Interview with an Employee
The best part of being a strategic planner at McCann Health


Once aspiring for a career in marketing, he embraced the importance of communication and entered the world of advertising. After building his career at various manufacturers, advertising agencies, foreign and Japanese companies, he landed in McCann Health.

Q. Please tell us about your background.

I had strong interest in marketing since college, which drove me to start my career at a cosmetics company as a marketer after graduation. There was so much to learn, and every day was rewarding, but I had a revelation one day – “I must understand communication to master marketing.” It was then when I decided to change jobs to join an advertising agency.

My new workplace was at a joint venture of a Japanese and an international advertising agency. I was assigned to a 3-year contract for a luxury brand of an international client which previously worked with a Japanese advertising agency. At the end of the 3 years, the client recognized my contribution and asked me to move to the Japanese advertising agency they have a contract with, so that I can continue to work for them.

This was a tough decision. Originally, I was thinking of eventually returning to a client side and make use of the experience I gained in the advertising industry, but it was the time when I began to think that pursuing a career in advertising may be my way to go. In the end, I made the big decision to move to the Japanese advertising agency as the client suggested. After 6 years on the client’s luxury brand, I felt that I had done my part and the brand needed a generational change, so I changed jobs again. I then worked at a boutique creative agency for 5 years, then moved to a healthcare agency network which had its headquarters in New York. This is when I first heard out about McCann Health.

I then worked for a foreign DMP (Data Management Platform) company where I learned the latest technologies in marketing analytics. It was a very exciting job, but the head office decided to close its Japanese operations in 2017, and it was then when I was invited to join McCann Health from an acquaintance who worked there.

McCann Health’s outstanding presence in healthcare and its ability to take on new challenges under the company’s leadership was the deciding factor.

Q. Why did you choose to work at a healthcare agency, particularly McCann Health?

There is no doubt that maintaining health in Japan is going to become increasingly difficult in the future, given the problems of increasing medical costs and the aging society. There has been a lot of talk about the strain on the healthcare system due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but this is just one precursor of the coming future. Healthcare needs to change its systems and communication to meet the needs of people and society. In other words, it can be said area is very likely to undergo a significant transformation. The main reason why I decided to enter a healthcare agency is because I wanted to be part of resolving such challenges.

I decided to join McCann Health because of its outstanding global presence. Agencies working with pharmaceutical companies in the US and Northern American countries are at the core of innovation in healthcare, actively adopting specific science methodologies such as data marketing and social behavior science and are also at the forefront of creativity. The Japanese healthcare advertising industry unfortunately has not reached that level yet.

McCann Health is definitely at the forefront of trends. The U.S. headquarters won creative awards at Cannes (64th Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity), and the Japanese office has been winning the “Agency of the year (by Campaign Asia-Pacific)” for 11 consecutive years until 2020. I hate to boast, but this is definitely an achievement of the excellence of the organization and its members. That is precisely the reason why I was attracted to McCann Health.

Pharmaceuticals products are for all people regardless of race or language, so fundamentally pharmaceutical companies only have one market. That is why pharmaceutical companies must successfully do business across all countries all over the world. McCann Health’s knowledge of the U.S., the leading market, and accumulated best practices are definitely a big advantage as it opens opportunities to take on various new challenges in the Japanese pharmaceutical industry, which still has the tendency of a closed market.

His main role is the development of marketing strategies for prescription drugs. The sense of responsibility and challenge of paving the major business direction in partnership with the client is his drive.

Q. What is your current job and what do you find rewarding about it?

I am involved in a range of work, but my main job is to contribute to the development of mid- to long-term business strategies of pharmaceutical companies. I mainly support the development of marketing strategies for prescription drugs, in other words, the sales promotion on how to communicate and promote drugs. I am also probing for opportunities to work with non-pharmaceutical companies on healthcare-related products and topics, to help them promote and plan their products and services in the health context.

Being involved in strategy naturally puts us strategists in a highly responsible position to make significant decisions which may determine the direction of an entire project. For example, in a pitch situation, the strategy is the springboard for the creative work. So, if the strategy is not quite right, the creative output will also become off. There is a considerable amount of pressure and responsibility when making a decision, but it can also be very rewarding. The sense of responsibility, the excitement to take on new challenges, and the wide variety of work is what makes my work exciting.

I also need to keep updating myself with information so that I can make the appropriate output that keeps up with the times, which makes my personal growth tangible – I think that is another rewarding element.

The client relationship can also be rewarding. In some cases, we work with clients on marketing strategies for a new drug as early as a year and a half before launch. Especially if the drug is not first-to-market, the circumstances can be quite tricky, so we need to work with the brand marketers very closely. I believe the true value of advertising agencies, is to show a perspective that the client does not have. As the trusted partner of the client marketing team, we need to fill the blind-spots for them. We work as one team through numerous discussions saying, “Hey, what about this?” “This is what the competition is going to do, so how about we do this?” and when we are successful, it is a very rewarding experience and it is very satisfying to win the client’s trust.

Strategy is a job that requires mental and physical strength as full brain power is consumed under limited conditions. However, the pain of creation can turn into great joy.

Q. What is the toughest part of this job?

I guess in the end, you have to be mentally and physically tough. You have to keep thinking at all times, which can be tiring. High concentration is required in a short lead-time, but it’s more like running a middle-distance race than a short sprint.

Even for the internal team, we need to develop good creative briefs which will become the springboard for the creative idea, but if the creative team isn’t convinced with the brief content, I have to redevelop it. If we come up with a boring brief, the creative jump doesn’t happen. This can be problematic for the entire team, so it’s a stressful process no matter how many times I go through it. But that’s part of the pain of creation when we try to generate a new market, which can turn into great joy when we are successful.

There is no room for compromise, both for the client and the internal team. Keeping this mindset is tough, but it is highly rewarding and there is a lot to gain personally when we win a pitch with a convincing proposal or when we see great response to a campaign after launch.

Strategic planners need to be both left brained and right brained. Knowledge can be added later, so having a personal strategy and style more important.

Q. What is required of a strategic planner?

Many people may think that you need to be right brained to work at an advertising agency due to its creative nature, but it is important to also have left brain skills that can pull together detailed logic as well. Enthusiasm and passion alone are not enough to do this. You need to be able to explain your rationale in a logical manner. Having said that, just being left brained is not enough either because what we are doing is not just organizing facts. You need to fuse the two brains together and generate new ideas and differences using your right brain from the facts.

To the question of whether past experience in healthcare is necessary or not, I personally don’t believe that’s the only thing that matters. Marketing requires diversity. It should be multifaceted. Of course, expertise and knowledge are crucial so it can be a bit of a challenge, but I studied a lot too and people who want to become strategic planners need to be studious. But don’t you think acquiring knowledge the easiest part? The hard part is nurturing the ability to come up with different ways of thinking and ideas, because these are things difficult to acquire even with training. It requires effort and experience on the part of the individual, as well as talent. If this was a computer, knowledge will be the operating system, and the remaining will be the applications.

I believe that communication is something that changes the way people think. This principle is true regardless of the field. I have personally experienced this in many fields, but whether it be cars or cosmetics, the fundamental approach is to find out what people are thinking and how to provide impact that can change their mindset. My job is to put that into practice.

Healthcare expertise can be built with knowledge, but the style of marketing and communication framework is individually unique, so I think it is more important for people to have their own marketing strategy and style.

Anyone who likes healthcare or are interested in communication who are inspired by challenges and willing build their careers should join McCann.

Q. What would you like to say to prospective applicants and associates?

I will love to see people who like or are interested in healthcare to come to McCann Health to challenge themselves. People who are working in a different area of healthcare or anyone interested in communication working in healthcare but not a pharmaceutical company are also very welcome. McCann Health has a very open working culture and there is no hierarchy, so it is an environment where you can easily make use of your experience.

The tides in the healthcare market are turning and there are many changes happening constantly, so it is a place where we can take on many new challenges. In other words, it may not be a place for those who want to sit in the backseat and live a calm life until retirement. If you are willing to build your career and are inspired by challenges, I would love to work with you.