by Sue Tomchin
“Everything has a solution. Nothing is bad news. There has to be a silver lining. Any challenge can be fixed,” says Mardene Miller, when asked to describe the philosophy that has helped fuel her success in the competitive world of advertising. “I always come from an area of positivity and no boundaries,” she says. “I think that anything is possible and we can do this.”
As president of Harrison & Star, a global healthcare advertising and promotion agency, Miller, 52, oversees the development of campaigns to help pharmaceutical companies educate physicians and patients about diseases and medications in such different therapeutic areas as neurology, endocrinology and virology. “Our passion lies in digging into the science to uncover a brand’s full potential and then elucidating the meaningful spark that connects prescribers with brands, and brands with patients to drive behavior change.”
A graduate of Pace University with a degree in marketing and advertising, she started out as a “gal Friday” with an ad agency serving the banking industry. She then moved on to work at several other media companies that focused on education and promotion to physicians, including one of the very first online communities for physicians. The lifelong New Yorker then ventured to San Francisco and became a pharmaceutical sales rep for five years.
Returning to New York two decades ago, she was hired at Harrison & Star. “I started as a junior account person and worked my way up to president five years ago and haven’t looked back,” she says.
Her days are busy with client meetings, strategic sessions, workshops and brainstorming, as well as dealing with agency finances, human resources and identifying “additional ways to differentiate the agency and drive success for our clients.”
“I wear a lot of hats here,” she says, noting that she also oversees the firm’s women’s initiative. “We strive to ensure that gender parity exists in our agency, that women always feel they have a voice and that we deal with women in the workplace issues head-on.”
Miller also wears other hats – as wife to her husband Jeff, as a canine lover and as mom to 17-year-old triplets. “It’s a three, two, one strategy – three children, two dogs and one husband,” she says, laughing. “From the moment I wake up in the morning until I finally I sit down at night it’s pretty much nonstop. I’m not comfortable unless I’m busy and stressed. That’s kind of how I function.”
"I feel that I’m a good leader when people that work for me are successful – if they achieve a new milestone, even if they leave and get a great job, it makes me proud."
She says that she believes that “You can have it all,” but the term “work-life balance is a misnomer. That infers equality. You never have equality. You are never 50 percent at home and 50 percent at the office. It’s about calibration. There are some times when I would have to give only 20 percent to my kids, because there was something urgent going on at work. But it’s temporary, and then I’m going to calibrate myself to give my kids more and expend less at work.”
Born in Brooklyn, and raised in the Bronx and Westchester County, N.Y., Miller credits her parents, “for instilling in me a very strong work ethic and how to be a hustler, which has really done me well.”
“I was surrounded by strong women, my grandmothers, and especially my mom who worked my whole life,” she adds. “She was always a role model of being able to work and raise a family.”
While immersed in both business and family responsibilities, Miller carves out time to make a difference. In her own Westchester community, she organizes a Halloween carnival for children living at a homeless shelter in White Plains, N.Y., and at Harrison & Star she helped create Caring Hands, a charitable initiative. The agency also does pro bono work, and Miller is especially involved in its HIV advocacy work.
For many years, she also led Harrison & Star’s mentorship program. “One thing that I used to consistently tell mentees is to figure out what their brand is. We do that for clients and products all the time, but people forget to do it for themselves. Once you determine your brand, that’s what you use as a blueprint to approach your decision making and how you want people to view you.”
In supervising colleagues, she emphasizes accountability – taking responsibility when you do something wrong and “seeing a solution so that positive change can come out of a problem.” She also sees collaboration and kindness as essential. “I always say we have to work hard but can be nice at it as well,” she says. “It’s about treating each other and everybody with respect.”
“I feel that I’m a good leader when people that work for me are successful – if they get promoted, if they achieve a new milestone, even if they leave and get a great job,” Miller adds. “I feel that I contributed to that and it makes me proud.”