VMLY&R adds chief science officer

VMLY&R has hired Sean Rooney (above) as chief science officer.
VMLY&R has hired Sean Rooney (above) as chief science officer.

The hiring of Sean Rooney continues a personnel hot streak that started during the pandemic.

Hoping to more seamlessly integrate science across its client business, VMLY&R has hired Sean Rooney as chief science officer.

“The pandemic has really raised the importance of science,” said Louisa Holland, executive officer of science integration at VMLY&R. “There’s a bigger hunger to talk about science overall, even in brands that aren’t considered to be health brands. People are now looking at truly motivating science or health messaging.”

Rooney earned his PhD in immunology from Harvard and has expertise in medical education and communications. That strong dual background will be the foundation for Rooney’s work at the agency, Holland said.

“The structure is unique and purposeful,” she explained. “Everybody else has it siloed – senior science people are still siloed by discipline. We purposely went with a structure that’s unusual, but is forward-thinking and accomplishes something different.”

Rooney’s hire comes on the heels of several other high-profile personnel moves. Last year, VMLY&R brought in chief creative officer, health Augé Reichenberg and executive creative director, experience design Walt Geer. In April, the agency hired Nichole Davies as global chief strategy officer of VMLY&Rx, a new offering focused on breakthrough therapies.

Rooney said he hopes to foster a new generation of “scientific storytellers,” who are better able to fuse scientific evidence with creative on behalf of brands and organizations.

“Living in the med-ed world during the last five to 10 years, it’s become abundantly clear that silos between med-ed and promo [content] are breaking down,” Rooney said. “Med-ed provides evidence for doctors and the promo stuff is intended to change behavior. Those two things need to be reconciled, consistent and fully integrated, and they should lead to more compelling stories that are evidence-based.”

He described his role at VMLY&R as “a huge opportunity to work across both functions, and to develop scientists who understand the impact of the stories they tell.”

Prior to arriving at VMLY&R, Rooney served as managing director at The Scienomics Group, a specialist med-ed unit owned by Omnicom. He has worked across various therapeutic areas, including oncology, rheumatology and infectious disease, on behalf of clients like Genentech, Novartis and Merck.

Rooney believes that science-based communications that maintain “an emotive quality” are particularly effective in connecting with HCPs.

“Those emotive choices are informed by data and science in a way that few other audiences make their decisions,” he explained. “However you appeal to the emotional choices doctors make, they need to be bound in science, because that resonates most with them. That’s the language they speak.”

This story first appeared on MM+M.

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