Stefano De Socio winning an award.

EMBA alumnus wins Marketeer of the Year for rare disease campaign

19 February 2024

The article at a glance

EMBA 2017 alumnus Stefano De Socio, Global Head of Marketing at Recordati Rare Diseases, is awarded ‘Best Patient-centric Campaign in Europe’. Additionally, as a result of this achievement he is awarded ‘Marketeer of the Year, Pharma Industry’ by prestigious UK media firm, Pharma Times.

The burden of disease 

Cushing’s Syndrome is a serious rare condition caused by an excess of the hormone cortisol in the body, due to a tumour in the pituitary or adrenal glands, affecting less than one in 10,000 people in the European Union, which is equivalent to fewer than 51,000 patients. The disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality due to cardiovascular and metabolic complications. In addition to the physical features, psychiatric manifestations are also a significant part of the disease which drastically affect patients’ quality of life. Sufferers struggle with chronic fatigue, pain, muscle weakness and weight gain. Cushing’s Syndrome can cause fatal complications if left untreated, and is associated with a very poor prognosis, estimated 5 years’ survival of 50% of the patients.

The urgency for change 

Cushing’s Syndrome.
Cushing’s Syndrome (picture credits: Stefano Schirato, 2023)

De Socio and his company Recordati Rare Diseases’s motivation to advocate for Cushing’s Syndrome sufferers stemmed from observing the inadequate urgency in resolving the challenges faced by patients. Despite treatments being available, symptoms continue to weigh heavily on sufferers due to delayed diagnoses and the limited ability of physicians to alter disease management. “If the treatment wasn’t effective, I observed a complete lack of urgency in resolving this. As a result, the burden of the disease is gigantic on the life of sufferers.” This realisation became the driving force behind his determination to make a significant impact on the lives of those affected by Cushing’s Syndrome. 

De Socio’s goal was to increase awareness of the disease for both medical professionals and patients: “How can I make sure that the physician understands that life doesn’t stop when a prescription is given? How can I increase the level of urgency that the physician needs to treat patients without delay?”.

The #ThisCushing marketing campaign

Maximising engagement with this poignant subject required a marketing campaign that went beyond the normal utilisation of imagery and video media. A unique, artistic approach was needed.

Cushing’s Syndrome.
Cushing’s Syndrome (picture credits: Stefano Schirato, 2023)

#ThisCushing is a global initiative developed in collaboration with award-winning photographer Stefano Schirato – known for his focus on social issues – and internationally recognised doctors, experts in the field of Cushing, the European Society of Endocrinology, and the World Patient Association.

#ThisCushing aims to inspire and empower the Cushing’s community and drive change in the way this disease is perceived. By elevating patients’ voices to raise awareness of the burden of disease we can help to reduce these burdens and ultimately improve quality of life.

By capturing a moment in time of someone living with Cushing’s Syndrome, this campaign aims to make the viewer aware of the impact of this life-altering condition – and in turn, changing the way healthcare professionals, and society at large think, feel and act about this disease.

“I found that Cushing’s patients are so ashamed of themselves that there is a really, really limited amount of photographic evidence of the disease.” stresses De Socio. “If you search online for images of Cushing’s Syndrome, most of the imagery you will see are from our campaign, as there were so few available beforehand.” The images for the campaign, all taken in monochrome, provide a snapshot of the lives of Cushing’s sufferers, highlighting the emotional and physical toil of the disease.

Global impact and success metrics 

Cushing’s Syndrome.
Cushing’s Syndrome (picture credits: Stefano Schirato, 2023)

#ThisCushing was launched through a short movie to highlight the burden of the diseases, a dedicated website, social media channels, with incredible success in honour of the Cushing Awareness day in April 2023. The campaign was picked up by 27 media channels worldwide, including the United States, and the social media outreach received 150,000 engagements within 3 hours and over 20 million views during the first 3 days of launch.  The campaign was also previewed during the European Congress of Endocrinology in May 2023.

De Socio acknowledged that measuring the short-term success of the campaign is challenging given the rarity of the disease. Based on his experience, finding patients, increasing awareness, and creating a medical consciousness will require time and it is necessary to exploit all the necessary channels.

“Changes require time, especially when it comes to medical praxis and social awareness. Yet, based on my experience, I am confident that all our effort will translate into a significant impact on the medium-term. Yet, based on my experience, I am confident that all our effort will translate into a significant impact on the medium-term” Stefano says.

Awards and the influence of the Executive MBA

De Socio attributes much of this success to the skills and knowledge acquired during his Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School.

The programme has given me invaluable skills that are transferable to almost any business segment of the pharmaceutical industry. Skills such as accounting, marketing, financial management, and organisational design has offered me a competitive advantage. Graduating from the Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge enriched my strategic mindset and honed my leadership skills.

Stefano De Socio, Executive MBA 2017

He continues, “this specialised coursework in finance, management science, and operations helped me to increase my systematic thinking and navigate complex project challenges. Ultimately, the unique networking opportunities as student and alumnus with exceptionally diverse people has provided and continues to provide incredible inspiration, enhancing my innovative spirit and capacity to bridge theory to execution.”

Stefano De Socio’s journey from an EMBA alumnus to being crowned ‘Marketer of the Year’ is a testament to the transformative power of innovative thinking and strategic leadership. The #ThisCushing campaign stands as a beacon for addressing the challenges faced by individuals with rare diseases, challenging stigma, and driving positive change in healthcare.

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