2017 Executive Jury Spotlight Interview: Praful Akali


Each year, the Global Awards recruits some of the world’s most prominent award-winning industry creatives and thought-leaders to serve on the Global Awards Executive Jury. These dedicated creatives meet in New York City to select the most innovative creative entries in the Health & Wellness and Pharma (Rx) sphere worthy of being awarded a Global Award and the title of the World’s Best Healthcare & Wellness℠.

Global Awards is thrilled to feature the 2017 Healthcare & Wellness Executive Jury member, Praful Akali, Medulla, Founder & Managing Director of Medulla Healthcare Communications, India in this Spotlight Interview. His company’s meteoric rise to success is truly an inspiration.  He brings a wealth of skills to the Executive Jury judging sessions, including integrated creative and strategy with a base of medical understanding.  

Praful started his creative journey as a journalist and loved it, added medical expertise through a pharmacy education, moved up the ladder into strategy with a degree from India’s leading B-school, built on this base with eight years of marketing experience on leading consumer healthcare brands at Pfizer, Boots, etc. and then launched Medulla in 2008. His leadership has helped Medulla win some of the biggest pharma and consumer healthcare clients in India, Asia-Pacific, and Africa including J&J, P&G, GSK, GSKCH, Novartis, Merck and many others. 

Medulla is now one of the world’s most awarded creative healthcare advertising agencies. Under Praful’s guidance, Medulla is the only agency to come in the top three Agencies of the Year every year for the three years of Lions Health, including winning the Healthcare Agency of the Year in 2016, probably becoming the first agency ever to win AOTY after less than 8 years of existence.

In the interview below, Praful shares his creative insights on judging and what he’s looking for when selecting award-worthy work, his thoughts on how brands are taking advantage of technology, his favorite healthcare & wellness ad and much more.

Does judging the year’s creative work within your industry influence your creative process? 

Praful: Yes, it does. What’s really thought-provoking are the discussions with the other jurors on specific pieces of work – the perspectives are so varied, yet each of them so mature and thoughtful, that it leaves you with many lenses to review your own work.

Why did you agree to participate in the Global Awards Jury? When judging, what specifically are you looking for when determining whether a campaign is award-winning?

Praful: Why did I agree to participate in the Global jury? The other jury members – I think we have the biggest names on board this year and I’m excited to be sharing thoughts with them. What do I look out for? Three things: 1. A big idea: If there is no creative leap then it doesn’t fit into an advertising awards scenario for me. The idea has to feel like “Damn, wish we’d thought of this!” 2. Strategically correct and ideally, strategically innovative too: You have to remember that these are advertising awards and not just creative awards. It cannot be creative for the heck of it but has to help the brand achieve a marketing objective. And when you look at a piece of work you know instantly if there is strategy behind it or just a big idea. In the healthcare space, where the ecosystem adds so many constraints, the strategy is even more important. 3. Has the campaign really been run at scale? Has the client put monies behind an idea or just put their name? Healthcare advertising is truly great for me when everyone in the ecosystem that normally kills the creative idea is actually excited by the creative idea. And if the idea has not excited the brand team enough to invest in the idea, then I start feeling that there’s something off that I have to spot.

What will be the most prominent changes in healthcare & wellness advertising in the next few years?

Praful: I think the plethora of awards in the last few years in healthcare advertising has helped the client recognize good healthcare advertising and its value in driving business. This single fact will drive the daily work in pharma and healthcare advertising up by several notches over the next 2-3 years. So, we will explore boundaries, make creative leaps with every piece of healthcare communication – something which has never before happened in the past.

With the influx of wellness campaigns vs adverts for pharmaceuticals, how does Pharma compete with its highly regulated guidelines?

Praful: I believe that more than the regulations, the pharma industry’s interpretation of the regulations constrains our thinking. One way to change this is for the healthcare and pharma advertising folks to get together with clients– not just marketing teams, but legal, regulatory, clinical research and sales teams – and look at great creative work that has interpreted these regulations correctly, interpret the spirit of the regulations together, and chart a plan to do more impactful communication, even if it means working hand in hand with the regulators themselves.

In your opinion which brands have utilized technology in a unique way to attract the digital consumer and do breakthrough creative?

Praful: I love it when technology is applied correctly to solve a real communication problem. So, I loved the VR vaccine that put kids as heroes into a fantasy world created by VR and made it easier for them to take the fire-fruit, or the vaccine. Or the innovative ‘Fin’ for amputees that allowed them to use the swimming pool without removing their prosthetic legs developed by Northwell Health to communicate their innovation capabilities.
I have also been very proud of Medulla’s own work on social media – Last Words and Last Laugh – with healthcare professionals that used peer-to-peer conversations to ensure that doctors questioned their own behavior, something which would not have been possible through a medical rep.

What is your favorite healthcare & wellness advertising campaign that you’ve seen this year and why?

Praful: I have been very proud of a campaign from India by McCann Healthcare – the ‘Immunity Charm’ with colour coded beads for each vaccine on the traditional Afghani charm bracelet – which I felt is a brilliant solution to tracking which vaccines have been completed for a child in an ecosystem like Afghanistan where this seems like an impossible task. And I’m proud not just because it’s from India but as a healthcare advertising professional, I believe real innovative solutions like this are what will define the future of our industry.



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