Written by Alex Cloherty
This year, I started a new adventure into the world of life science marketing & communications. Just as I started my new job in marketing at BioLizard, I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie Bush, a seasoned expert in marketing and brand strategy in the healthcare and life sciences industries. After getting to know her creative approach to communicating the value that players in the healthcare industry have to offer, I knew she’d have valuable insights to share with others interested in getting into the exciting world of life sciences marketing. I’m happy to report that Stephanie was willing to let me interview her - let’s dive in!
Nowadays, you are an established expert in marketing and brand strategy in the healthcare and life sciences industries. Can you tell us how you got there?
I actually didn’t set out to study marketing or to go in this direction. After a year abroad as a teenager, I wanted to study international relations at university back in the USA. Somewhat by chance, I ended up taking courses on communications and public relations in my first year… and really enjoyed it! Looking back now, it makes sense – these topics fit with my interests in culture, tech, and understanding people and what makes them tick.
While studying, I did an internship with the Red Cross, and that was my first introduction to the healthcare space. After finishing my degree, I worked in marketing and communications at a local company, which allowed me to sink my teeth into more international work, and to practice finding trends and seeing connections between what the company was doing and what was happening in the greater world. Eventually, through that same company I was able to transfer overseas, which is how I ended up first in Belgium and then in the Netherlands.
At that point, I wanted to transition into healthcare, but I must admit it wasn’t easy at first without a scientific background. Nonetheless, I was always interested in things that are technical in nature, and I was determined to say yes to whatever opportunities came may way. Eventually, what made the difference for getting into healthcare marketing was having a great network!
Whenever you want to make a career transition, cultivating your network, and being open with your network about what you want, is key. Speak up, talk about the things that interest you, and share your ambitions! Even if you’re talking with somebody who isn’t in the exact field you want to be in, they might surprise you in how they can support you.
After gaining some years of experience in healthcare marketing, you set up your own business, nerd+chiq marketing, in the Netherlands. What was that experience like? Do you have tips for anybody who wants to do the same?
I’ve always wanted to have my own company, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would look like, how I could best help people, the kind of variety I would want in my job… But to be honest, I was terrified to do it!
I first tried opening my own company in the 2010s, and I worked on it for about six months. But it started slow, and I didn’t have the patience or confidence to keep going with it back then. So, I went back to my corporate job, and shortly thereafter I got the opportunity to transfer into healthcare through a good friend within my network. So, that experience, which might at first seem like a failure, was very serendipitous in the end!
But that feeling of wanting to be independent, and to use my skills to help more companies reach more patients, didn’t go away. So, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” At that point, I had gained more confidence – and perhaps more patience, too – and I was able to make it work this time!
It also helped that the Netherlands has a very open culture for entrepreneurship. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, because you do have to go to the chamber of commerce and, if you’re an expat, deal with a lot of new Dutch vocabulary, but there are a lot of resources available.
The first thing that I would recommend is to speak with an accountant to understand which type of business you should set up, and which best fits your requirements and goals. Secondly, it can also feel lonely at times if you start your own business and are working alone. Finding a community – people to connect with that are in a similar situation – can help a lot with motivation and not feeling alone. Thirdly, you might think that you need to have a lot of different things in place before you start your business – I know I thought that. But actually, you just need to start! If you don’t have a website, just optimize your LinkedIn profile! Build as you go.
What kind of services do you provide to your clients through nerd+chiq?
I am redefining my services in what I provide, but my main service is working in an interim marketing director and management role - helping to launch products into new territories and markets - and long-term brand strategy. Currently, as I reflect on how I can grow and scale my own business, I’m defining my services along three pillars:
- Marketing strategy and operations – working with clients to formulate and fine-tune their marketing strategy including the infrastructure or tools required, and analytics.
- Brand strategy and positioning – developing clear narratives and messaging
- Product marketing – launch plans including sales training programs and enablement tools
How did you decide what to focus on with your business?
It’s important to choose your offerings based on what you have experience doing, what you enjoy, and where you can provide the most value. Working in industry, you end up taking on a lot of different tasks, and so I had experience in a lot of different areas. I started out by making a list of all the things I thought I could offer. Then, I looked at which items on that list I was strongest at, and that I could offer with my current or near-future resources. I also got input from former colleagues by asking them, if they were to hire me what would they want me to do? I wanted to know what others perceived to be my strengths, which helped me to identify expertise gaps that I could uniquely fill. Again, my network was key!
What does an average day look like for you?
Number one – coffee, coffee, coffee!
I probably break all the rules in my morning routine… I look at my phone, check emails, and review my calendar while I drink my coffee. After my morning coffee, there are lots of different ways my day can go. Usually, I start with client meetings and client work. Lately, I’m working on a product launch so I’m busy with creating messaging and drafting press releases. Alternatively, I might be working on, for example, a customer reference programme, or writing contracts. After that, I might jump to brand strategy work for another customer. At some point there’s always some business administration that I need to take care of – and my own self promotion! At the moment, I have just launched a new website that I’ve been excited to share.
Your job is highly creative - how do you "recharge" your creativity battery?
I’ve also been ‘go-go-go’, and if you’re like that, you naturally become known as somebody who does a lot of work. But are you working on the right things?
I learned that taking breaks, and being able to manage your schedule and make it work for you is essential to doing your best work. That can be harder if you have a corporate position, but if you can find ways to adjust your schedule to fit your mind and energy, giving yourself that brain space can have a huge impact on your work! I think it’s really important, especially in a creative field like marketing, to step away and think about the people you want to reach, and what is happening in the world.
Getting outside and getting away is a big thing for me. I can feel the difference when I’ve had time to think about things other than work, and to do something different. For me, that might mean going for a long walk or working in my garden. When I’m stuck, I especially like to do something manual to really clear my mind. I also like to read fiction and engage with pop culture, which I think is good for my creativity.
I also find it fun to step out of the B2B world and look at what is happening in the B2C world. I love to watch advertisements and see what’s happening out there! Some of my best projects, in which I’ve had the most impact, happened because I could leverage what was happening in pop culture to capture the interest of an audience. For instance, I once spearheaded a Lego campaign for bioengineers that was a huge hit.
What are the best parts of your job?
I like the measuring! The numbers! And I also love all the people that I get to meet, and getting to know their different backgrounds and stories.
I also love to work with companies that are really trying to improve peoples’ quality of health. That’s something that I believe is truly fundamental.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Sometimes it’s difficult to get people to understand that marketing is not only creative, but also strategic and analytical. Now, I always tell people that at the end of the day, marketing is cognitive and behavioural science – you really need to think about what you’re saying and understand who you’re targeting, and how. Explaining it this way is something I learned from own marketing mentor, and it has stuck with me.
Another difficult part is getting people to believe that there is value in marketing - and then understanding what that value is. It’s important to communicate the value of what you do - to know your statistics, and use examples. Especially if you’re working with very analytical people in healthcare, you need to be able to speak about your numbers – for instance, measuring your return on investment with different tools, your impact in hard numbers, and the sales generation from pilot marketing activities. My advice is: measure everything, and qualify what you’re doing! It’s also just fun to know if what you’re doing is working!
What tips do you have for somebody who wants to get into marketing for the life sciences industry?
Be open, be curious! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, and to tell people in your network what your ambitions are. If people don’t know, they can’t help you! Getting into marketing is a great opportunity if you have a passion for communicating with people.
If you’re just coming out of school, for instance finishing a PhD or MSc that’s not directly marketing-related, you can start out by volunteering. For instance, take a marketing position in a student association. Or, if you’re trying to transition from a non-marketing industry role, don’t be afraid to talk to your marketing team. Ask if there are opportunities to work together on projects, to see how you like it. There are also a lot of online resources and courses you can take to get familiar with the field.
Are there any materials on marketing in the life science that you can recommend?
Medical marketing & media is a good publication dedicated to marketing in the life science & pharma space, which also offers podcasts and events. And of course, you can read my own blog and follow the information that I share on LinkedIn! I would also suggest monitoring scientific publications to understand what’s happening in the field. Otherwise, there’s somewhat of a gap in marketing for life sciences material – so please let me know if you know of any other publications!
Where can people best find and follow you?