, instead of just luring them away from other agencies with big promises and salaries to match. How can the industry get behind this?

Still on Diversity and Inclusion - I believe within the health comms industry, we are in a unique position to employ individuals who are “health challenged” in some way. Real lived experience and insights can result in incredible work. Just look at the brilliant (and successful) ThisAbles Ikea work out of McCann Tel Aviv. Eldar Yusupoav, a disabled copywriter on the team is vocal about how his Cerebral Palsy helped IKEA democratize design. People with disabilities and health challenges can be an incredible asset.

My final point (for now!) is I believe there is a massive untapped opportunity for spiritual health to be elevated in importance when considering general health. Intuition (inner knowing) is a creative’s best friend. The benefits of meditation, time in nature, yoga, spiritual healing and much more have been proven again and again. But still it’s almost considered taboo or woo-woo to be vocal about spiritual health. Just like mental health was rarely addressed in mainstream 20 years ago, spiritual health is still not considered fundamental to holistic health. Personally, having developed my own spiritual gifts later in life, by chance, I know the power of spiritual practice. And from a business perspective, its big business that is happening right now anyhow.

Wrapping up, we all know restrictions and legals make it far harder to get a great pharma idea up. Also, some clients are reticent to enter, and rightly so get pissed off when there are few real “pure pharma” winners in the category. Here lies the conundrum. It takes brave clients to champion brave work. But the work that makes them feel uncomfortable, that is new, that isn’t researched into beige is the work that will win. And most likely the work that will work too. It takes great agency stewardship, good client relations, great strategy and creative to get there. Personally, I believe the best is yet to come.

NYF Health: While leading the creative team at McCann Health your leadership brought the agency to the pinnacle of being named the number 1 creative health agency, what leadership tenets led to this title?

June Laffey: These are the things I believe and live by:

Employ people better than you and get out of the way. Someone much smarter than me said that. And I followed his advice. Tim Jones, Steph Berman, I love you.

Empowering people is at the heart of the sweetest success.

Awards should be the by-product of great work, not the reason for creating it.

Always give credit when credit is due.

We are in the business of creativity. Each is equally important.

Be authentic. Be happy. And above all, be kind.

Always remember, it’s not the action, but your reaction that counts.

NYF Health: How does being a creative leader differ from being “creative”?

Instead of fighting for your own ideas, you will be championing the ideas of others.

Instead of managing your work, you will be managing and leading people.

Instead of being a product of the agency, you are unto yourself a brand.

Instead of concepting and doing, you will be lifting and empowering.

There’s so much to learn as a creative leader. Delegation is key. Empowering others is key. Nurturing a culture of creativity is key. Diplomacy is key. As is bravery, quick-thinking, the ability to pivot and the passion to stand up for your department – but also knowing when to back down. The managerial aspects of scoping, talent to task, auditing, restructuring and building a department are crucial. As is navigating leadership meetings at agency and network level, building interdepartmental and client relationships and more. Other qualities that make for a great creative leader? Living one’s beliefs, clear communication, fostering trust, hard work, out-of-the-box thinking and managing unexpected curveballs. Then there’s the building of your personal and your agency profile both internally and externally. … how much time do you have?

NYF Health: Any insider tips for creatives who are looking to begin coaching?

June Laffey:If you’re at the point of considering a coach…. Do it. If not with me, with someone who has the experience you trust.

I had an incredible mentor – Jeremy Perrott – he believed in me until I believed in myself.

A good coach will upskill you, nurture you, challenge you and help you to see things from a different perspective. They can help you get unstuck, giving you the confidence to go for that promotion, or the new role. They can also gently point out your blind-spots, your areas for improvement, and very often strengths you are not even aware of.  

Unfortunately, there are not enough creative leadership coaches. And the time you are likely to most need one – when you get promoted into a leadership role – is the time you are most afraid to ask for help, maybe from a fear of being seen as incompetent.

NYF Health: How do you approach coaching, what benefits can your clients expect, any success stories you can share?

June Laffey: I called my coaching business FUN (For U Now) because Fun is central to the way I live and work. I work through both agencies (where the CCO, president or HR director will appoint me,) or through meeting with the prospective client on an exploratory call. Once I get a clear understanding of what they need, I tailor a bespoke blueprint for success – a series of pre-prepared decks and on-going conversation over 8 or 12 sessions. What they think they want and what they need can be very different. I work with clients from New York to London and beyond, across different disciplines, including health, though my current clients span health, experiential, mainstream, integrated production and even market access.

My overriding aim is to bring through a new generation of leaders. Leaders who lead from their heart. I upskill through tools, strategies and sharing of experience and knowledge gleaned to give my clients confidence, compassion and an ability to see things from a deeper and different perspective. Practical learnings like finding their own leadership style, building and managing a department, managing inter-departmental relationships, finding and championing best in class work, setting an award strategy, building case studies and more are all peppered with insights gleaned from 30 years as a creative and creative leader. When appropriate, I am also happy to connect people with other others in and around our industry, including different award show organizers.  Because the coaching is so bespoke, the prep and follow up for each person is intensive, and I will only take on clients who I believe are a good fit. I am lucky enough to have worked with several women of color – and I aim to keep my client base diverse.

There have been many success stories. From promotions to a newfound confidence in running a large department, to the skills to negotiate and navigate complex problems. You can learn more at my website or through checking out my LinkedIn recommendations. One client commented today, “Not only have I changed, but because I am exuding confidence and developing my profile externally, the people around me and the opportunities around me have also changed in the positive”.

If you read all of this congratulations. You deserve a medal!