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Debra Polkes: Truffle Hunting

07 April 2021


Debra is an award winning Creative Director who has spent the majority of her career in the healthcare sector.
One of the highlights of her career was creating a SuperBowl spot and winning the office football pool on the same night.
She was LIA Healthcare Jury President in 2019 and has sat on juries for Clios, Lions Health and The Globals.
She is about to join the FCB family as a Managing Director of FCBCURE. Her greatest joy is working with teams and helping them exceed their own expectations.
Most recently she directed a TV spot with Dennis Quaid as part of a campaign to honor healthcare workers on the frontline of the Covid crisis.
Debra lives in Manhattan with her husband and the cat her daughter left behind when she fled to Australia at the beginning of the pandemic. Her son lives in Washington DC where there is nothing noteworthy happening

Truffle Hunting

I recently watched a touching and eye-opening documentary about truffle hunting in Italy. I had no idea what it took to find those delectable little morsels that are only found in a few regions on earth for a couple of months a year. High quality truffles are rare and can be worth thousands of dollars, so the competition is fierce and can sometimes be brutal. The most prized possession of the serious truffle hunter are the dogs that can sniff out the hidden treasures that grow underground in the roots of trees. Because it is such a lucrative business the dogs are at risk for being stolen or even poisoned by the competition. But without these highly trained dogs, the truffles would remain unfound and the world would be deprived of the decadent dishes that pop up on menus every October.  
As a creative director in the healthcare industry, I often feel like that truffle hunting dog desperately trying to pick up the scent of an opportunity to create award worthy work. Health and Pharma tends towards the conservative and the tried and true, but the magic happens when we are inventing and pushing boundaries, taking risks and sometimes failing. It’s an inherent tension that we live with which is why it’s so important to hone opportunity-sniffing skills while navigating the thick underbrush of day-to-day work and tight deadlines. What a thrill when a client asks for something bold and disruptive (and means it). More often though, true gems are buried deep in a strategic plan or tangled up in an insight gleaned from a piece of data. Then it’s a matter of unearthing them and serving them up in such a way that requires unconventional and creative solutions. That’s when a data point can become an interactive experience, a sales goal can transform into a social campaign or a stated client concern can turn into a new creative assignment that leads to an innovative technology solution. And because you never know where these opportunities lie, everyone needs to be in a posture of sniffing them out and keeping them safe until they can get out into the world.
Creating something great, something meaningful and unique takes time, investment, energy, passion, patience, teamwork and resiliency. But perseverance pays off and like finding a prize truffle, it’s worth it. Last year Sotheby's auctioned off a 4.5 lb. white Italian truffle for $61,000. In our business the ultimate prize can be a bronze, silver, gold or a grand-prix. That is not to take away from the pure joy of creation or achieving the intended results, but awards are important for agencies as they build reputation and attract talent and yes, attract clients as well. As much as they profess otherwise, I haven't met a client who didn’t swell with pride as their work was recognized among their peers and throughout the industry.   
In the documentary there are two types of truffle hunters – those who are disenchanted with how competitive and even corrupt the industry has become and those who literally can’t help themselves, they are driven by passion and the thrill of discovery. They do it because it’s not just about the end goal; it’s also about the journey to get there. I can relate. It isn’t always easy, but it is thrilling to see something come into existence through sheer will and creative thinking. I’m a firm believer that delicious opportunities exist for every brand, you just have to know how to look and what to sniff around for.