Delivery Sessions Interview with Minas Maroudas, Creative Director at woolleypau

Take a look at Minas Maroudas’ creative portfolio, and you’ll be amazed at how someone can bring such imagination and originality to the world of healthcare. But after over two decades in digital marketing with a niche in the pharmaceutical industry, he’s learned a thing or two about how to be different. Today, he’s leading the creative teams at award-winning, healthcare creative agency, wolleypau, as they continually redefine storytelling for health and wellness. So of course we had to chat with him — and here’s what we learned. 

Tell me about your background / previous experience…. What got you into the creative strategy in the Healthcare space? 

If you could have heard Minas’ accent over the phone, it would give away his South African upbringing. It’s where he studied graphic design and got his very first agency job post-grad.  “My career in creative marketing started a long time ago,” Minas shared. “I started on the consumer side until we merged with another agency that was strictly healthcare, which I knew absolutely nothing about — and neither did my boss. It was weird and frustrating at the time. So many rules and regulations, and I’m pretty sure we broke every one possible; it was like the Wild West of marketing. But overtime, I grew to love it. The challenge of navigating those restrictions made creating something that solved the brand’s problem that much more satisfying than in the consumer space. 

When I left South Africa, I came to London to travel. But knowing the bias on younger professionals in the advertising and creative space, I was hesitant to give it up completely, even temporarily. So I started at DDB Rx as an Art Director. That year, I went to one of my first award ceremonies, and one of the most awarded agencies was wolleypau. In that moment, I said I was going to work for that company one day. 17 years and multiple roles within the industry later, here I am.”

And how did that happen? 

“I was previously working as a creative director at RAPP, which is part of the much larger entity, Omnicom, when I heard my friend who was in the same position as me at wolleypau was leaving. So I asked if he could throw my name in the ring. I had heard that the agency left Dentsu and was now independent again, which was another big draw for me. It felt like an opportunity to build a creative team from the ground up with someone I really respected in the industry. The timing just worked out very nicely.” 

Tell me about the history of wolleypau? What’s the story behind the name? 

“So wolleypau is two surnames — Dean Wolley and Louisa Pau. They were the copywriter and art director on the creative team of one of London’s largest agencies, and they made a decision to go out on their own. They saw some success as their own agency, and eventually got bought out by a small network named Gyro. But just two months later, Gyro was bought by Dentsu, and all of a sudden, wolleypau was part of a global network. Around this time Louisa left the agency, but Dean has been there through it all.  After 30 years, you can really see his flavor of writing reflected through our work. It’s very unique and difficult to maintain your own style in advertising — especially in healthcare advertising — but he’s managed to do it. He’s someone very much worth listening to. 

“I’ll never forget wolleypau had a campaign for a diabetes-related drug, in which Dean wrote one of the lines, and I absolutely loved it. When I was sitting face-to-face with him for the first time in my interview for my current role, I brought it up, and we both started laughing. Elvis has left the pudding. I still say it today.” 

What are some of the skills you’ve developed that are necessary to excel in digital marketing / the creative process in the healthcare world? 

When it comes to thriving in a creative environment, Minas emphasizes the importance of not only knowing your own strengths, but also those of the people around you.  “I believe it’s about really understanding each individual’s unique skills on the team — which can and should be far-ranging. I’ve been in digital my entire professional life, but I think I really only cut my teeth when I was at RAPP. And that’s because we had a digital development arm called CODE, which I tried to immerse myself in to better understand our developers and what it takes to do what they do; what motivates them every day. It’s a totally different mindset from the frontend team. Everyone has a different approach and something unique they can bring to the table, and the better you understand what those things are, the stronger your team will be. I think it was the most important lesson I learned in my career. “

So how does he do it? “I’m lucky to have quite an outgoing personality, so I’m not intimidated by social situations with new people. So I went out of my way to talk to people who were working on a project, whether or not I was involved. I would just chat with them. I wanted to be part of conversations where I wasn’t even needed — especially around the backend and delivery side. My goal was to understand their personality, how they talk about the project, and how they solve the issues they face. For me, it was so interesting how analytical and logical their approach to problem solving is — the exact opposite you are told as a creative. We’re taught to free our minds and think outside the box. 

“Lastly, something I’m known for is treating people how I want to be treated; not letting the small guy get pushed around. Coming into digital marketing at a young age, it’s easy to get pushed around. Of course, you have to earn your place, but in many situations, it’s less about that and more about showing rank. And that’s now how I operate.”

As a global healthcare agency, tell me a little about your work in regard to transcription/transcreation. What are the keys to success in this area?

On a more personal level, Minas’ curiosity for anthropology set a solid foundation to his success in marketing on a global scale. “I’ve always been very interested in how people in different cultures live and what’s important to them because it all translates into solving creative problems; something that’s right for you, may not be right for someone else. So when we look at a brief, I tell my junior creative team that it isn’t about you — it’s about this client who wants to speak to that person, so find out everything about that person and talk to them in the way they want to be spoken to. 

“And with transcreation, that message can be translated into 50-60 different languages. Some of the most interesting projects I’ve worked on involved completely flipping copy and icons to be read from right to left, versus left to right, for areas in the Middle East. But when you are translating copy meant for one part of the world to target another, even if all the grammar and structure is correct, the message may still not work. So I find it valuable to not just write a headline, but also provide a guide as to how we wrote it and if you want to use it, you may want to follow these types of rules. You have to be sure the flavor of the culture comes through too — something that I used to have to intentionally think about, but has become much more natural to me over time.” 

Any specific keys to success in managing a creative team? How do you keep your creative teams connected / client relationships strong?

“I am a big fan of transparency. Of course, there are times when discretion is necessary, but I am absolutely honest with people who work for me. I will tell them pretty much everything because I know it motivates them. When they understand your own pressures and responsibilities, it teaches them to look at things differently and want to be on your side. Life is a conversation; if you put yourself out there, you’ll get a lot back.

“I also try to delegate as much as possible; something that can be tough for creative control freaks, which to some degree I am! But at the end of the day, if you trust someone, they will trust you. Everyone I meet gets my trust right off the bat, and it’s theirs to lose.”

How do you continue to adapt to the ever-changing world of healthcare? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve? 

Minas can find inspiration just about anywhere, so he tries to look outside his specific field to find doors to new possibilities. “I always try to stay open minded, exposing myself to more than just advertising or healthcare advertising. That means surrounding myself with as much creativity as I can — from reading books or comics, going to the theater, one-man shows, and just trying different things. Let the world in. It’s a vast place with so much to discover. 

“And when I do find creative inspiration, I send myself an email. Yesterday, I sent myself six while just sitting in a garden. This concept of an ‘idea diary’ was a habit encouraged by one of my lecturers in college, and I first tried it to remember my dreams at night. But when I would wake up the next morning, I would typically discover my novel revelation while half-asleep was actually complete gibberish. I have much more success with my process now.” 

What are some of your favorite projects to work on? Any big wins that really stood out in your career? 

“When you look at my portfolio, no two projects look the same. There are some photographers or designers that have such a recognizable style to their work, but I don’t buy into that. I was always taught to solve the brief for the brief, which means delivering something that only fits that unique story. 

“I will say that one of my favorite projects of all time actually never took off. Three days before launch, the team pulled the plug for internal reasons. But it was so very well done, and I was so proud of it. We created an entire font out of petri dishes, and it looked nothing like anything you had ever seen in the space. Regardless of the situation, it was the most fun project to work on. 

What does the future of marketing in the pharmaceutical space look like? What trends or changes are on the horizon? 

With stricter guidelines and stronger competition, Minas believes the future looks grim for traditional healthcare agencies.  “The most popular trend we’re seeing right now is consumer agencies developing a healthcare arm with less focus on more serious healthcare categories, and more so on wellness overall. And it’s proving to be quite difficult for traditional healthcare agencies to compete with.  More brand managers are looking for an agency with a big name or reputation behind them, and so this is where they’re headed. 

“I also think we are going to see a lot more drugs come to market a lot faster now that the control arm is digital. In the past, you had a lot of people hesitant to do trials and patient testing because they didn’t want to be stuck with the placebo. But now, researchers can do a control set by using data captured from previous research, which means every participant can receive the drug being tested. It’s incredible — progress like this continues to blow my mind. In my industry, there’s always something new to learn and something changing for the better. You can’t know everything, but you can soak up as much as you can. And when your job stimulates you to learn like mine does, even better.”