Innovator Interviews: Bayer’s Denise Vitola Talks New Position, The Growing Role of Influencers & Going In-House After Years on the Agency Side

Innovator Interviews: Bayer’s Denise Vitola Talks New Position, The Growing Role of Influencers & Going In-House After Years on the Agency Side

If you had asked Denise Vitola when she worked on the agency side if she would go in-house, she would have responded hands down, “I would never want an internal job.”

Bayer’s new Vice President of Brand Integration, PR, Social and Influencer for Consumer Health spent most of her career working at agencies including: MSLGROUP, Ogilvy PR and MWW Group and had always imagined that she would flex her muscles across clients. This was true several years ago she started her own integrated marketing consultancy bringing her expertise working on the agency side for brands like P&G and Unilever to developing holistic campaigns for challenger brands. Then Patrick Lockwood Taylor called. A previous colleague from P&G, he was then serving as president of the Consumer Health division at Bayer and reached out with a project. 

“It just evolved from there,” says Vitola, of her newly created position. “We started working together again, fast forward and now he is the president of Bayer, and he is still the president of that division as well, and I continue to do work with the company.” 

In her new in-house role, Vitola will be responsible for leading strategy for integrated brand PR, social media and influencer marketing for all Consumer Health U.S. brands. Over the last two years as a consultant Vitola spearheaded Bayer’s influencer marketing and organic social for Consumer Health North America and launched new integrated campaigns for Midol, Bayer, Aspirin, AleveX, One-A-Day, Claritin and Alka-Seltzer.

“There are more than a dozen brands in the portfolio and they are all household names,” says Vitola. “I was so surprised that we weren’t as ambitious as maybe I thought we should have been. Since I have come in we have worked as a group and with our agencies to be more bold in our campaigns.”

Her work has been noticed. Vitola was named a 2021 PRNews Top Woman in PR. In her new position, she serves on the leadership team driving reputation, digital excellence and integrated communications. She will report to Beth Roden, SVP and Head of Communications – Bayer U.S. and Head of Communications, Consumer Health North America. Brand Innovators caught up with Vitola from her home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to discuss the new position and the growing importance of influencers. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you talk about your new role at Bayer and what you hope to accomplish?

The new role is somewhat of a new role at Bayer. What we had noticed is that in our new emphasis on building holistic campaigns, we were wanting to have our comms person lead in that area. There is a huge emphasis on brand now and as my time at Bayer evolved, we had wanted to emphasize this position more as a holistic brand integrated marketing experience and thread it through PR, influencer and social. I will work with all of the marketing teams and build holistic campaigns that are fully integrated and incorporate those marketing elements.

You have spent most of your career on the agency side. What inspired you to move to the brand side and what excites you about this new angle on the business?

In my personal life health and wellness and nutrition and fitness is really hugely important to me. I loved how Bayer as a company leads with this empathy and compassion for delivering health and wellness for every individual. I felt like both my personal and professional lives were colliding in a really amazing way and that what really excites me about this job is that through the marketing that I work on, I get to deliver health and wellness to anyone. It is available to everyone.

How has the last year and a half transformed the importance of social and where do you see things moving in the channel over the next year?

Consumers being at home more often have found new ways to communicate, have found new ways to shop and are definitely engaging more with brands and understand that they have better access to brands than they ever have. Influencers have really stepped up as advocates to communicate branded information in a much more authentic way. I work very very closely with many many influencers and I have great relationships with them. And there are many times when an influencer will say, ‘No I won’t work with that brand, because it is not something I believe in.’ Influencers are still putting that lens over everything they are doing. 

As marketers, we’ll be working with influencers more and more. So it is not just paid posts, it is going to be about how do I integrate these folks into my business to be like consultants and help create content and be part of my creative team and also having them participate in some advertising. I see a deeper relationship built with these influencers who, unlike a few years ago, had a role but it wasn’t the huge role that they have today.

You will be working on major brands including Midol, Bayer Aspirin One-A-Day, Claritin and Alka Seltzer. Can you talk about what you are doing with any of these brands?

One example is Aspirin Melodies that we just launched in June. It was built off of the fact that your heart is not your own and that aspirin, as prescribed by your doctor, can help decrease incidents among people who have suffered prior heart scares. 

What we tried to show people is that yes you had the incident and your life is being adjusted, but that the life of your family is as well. We worked with Leslie Odim Jr. and his wife. Her father had a heart issue and they took his heartbeat and recorded it into one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear. It  really showcased how meaningful it is that her father continues to be a part of their lives today. It stresses  how much they had learned from this moment and how important heart health and wellness is throughout all of their lives. It is an amazing example of how we pulled together a holistic campaign.

This campaign had an influencer element, obviously with Leslie, but we also worked with other influencers that were impacted similarly. Our social channels were flooded with content. There were elements across display. There were paid assets to this program and it is just the kind of work that I expect from my teams and that we will be able to do moving forward for every brand at Bayer.

How has health and wellness evolved over the past year and where is it going?

It has changed at lightning speed. We would be remiss if we couldn’t just admit that what is happening has shined a light on how people care for themselves and how people care for others and how they are looking at being more empathetic about how what they do for themselves is  impacting the lives of others. We are seeing people are taking more supplements and they are being more proactive with their health. They are paying attention and trying to stay away from the hospital and stay away from the doctor and being less of a risk to the healthcare system. I expect that this will continue in a greater way as the population continues to age.

What does 2022 look like in the CPG and consumer health category?

There are a lot of companies that look at their OTC brands as a pharmaceutical, regulated product. They don’t necessarily look at themselves the same way as a face cream or toothpaste would look at themselves. For me, when I start to think about how I am marketing the product, I put more of a CPG hat on. I see that this is an OTC product but I am not going to let any regulations stop me from coming up with bold, creative, impactful ideas. I work with a team of legal, medical and regulatory experts who will make sure that whatever creative we are putting out there is within the constraints of what we can and can’t say. But we think of ourselves first as a CPG, then we will get the ideas that matter most.