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In the 30 years since joining Havas, Havas Health & You Global CEO Donna Murphy has helped to build the agency into the world’s largest global health and wellness communications network, comprised of 150 health-focused marketing agencies in 70+ countries.

We chatted with Murphy about the future of healthcare marketing, her many accolades including recently being named PR News’ 2019 Visionary of the Year, and how her first job at McDonald’s influenced her career.

You began your career at Ernst & Young and Goldman Sachs. What attracted you to a career in advertising?

I started in advertising on the financial side of the business, leading mergers and acquisitions that Havas was doing in North America at the time. We acquired a small health advertising business and I was offered the opportunity to join as the COO/CFO. I thought it would be great to get some operating experience, and 30 years later here we are. My financial background helps me every day to look at our business through a different lens, and we’re now at around 4,000 staff working in more than 70 countries.

You’ve worked at Havas for 30 years; what keeps you interested in the work here and particularly in the health industry? 

Advertising is a really dynamic industry—there is constant change and challenge, which I love. I am an entrepreneur at heart and Havas has always allowed me to thrive and push out of the box. Health & Wellness advertising holds incredible meaning to me. We work on projects every day that impact how well people live, how diseases are managed or treated, what research or innovations may end up in a hospital or household. At the heart of our work is the impact on people and on their lives and families. The term we use to describe our north star is Human Purpose. This is what keeps us motivated every day.

Tell us a little about your role at Havas Health & You?

As the Global CEO of the business, I oversee the operations of our network around the world, from our guiding strategies, to our talent philosophy, to our financial performance and our innovation. We have a great global operating team that I work with daily, as well as regional and divisional leadership who do a fabulous job. I see my role primarily as supporting and leading our staff around the world, creating opportunities for us to continue to grow in a sustainable way, and helping to unearth new innovations and paths for our business every day with our global team. It’s so exciting to watch how we’ve grown over the years, and the future looks very bright for our business.

How have you seen the health industry change since you and your team built Havas Health & You?

The health industry today is dramatically different from what it was 30 years ago. Imagine the industry without the internet—no telemedicine, no digital records, no booking a doctor online. That alone has changed things tremendously. Medical research has also had a huge impact, as there are treatments and cures today for diseases we weren’t even aware of 30 years ago. The patient experience is completely different today as well, with access to instant information and a plethora of healthcare options. There is so much customization, information, data, and innovation now that we didn’t have in the ’80s and ’90s. These changes continue to happen on a near-daily basis in our industry.

What does the future of healthcare look like?

Health and wellness as categories are having an enormous cultural moment right now. People are prioritizing their well-being more than ever and one in every three global searches is related to health. I believe the future will be more preventive and will leverage data we’re collecting in very interesting ways. With the research and innovation over the last decade, we’re getting to a place where health solutions will find patients, versus the other way around. We have so much information now about how people are living, what their symptoms look like, what treatments are working for them, what their DNA looks like, even when and how they’re exercising. We launched an AI business called HVH a couple of years ago that can diagnosis a health condition in a patient three to five years before a physician. This was not possible even just a few years ago. There is more of this to come, with healthtech, medtech, data, and robotics advancing every day and impacting the very foundations of the category.

Over the years you have won numerous accolades including Advertising Person of the Year by Med Ad News and one of the Most Influential Women of the Year by The Irish Voice. You were recently named 2019 Visionary of the Year at the PR News Top Women in Healthcare Awards. What does this honor mean to you?

Being recognized in the industry means that we’ve made a difference. I wake up every day to purposeful work and a staff whom I care for deeply. I feel proud of the work we’re doing; I feel proud of the successes that we have as a team and it’s amazing to look at what we’ve built over the years.


Do you have any hobbies outside of work? What are they and how did you get into them?

My family is my biggest priority. We spend a lot of time together when I’m not at the office, either at home or traveling. I contribute to several boards as well: PACE University, Home Base (a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program for veterans and families), and Project HOPE. It fuels me to give back any time that I can and there are numbers of causes that I spend my time on that are meaningful to me and my family. I also like to exercise. Some of our team members here got me into spinning a few years ago and it’s a great outlet for me.

How do you inspire others?

I try to look at myself first to inspire others—I treat everyone on our staff with respect, I listen to their input, I make time for the people in our business. Our staff inspires me. I also work very hard to offer our teams inspiring work. People today are really prioritizing purposeful work, so I look at the projects we have across our business through that lens, and also invest in projects and causes that our staff bring to us as areas that are important to them.

What is something your colleagues don’t know about you? Or that’s just generally surprising about you?

I really thought that I wanted to be a nurse and then my first job at age 16 was at McDonald’s. I used to volunteer to stay late and not get paid to count all of the money from each register. This put me on a path to business. In a strange way it has brought me full circle back to Health & Wellness with a marketing and business focus.

What are you really good at?

I think my superpower is really with people. Because of my background, I’m good at relating to people from all walks of life. I have a natural curiosity and I love to hear different perspectives. Whether I’m with a client in London, or at one of our offices on the West Coast, I can always find common ground. I love to hear about people’s families, their personal lives, and why they do the work that they do.

What’s the best advice you ever received? The worst?

The best advice – At the end of the day when you think you are finished, do just one more thing.

The worst advice – Make sure you self-promote yourself. My answer to that is there is no “I” in the word team.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am a very lucky person to have worked at Havas for over 30 years. The people with whom I have worked and built personal relationships are the finest individuals you will ever meet.

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