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WebMD’s Vanessa Cognard on the Life-Saving Impact of Healthcare Media

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Vanessa Cognard began her career as an assistant media buyer in direct response media where she learned to plan and buy media from experts at Grey Advertising, Rapp Collins Marcoa and Wunderman. She then kicked off her sales career at MTV Networks, which led to positions at publishers such as Crain Communications, The Wall Street Journal, Meredith Corporation and Rodale, and eventually her current role as vice president of point of care and mobile connections at WebMD.

Vanessa shares insights from her career including what about the industry has surprised her, how one innovative idea led to another and where she believes the industry is headed.

How did you choose your career?

I believe that my career chose me. I was an English major and Public Service Scholarship student at Hunter College, followed by internships in New York City politics, working for David Dinkins and Ruth Messenger. I had every intention of saving small businesses in New York, writing the great American novel and inspiring high school students as a teacher. The wonderful people, mentors and supporters I encountered all encouraged me to use my storytelling and leadership skills to be in sales, so I did.


Anything about the industry that’s surprised you?

The resiliency of those around me and the ability to really make a difference. At Crain’s New York Business, I was an ad director during 9/11. As devastating an experience as that was, we united with our leadership, our editors and our sales team to tell the story of New York businesses and support downtown in a meaningful way. Some of our clients lost their lives, and we told their stories. We honored them, celebrated them, and were there to help people rebuild their businesses.

I felt the same at WebMD during Covid. Again, we were caught up in a much bigger, expansive and sometimes uncontrollable situation. Every day I went shoulder to shoulder with leaders who worked tirelessly to be a voice in the darkness, share accurate, vital information and provide hope to people through the crisis.


Can you share a program you were part of that helped your organization innovate?

At Meredith Corporation, I was part of the More Magazine Reinvention Convention. More Magazine was an outlier at Meredith — a glossy thought leadership magazine designed for successful women over 40. It was a voice for intelligent, motivated women who moved the world — and a tough sell. The Reinvention Convention was a live event showcasing the power of women who wanted to take a fresh look at their passions and contributions to business, causes and themselves. It became a movement. We changed lives and even the smallest changes made an amazing impact.

I carried this experience with me to WebMD’s Health Heroes — a program that began at WebMD Magazine and infuses its celebration of the human spirit throughout our organization and our client/agency partners. Health Heroes started as a community acknowledgement of good work in healthcare. I was part of a leadership team that took this to a new level. WebMD Magazine always leads with a celebrity story. In 2014, our leadership team honored Michael J. Fox as our very first WebMD Health Hero — in the magazine, on, in a high-profile event in New York City — all intended to shine the light on a patient’s needs, struggles, determination and the power of science to improve and extend life.


What one word describes your organization?


When I joined WebMD 10 years ago this month, quotes hung on signs in the corridors of our office from people who said WebMD saved their lives. It was true then and it is now.


In what ways has AAM supported WebMD in reaching its goals?

AAM is a longtime leader in validation and verification. They support the publishing industry, both print and digital, by ensuring trust. AAM has been the auditor for every WebMD print product, WebMD Magazine, and our point of care educational materials. They understand statistically significant analysis and are a partner to help problem solve as the industry evolves.


What are you most proud of in your career and why?

I am most proud of my sales and support teams — their dedication, ingenuity and creativity are deeply rooted in the audience we serve and our client and agency partners. I am proud of their growth, accomplishments and contributions.

Vanessa Cognard with WebMD teammates Jordan Chodes and Patria Ridriguez.

Where do you see the industry in 10 years?

Given the speed of change today, here’s what I see having an impact on the healthcare publishing landscape:

  • AI will have more of an impact on the speed of communication and care.
  • Technology will positively connect care teams so that even a patient with two comorbidities will be supported and given the guidance to have better coordinated treatment plans.
  • Personalized science will be further along with many treatments customized for the exact condition with greater efficacy — and hopefully affordability.
  • Access to care will have made strides but it will require funding and commitment by both manufacturers and physicians.
  • Privacy will continue to be important. Leading companies like WebMD will continue to prioritize and align with consumer privacy laws and work alongside manufacturers to connect in meaningful ways.
  • Print will continue to have a role and a relationship with patients. Digital has tremendous power and access, but in the personal, quiet moments, print is an aesthetically pleasing experience that can be touched, embraced and absorbed.


What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to cook and bake. I am a Cook’s Illustrated follower and make my own pizza dough from scratch. I practice yoga daily as well as HIT training, and I run 5K races. I am new to small farming (tomatoes and herbs). I am also an avid reader with multiple BookBubs going on per week and I also like to play chess.

Vanessa Cognard in the kitchen.


What is one goal you would like to achieve?

Professionally, I have a secret project afoot with my general manager that we may announce in 2024. Personally, I am learning to captain a small 20-foot Chris Craft boat.

Vanessa Cognard learning to captain her Chris Craft boat with her husband.

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