Insights in health & wellness branding


The Ninth Inning is When All the Exciting Stuff Happens

12 May 2022   |   Gretchen Kren


Jay Carter’s January horoscope might have said something like, “Great professional honors will come your way this spring.” In April, Med Ad News named him Industry Person of the Year for 2022, citing his contributions both to AbelsonTaylor and the medical marketing industry at large. Then, in May, he was named a Pinnacle Award winner by MM+M, recognizing the industry’s “most venerable marketers, strategists and creators.”

Although Jay, EVP and chief strategy officer, has received numerous professional awards during his almost 38-year career, these recent honors take a retrospective view of his achievements, underscoring just how long he has been in the industry. But don’t think that means he’s thinking of retiring. “I’m not yet in the ninth inning, and that’s when all the exciting stuff happens,” he says. “I still love my job, I’m not done yet, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

So what are some highlights of Jay’s career? What are his secret powers? And what does he see as key qualities for those pursuing a career in healthcare marketing? Jay touched on these questions during his acceptance speech for the Industry Person of the Year Award. Here’s a deeper dive into his thinking.

Q1: What are some of the seminal moments in your career so far, moments that broke new ground or helped reshape the industry?  

No pressure here! Honestly, I can share some milestones in my career, but it’s really hard for me to think of them as industry-shaping.

  • After about two years in advertising, the VP marketing at the old Wyeth Labs asked me what I thought about a market issue. I began to answer with a recap of what our market research showed. He stopped me, saying: “I asked what you THINK, not what the numbers tell you.” It reminded me that decisions get made by people trusting people. I’ve never forgotten that.
  • I had great success in my first two assignments in advertising, but it was easy to attribute that to building good relationships with clients rather than being good at my job. Right around 1993 is when I figured out that I was pretty good at this medical advertising thing. Right around that same time, Dale Taylor reminded me that what I said in meetings really shaped the way some people thought. That was a strange and foreign concept to me; I didn’t really think what I thought mattered that much. It changed the way that I manage.
  • In 1995 I had the privilege of helping to rebrand Neupogen, a great drug for cancer patients. Our work led to a fundamental change in the way early-stage breast cancer was treated. I can’t prove it, but I honestly believe that we helped save many lives. You walk around with your head higher when you get to do that.
  • In 2010 I was feeling pretty good about my ability to impact AbelsonTaylor and accepted an opportunity to join the board of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame. It was a great growth moment for me. I learned that those of us who work in this business have more that unites us than divides us. I learned from other leaders who were incredibly generous with their time and their honest feedback. Together, we agreed that the mission of the MAHF was more than celebrating the past, but celebrating the growth of our current collective staffs, and educating that group.
  • Later on, John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, told me about that organization’s mission, which is just slightly less important to our collective health than air, water or food. I was hooked, joined the board, and honestly wonder at peers who do not support that organization, which is protecting them every day. I’m proud to serve as the chairperson for the CHC. Our brightest and most impactful days are ahead.
  • In 2018, the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy selected me to receive that year’s distinguished alumni award. It truly knocked me out to feel like I was making a significant enough impact in my career to be recognized by one of the best pharmacy schools in the nation.
  • As noted earlier, I’ve recently been named Industry Person of the Year by Med Ad News and received a Pinnacle Award from MM+M. I have been pinching myself almost non-stop since mid-March, when I learned that I had been chosen for these honors. I’m not sure at all that I deserve them, but I’m not saying “no” to them!

Q2: Everyone who has worked with you remarks on your “smarts.”  What kinds of smarts are particularly valuable in healthcare marketing?

Not to be glib, but the practical kind. Ideas that drive better health and better value for patients. That’s my North Star!

Q3: In a video preceding your Industry Person of the Year award, agency founder and CEO Dale Taylor said that almost no one has impacted more brands and careers over the past 35 years than you.  How have you affected other people’s career growth?  How important is it for healthcare marketing execs to advance the professional development of others?  

Let’s just be honest here. The key to that statement being true, if it is, is that I’ve been doing this job for almost 38 years. I’ve been fortunate to have touched a lot of great brands and hopefully grow a lot of people in that time frame.

As for the importance of helping others advance in their careers: to be human is to help other people. I think Maya Angelou said it best: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”

Q4: Your colleagues say you’re big-hearted and truly care about the people helped by our industry. How important is empathy in healthcare marketing?

Empathy is critical in any job, anywhere. Period.

Q5: In accepting the Industry Person of the Year award, you said that good medical advertising depends on lots of different personalities, talents, and skills and that anyone can become a standout by pursuing what they’re good at and doing it very well.  What kind of new career opportunities are there for people just entering the field? 

Today, we comparison shop everything on the internet, and are no longer bound to network programming. We stream as we please. That’s going to become the norm for all of promotion, ESPECIALLY healthcare, where the patient is of supreme importance. We need technicians, content providers, and innovators to drive that movement, which is inevitable.

Q6: You thanked your wife, Rhonda, above everyone else in your acceptance speech. Besides your wife and family, what else gives you balance and perspective in your life?

Different experiences always drive perspective, and I have had many different work experiences over the years. I am richer for it… more patients served, more relationships made, and more mutual successes forged. The other thing that gives me balance is that I live in a wonderful home on a little lake in the town where I grew up. We’re darn proud of our two stoplights. It truly seems that a body of water sucks your troubles away when you’re near it.

Q7: Michigan – and Berrien Springs in particular – loom large in your legend. Why?

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a legend. Especially in Berrien Springs. My hometown brings peace to me because I live in a community that really is pretty bucolic. I have friends here who have stood the test of time. And it doesn’t hurt that I live in a house that could be a resort. With the loveliest woman in the world and three dearly loved “puppykids.”

Q8: In lieu of the traditional tux, you accepted your Industry Person of the Year award in a Kiss T-shirt, and your Pinnacle award wearing a Michael Stanley Band tee. If your life were a movie, what would be some of the songs on the soundtrack?

Hmmm… Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away” is my all-time favorite song. I love anything he has ever recorded. I’ve been a Springsteen fan since 1975 (a little late, I know) and watched Bob Seger join him to sing “Thunder Road” to close up Bruce’s show in Ann Arbor in late 1980. I think that the music of Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney feels like vacation, served up best with Red Stripe beer, and I love the outlaw quality of country rocker Brantley Gilbert.


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About the Author

Gretchen Kren is the Senior Communications specialist at AbelsonTaylor. A 15 year vet in pharmaceutical advertising, with over 10 years experience Coordinating internal and external marketing and communication initiatives. Additionally, she is responsible for all of the agency’s award submissions. Gretchen lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood with her husband and three children.