REEL WOMEN: Nimble Works Sara Zaccheo

(Reel Woman: Sara Zaccheo)

For Sara Zaccheo, Managing Partner, Creative Director, and Strategist at healthcare marketing agency Nimble Works, nothing is more energizing than a good insight.

The ones that strike like lightning and ignite her uniquely suited role, which lives at the intersection of creative and strategy. Lightning has struck so many times in Sara’s 20-plus-year career, that you might wonder if she has a little Norse goddess in her blood.

Prior to Nimble Works, Sara was a Creative Director and VP, Director of Strategic Planning at McCann Health, where she led global and US launches across many high-science brands for clients such as ViiV Healthcare, GSK, and Janssen.

At Nimble Works, Sara is an integral leader, helping healthcare brands at the intersection of high science and high tech take a human-centered approach to complex problems. She can always be counted on to geek out over science, foster partnership with clients, and, of course, provide those lightning-bolt insights that set brands apart.

Let’s meet Sara!

What’s your origin story?

I grew up in northwest New Jersey where my neighbors were my cousins. We fondly call our section of the road, “The Ponderosa,” which may be loosely inspired by a TV show from the 1950s. While I’m not sure of its origin, ours was built from a large piece of farmland, divided into 6-acre plots for each member on my mom’s side of the family. With a babysitter or playmate always nearby, we spent our days exploring in the woods behind our properties, playing pick-up baseball games, riding bikes, or spending endless summer days swimming.

I was mostly surrounded by boys, which may have influenced my tomboyish nature and competitive spirit. But I always had – and continue to have – deep and enduring female friendships. A foundation built upon strong, grounded relationships has fostered my level-headed approach, encouraged me to trust in following my instincts, and enabled me to feel comfortable being myself with almost anyone.

This has served me well in all aspects of my life, but especially my career, in roles where I collaborate, mentor, and help shape high-performing teams.

How did you get into healthcare marketing and communications?

A little bit of luck and a lot of hard work. I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in biology. Upon graduation, I wasn’t sure what to do. The idea of working in a lab bored me, and I wasn’t on an academic path toward med school. However, I’ve always been curious about disease pathogenesis and passionate about health and wellness.

My writing skills came into focus during my time at Rutgers. A family friend worked as a copywriter at an advertising agency, called Torre Lazur (today, known as McCann Health) who facilitated a summer internship for me. There, I was thrown into the great unknown: pharmaceutical advertising. An internal opportunity enabled me to demonstrate my ability to think strategically and express creativity through writing, which resulted in my first official job as an Associate Copywriter.

I delved right in and soaked up every opportunity to learn and grow. I was fueling my passion while also challenging myself well beyond my comfort zone. And I loved it. Over the years, I grew through the ranks on the copy side of the business, ultimately becoming a Creative Director.

All along the way, strategy was a pillar of my work, which led me to roles in Strategy as well.

Who were your mentors?

I don’t have one single mentor. I have a collection of people I turn to for the guidance needed in that moment. When I need a sounding board, I turn to my mom and husband. When I need courage I turn to my dad and brother.

When I need advice on how to navigate the intimacies of this business, I’m lucky enough to rely on life-long friends and colleagues who will, without hesitation, tell me like it is. But when I need a gentle nudge to lead from the heart or a kickass thought partnership, I turn to Barbara Pantuso and Lisa Reid, co-founders of Nimble Works for a steady hand.

And, on the off-chance I need to hear something I don’t want to hear, I ask my husband what he thinks…and then find someone else to give the answer I want to hear;-)!

What drives you to create?

Simply put. I love to figure things out. There’s a palpable energy that comes when I’m confronted with an unsolved challenge. I find a lot of satisfaction in both the discovery process of creation and also the ‘aha!’ feeling that comes when striking a chord.

Getting to the heart of the matter, uncovering intriguing insights, piecing together a complicated puzzle, and distilling it into its core essence – as a creative campaign – is an incredibly rewarding and somewhat Pavlovian experience; one that keeps me coming back for more.

Award you crave, but haven’t won.

I might get shunned from the industry for saying this, but I don’t ‘crave’ awards. Over the years, campaigns I’ve worked on have been recognized by highly regarded organizations, such as MM&M or MedAdNews, which is exciting and rewarding.

While I’m honored by these achievements, I don’t chase them. I’m motivated by opportunities that challenge me or make me a little bit uncomfortable at times. Those growth moments fuel my creativity and produce an outcome that I feel proud to have helped shape alongside my team.

What shows/movies/songs are doing the best job of portraying strong women on TV?

There are two songs that come to mind for me. First is Miley Cyrus’ song, “Flowers.” The lyrics, such as “I can buy myself flowers” or “I can take myself dancing” are such an important reminder that we don’t need anyone to fill the gaps in our lives.

We, as women, can take care of ourselves quite well. Even more resonant, however, is “Victoria’s Secret” by New Jersey native, Jax. I grew up in the 80s and came of age in the early 90s, where Victoria’s Secret was the ‘go-to’ brand for me and my friends.

Too young and naive to realize their brand represented an unfortunate symbol of unattainable beauty. Now, as an adult, I’m drawn to Jax’s captivating lyrics, which are smart, catchy, and precisely what my generation, but more importantly, my daughter’s generation need to hear and focus on: what our bodies are capable of accomplishing rather than how they look.

Is there still a boys club?

That likely differs by the culture of each company. I have been lucky enough to have worked under some incredible leaders, both women and men, throughout my career. Today, I get to work within the virtual walls of Nimble Works and collaborate with an all-women, all-star leadership team.

At the helm are the nurturing and dynamic co-founders, Barbara Pantuso and Lisa Reid, who have set the tone, liberating us all to bring our whole selves to work. As a result, we apologize less and empower more. And we don’t have to choose careers over families or vice versa. I feel very grateful that for me, when choosing to lead a fulfilling career and life, it’s not an “or,” it’s an “and” that connects the two.


Coffee, Lunch or Happy Hour. Name a famous woman (living or dead) you would like to attend each function with

Coffee with Maya Angelou: I had the honor of seeing Maya Angelou speak while I was at Rutgers. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the feeling of being blown away by her. I’m in awe of how she (and anyone) can overcome horrific adversity and turn it into powerful activism or moving poetry. She and my daughter share a name. And that’s not an accident. I would soak up every moment with her to learn and grow more deeply as a human.

Lunch with Michelle Obama: When I read her first memoir, Becoming, I couldn’t help but think (and say out loud to my husband), “We have so much in common!” He would often laugh at me. Oddly enough, I saw a lot of myself in her and would love to feel that connection in real life.

A cocktail (or two) with Megan Rapinoe: Megan is a leader, incredible athlete and two-time World Cup champion. However, off the field, Megan and her team accomplished something far more important. Equal pay. She and her team relentlessly fought for what they absolutely deserved. And they won.

They not only won for women’s soccer, they helped bring this topic to the main stage, empowering women everywhere to fight for fair compensation for an equivalent job. She held her ground for more than equal pay, too—putting her job on the line to help ensure freedom is afforded to everyone in this country. I’d love to raise a toast to her and with her.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled against Roe v Wade. What can women in your industry do to defend a woman’s rights?

As I look at the stages of loss, I think I may be in the disbelief, anger, and bargaining phase all at once. I have known no other way than to have complete autonomy over my body and reproductive freedom.

Today, this is no longer the case for many women in our country. As I seek ways to make a difference through the lens of healthcare marketing, I believe the role of our communications should be twofold. The first is to maintain a high level of awareness around this decision and its implications on women’s health and well-being. We need to do a better job of keeping it top-of-mind with raw emotion.

When the conversation stops, much like it has, we are lulled into a dangerous complacency that implies acceptance. We need to keep the emotions alive to motivate action at the ballot, where we can affect real change at the state and local levels.

Secondly, we need to credibly educate women in a way that is accessible and actionable, so they feel they can make well-informed decisions and can easily find the right resources to help put them on their chosen path toward optimal health and well-being.

What keeps you up at night?

I wish I knew!

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