- 1 year ago
29 June 2022
Less than 12 months after taking on his first corporate gig as Head of Communications and Public Affairs for Janssen ANZ, Adam Wyldeck is not just shaking things up in the company, he’s shaking up how Janssen thinks about and operates in the external environment across Australia and New Zealand.
While his fresh approach may be unorthodox for more traditional industry practitioners, Wyldeck both has the mindset and has built the team to make a sustained and substantive difference in how pharma corporate affairs operate.
Appointed last August as one of the new leadership team of managing director Biljana Naumovic, herself appointed in January 2021, Wyldeck brought with him extensive government and agency experience but little in-house corporate experience.
Yet his eight years as a federal government advisor and four years in senior roles at strategic consultancy BCW’s Hong Kong office meant what Wyldeck lacked in industry knowledge, he more than made up for in strategic vision.
Wyldeck moved back to Sydney from Hong Kong with his young family last year to work with Naumovic, the revolutionary leader giving him free rein to both handpick his own team and determine how corporate affairs would operate within the company. The result is both a very different and dynamic communications team and a much more ambitious approach to what corporate affairs can achieve.
“For a start, communications teams can play a much bigger role in the market access process,” he tells MedNews. “You cannot underestimate the ability of corporate affairs to activate public opinion and build rings of pressure around decision-makers.
“Too often communications teams in the pharmaceutical industry are focused on disease awareness and product launches when we have the ability to do so much more. We have to be able to have conversations behind closed doors, but we also need to present our case to the public.”
Wyldeck’s approach was on show most recently in the three-step plan released by the company’s New Zealand country manager Amy Wilkinson after Wyldeck took the complex independent review of Pharmac and synthesised Janssen’s ask down to a simple three-point action plan that was both easy for Wilkinson to communicate and easy for the media and the public to understand.
It’s an example of how his background in government and agency has taught him to condense complex issues into bite-sized chunks to enable simple, clear messaging that has a natural flow.
“In politics, we would say the average person absorbs less than three minutes of political content a week, so it is important to be concise and to be clear,” he says.
“It’s not dumbing down the message, it’s taking a really complex message and simplifying it. The skill is to look at your objective, understand the landscape and distil the message to something that wins the hearts and minds of the public.”
Once he had an understanding of the impact he wanted to have at Janssen, Wyldeck set about building a diverse team of communications professionals with the ability to think and act differently.
After more than 30 interviews, he hired four women from a range of backgrounds, all with impressive resumes.
Two came from Bayer including its former Head of Communications, Michelle D’Heureux – Wyldeck’s first appointment in January and adding the inside knowledge Wyldeck needed to understand the sector, yet he also describes D’Heureux as the Ying to his Yang, her patience and calm demeanour matching his own restless energy.
Also from Bayer is the youngest member of the team, Jenna Green, who brought both pharma and agency experience. Having headed up BCW in Hong Kong, Wyldeck said agency work exposed practitioners to different sectors and companies, and was a great training ground for meeting multiple deadlines, being creative, making a commercial impact, and thinking on your feet.
Wyldeck has also hired former television journalist Gabrielle Adams who, like Wyldeck, does not have industry experience but whom Wyldeck says brings an essential element necessary for any good communications team.
“Having a journalist on your team is unbelievably valuable – they think differently and bring a different perspective,” he says. “Every good communications team should have an ex-journalist. I don’t care where I am or what sector I am in, I will always have an ex-journalist on the team, preferably from mainstream media. Journalists know how to distil the message.”
Completing the new-look Janssen team is Loucineh Mardirossian, a communications expert with both deep industry and agency experience and, he adds, “a lateral thinker who is social media savvy”.
“Loucineh is very creative with a socially-driven mindset. She throws wild ideas into the mix that actually make sense. It was important for me to have a mix of skills and not hire exclusively from pharma. When building a team from scratch, you need one or two members deeply experienced in pharma comms but if you stack the whole team, you will get the same thinking and the same results.
“I now have a team of expert communications people who understand what a good story is and know how to tell that story.”
With his team now in full flight, Wyldeck works “in lock-step” with Janssen’s government affairs team led by Alison Crosweller, the two senior leaders talking daily about strategy while he also looks at new ways to make an impact. This was seen in Janssen’s sponsoring Sydney’s first ultra-marathon, with Wyldeck saying this is not the last outfield move he is going to make.
“I’m thinking about partnerships with well-known brands outside of pharma that make sense and contribute to better patient outcomes,” he says.
“As a team, we are rethinking how we can make an impact both externally and internally. We are breaking down the silos. We share ideas and we stress test them as a team, as well as throw in new ideas. Everyone comes together with a different angle and it is this diversity of views that gets results.”
Wyldeck says having a reputational program outside of the company’s day-to-day activities is also imperative.
“Traditionally, pharma companies have only engaged the media at particular points of the product lifecycle such as TGA approval and PBS listing, but there are other points where the media should also be engaged in the conversation,” he says.
“For example, the government does not encourage people to give their experience or viewpoint regarding products to be considered by the PBAC, so it is important we as a company make people aware of what they are doing and encourage them to contribute their view.
“Along with the hustle and bustle of our everyday activities, we need to highlight what we do as a business. We need to develop a team mindset regarding the specific objective of every campaign we are involved in and ask, what is the point of influence we can have and how are we building a chorus of voices to support our objective?
“We need to be activating public opinion and building rings of pressure around decision-makers.”