Risa graduated Mana Cum Laude from Brandeis University in 1980 with a BA degree in American Studies. She started her healthcare advertising career in 1982 at Gross Townsend Frank Hoffman (GTFH) which later became Grey Healthcare Group, now part of WPP. In just 10 years at GTFH, she quickly rose from an assistant AE through the ranks of account management, onto the agency management committee and finally becoming Managing Director for her last five years with the agency.
Her skills in strategy and brand development were recognized early as were her people skills. When a client wasn’t happy, Risa was called in. If a team wasn’t functioning well, Risa would rebuild it. If a strategy session was stalled, Risa was the answer. With her exuberance and passion, she could easily sift through the issues and bring the team together with insightful, focused suggestions and solutions. A true team builder.
After her 16 years with GTFH and then Grey Healthcare Group, Risa went on to build two very successful healthcare agencies in just six years with partner Charlene Prounis: Accel Health and Flashpoint Medica, both under the Omnicom umbrella. Her strategic vision led to the merger of Accel with Corbett which is today TBWA. She then went on to found and co-lead Flashpoint Medica. After Flashpoint she started her own strategic marketing firm, helping build and strengthen other agencies and companies by finding the best positioning and brand identity.
Some of her product branding and launch experience included brands such as: Metadate CD, Avastin, Herceptin, Rituxin, Celexa, Aerospan, Combunox, Serzone, Klonopin Wafer and Lercanidipine. She also had extensive cardiovascular experience with clients such as Cordis/Cypher, NEVO Stents and BioSense Webster. During her years at GTFH/Grey Healthcare Group, Risa headed, among others, the Procter and Gamble business, the CooperVision business, as well as BMS. Later she oversaw the BMS Account Group and drove new business strategy at Emron, a growing managed care agency.
While Risa’s strong strategic sense is innate, she worked hard to teach and instill the process into all who worked alongside her, not just account people but writers and art directors as well. Her vision and building sense were communicated clearly so others could learn and develop the talents as well.
Risa has been and continues to be a relentless advocate and mentor for young people starting and advancing their careers in the medical advertising industry. All of the people she has mentored show deep respect and admiration for her. She was an inspirational leader, role model and guide for many who have worked beside her. She cares about each person’s ability to tap into the best within themselves and use that to build their future, both professionally and personally.
Risa’s leadership style applied to her volunteer efforts as well, first starting when she volunteered with the Dorot Social Services Organization. Then, as a young mother, while building her ad agencies, she served as the volunteer parent coordinator for a highly diverse student drum corps—the now famous Drums of Thunder—in Montclair, NJ. Applying her world-class marketing and promotional expertise to build the organization, taking the Drums of Thunder to new heights by securing performances at NBA and NFL halftime shows, the US Open, the steps of the US Capitol Building, and even the Today Show and Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Additionally, Risa designed and built a pilot program in 2017 pairing adults in the Greater North Jersey Jewish community with students in need of English Language tutoring in an under-served, predominantly Ethiopian immigrant community in Israel. This “Virtual English Mentor” program continues to this day, helping students gain entry into key universities.
Risa Bernstein has been a passionate architect and builder for almost 40 years. Her passion for excellence and commitment to the people she has worked with have set a high standard for future leaders. But her most important contribution was as a role model and mentor, teaching others her strategic insights and guiding them to be their very best.
Risa loved the ‘Thrill of the Build’ – to build brands, to build businesses, and, most of all, to build strong, powerful people to help lead the industry. For her trailblazing efforts and as a role model for other women in the business, Risa Bernstein deserves to be recognized in the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.