Agency of the Year Category I – AREA 23: 2023

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Renee Mellas, Tim Hawkey

Agency of the Year Category I – AREA 23, an IPG Health company

622 Third Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10017 

917-265-2623 • [email protected]


Outside In Experiments, AREA 23

Winner | Best Nonbranded Professional Campaign
Uncontrolled gout is an extremely painful disease. But what many don’t know is that at the same time, under the surface, uric acid crystals are depositing into vital organs, with dangerous systemic consequences. The Outside In Experiment sought to visualize both of those realities together for the first time using artificial intelligence.

Quick Facts


  • Account wins: 2
  • Active business clients: 22

Brands by 2022 sales

  • Brand-product accounts held: 53
  • $25 million or less: 4
  • $25 million-$50 million: 1
  • $50 million-$100 million: 2
  • $100 million-$500 million: 9
  • $500 million-$1 billion: 5
  • $1 billion or more 8:
  • Products not yet approved/launched: 20

Services mix

  • Healthcare/professional
    assignments: 60%
  • DTC/DTP assignments: 40%
Unwearable Collection, AREA 23

Winner | Best Rare Disease Campaign
The Unwearable Collection campaign targets dermatologists, who have a very low understanding of a rare skin condition called generalized pustular psoriasis (GPP). Boehringer Ingelheim partnered with internationally renowned fashion designer Bart Hess, who created four distinct pieces of couture inspired by real patients’ experiences with GPP.

Client roster

  • Allergan Aesthetics
  • ANI
  • Apellis
  • AstraZeneca
  • Bayer
  • Biogen
  • Boehringer Ingelheim
  • Daiichi Sankyo
  • GlaxoSmithKline
  • Horizon Therapeutics
  • Insmed
  • Kate Farms
  • Lilly
  • Neurocrine
  • Novartis
  • Sage Therapeutics
  • Sanofi
  • UCB
  • Urovant
  • Vectivbio
  • ViiV Healthcare



  • Agency of the Year, Category I
  • Industry Person(s) of the Year
  • Most Admired Agency
  • Most Creative Agency
  • Best Consumer Digital Campaign
  • Best Experiential Campaign
  • Best Nonbranded  Professional Campaign
  • Best Rare Disease Campaign


  • Best Consumer Digital Campaign
  • Best Medical Device Campaign
  • Best Patient Engagement Campaign
  • Best Professional Digital Campaign
  • Best Professional Print Campaign


“Was ’22 the year of 23? Well, let’s check the instant replay,” agency leaders say. They note how in 2022, AREA 23 was named “Agency of the Year” across the board at Cannes Lions Health, MM&M Awards, London International Awards, Clio Health, and The Creative Floor Awards. AREA 23 CCO Tim Hawkey was ranked “No. 1 CCO in the World” by The One Show, and the agency was named “Most Creative” and “Most Admired Agency” at the Manny Awards. Ad Age awarded AREA 23 “Tech Innovation of the Year,” and it brought home the Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Good.  

“We were hoping our namesake year 2023 was going to be a special one, but in true AREA 23 fashion, we went and jumped the gun and overdelivered,” quips President Renée Mellas.

Mellas and Hawkey were also named Industry Person(s) of the Year by Med Ad News. 

Recent accomplishments

It was another strong year financially for AREA 23, according to agency managers, who say the company grew by 13 percent, “or the equivalent of a Tier 2 agency.” However, this achievement was not without its challenges. According to Mellas, “We were faced with some key losses in 2022, due to holding company consolidation. And these were the kind of losses that would shutter a smaller or less stable agency.” 

But rather than dwelling on these losses, executives say the team at AREA 23 quickly pivoted and focused on seizing some timely new opportunities. Within just three months, the agency was able to make up the deficit with exciting new accounts, which leaders maintain is a testament to the skills and talents of the “incredibly talented” teams working on these pieces of business.

Agency managers say the majority of AREA 23’s new business wins came from longstanding clients. Insmed, a partner of the agency for the last eight years on the MAC lung infection product, awarded AREA 23 the HCP and DTC AOR assignment for its new treatment for non-CF bronchiectasis. Daiichi Sankyo, AREA 23’s oldest client, selected the agency to manage its pivotal launch in FLT3+ AML. Biogen and Sage Therapeutics also chose AREA 23 as their DTC partner for their upcoming launch in depression and post-partum depression. Allergan Aesthetics, a new client, selected AREA 23 for the HCP and DTC relaunch of its cellulite treatment product, and the agency began a new relationship with UCB as AOR for its rheumatology product.

“This string of wins demonstrated the agency’s ability to adapt and capitalize on new opportunities, and further cemented its reputation as one of the most sought-after agency partners for pharmaceutical and biotech companies,” executives say.

According to the leadership team, one of the main reasons so many clients choose AREA 23 is its vast experience launching brands, and 2022 added to that experience considerably. Executives say last year’s notable new product launches include AstraZeneca’s COVID antibodies and Boehringer Ingelheim’s new biologic for the rare disease generalized pustular psoriasis (GPP). And the agency led five products through new indication launches in HIV, macular degeneration, and solid and hematologic cancers. 

In looking at AREA 23’s 2022 sweep of “of the year” nods, executives say behind that recognition is “a canon” of ground-breaking campaigns that further the agency’s reputation as the industry leaders in creativity and innovation. 

According to managers, the EYEDAR innovation for Horizon Therapeutics signaled a breakthrough shift in marketing approach for pharma. “We market amazing molecules. And the accepted approach we’ve all learned is to tell our customers how amazing our molecules are,” Hawkey says. “But we also believe in delivering value beyond the molecule. And some very forward-thinking marketers, like Horizon, have taken that journey with us.”

Another campaign that executives say succeeded in achieving both massive industry recognition and breakthrough results for AREA 23’s clients was “The Unwearable Collection” for Boehringer Ingelheim. Ahead of the launch for BI’s product for GPP, the agency identified two big potential barriers with dermatologists – patient empathy and differential diagnosis. To overcome these barriers, AREA 23 partnered with Bart Hess, renowned avant garde fashion designer, to create a series of couture pieces representing the different hallmarks of the disease, inspired by real patient stories. Hawkey says, “It’s the clothing line no one would choose to wear, but people with GPP have no choice.”

These campaigns, and others, put AREA 23 and its clients once again at the top of the charts in terms of industry recognition, executives say, as the agency toppled its previous award records, bagging more than 250 trophies in international competitions. 

Five of its campaigns won Grand Prix level honors. AREA 23’s clients were similarly recognized for their creative and innovative marketing. Four clients made the top 10 list for Med Ad News’ Outcomes Creativity Index (a total score of all creative awards won in a one-year period) – Horizon, BI, DSI and Insmed. And four individual brands that AREA 23 represents – Injectafer, Krystexxa, Tepezza and Cabenuva – were named to the top 10 list of most creative and award-winning brands.

Structure and services

After 12 years of double digit-growth in an increasingly dynamic marketing landscape, it should come as no surprise that even proven industry leaders like AREA 23’s continue to experiment and tweak their model,” executives say, adding that the agency and network have continued to invest in experience design (XD) and omnichannel marketing infrastructure. 

According to Mellas, “We’re happy to report that our omnichannel marketing offering has graduated from the buzzword phase of its life cycle. Now it’s just how we work and what we do. From marketing technology, to data-power customer profiling, to scalable, modular content delivery, all of our departments now have built-in expertise and are executing omnichannel plans and delivering accelerated impact for our clients.”

On the XD side of things, last year AREA 23 announced the hire of Franklin Williams as executive VP, executive director to oversee product design, UX, and creative technology. 

“In a short period of time, Franklin has been incredibly effective in his role. We set a long-term goal that we would be able to pitch and win standalone digital AOR assignments…in two years’ time,” Hawkey says. “We achieved that goal in under a year. It can’t be formally announced yet, but we’ve landed a digital AOR account the size of which would rival most of our general AOR accounts.” 

Williams adds, “Most agencies just have a philosophy, and a ‘win first, build later’ mentality. But, we invested in building our team, created the infrastructure, and built a track record of doing it right. So, we have the people, we have the process, and we have the proven product. That’s what put us in the winning position for this pitch and what has gotten the attention of other clients as well.”

 Managers state with all of the industry accolades AREA 23 has received for breaking ground with innovative marketing approaches, “one might wonder if there is a method to all the madness.”

According to agency leaders, there is an approach they have been developing over the past few years.

 “Your typical pharma marketing mix is all push communications, and it becomes a battle of who can spend the most,” Mellas says. “Our platform allows us to work with our clients to develop more experimental marketing mixes, designed to pull customers in. These are approaches that allow us to gain a disproportionate share of voice. Two marketing areas we have been very successful in leading our clients into are product innovations and entertainment, among others. 

“Of course, the real secret ingredient here is the unbridled creativity that our teams bring to these areas. It’s not enough to just ‘do entertainment,’ you need to do it extraordinarily well.”

 Leaders say with everybody’s news and social feeds filled with the latest buzz on artificial intelligence, it’s fascinating to wonder how all of this will impact the day-to-day working in advertising. According to executives, the agency has been on the cusp of the latest AI technology since 2021, and has implemented many of the latest tools into the agency workflows. 

“We’re very bullish on AI,” Hawkey says. “Thanks to our network and agency teams of creative technologists and AI enthusiasts, we can explore all new advancements and examine how we can put them to use for our clients’ marketing. Whether it’s text-to-image, NeRFs, AI video production, large language models text to text like CHAT GPT, what makes us different is we’re implementing tech while it’s still in the academic and research phase. By the time the tech is consumer-facing and gaining buzz, we’ve already got a six-month head start and have a stable of experts within the agency. We’re putting all of these platforms to work with two incredible benefits. We’re either achieving incredible efficiencies, by completing the same tasks in a fraction of the time, or we’re achieving outcomes that were previously unimaginable from a creativity standpoint. It’s a fun time to be alive and experimenting with all these new toys.”

When it comes to AREA 23’s return to office (RTO) approach, it continues to lean into IPG Health’s philosophy of flexibility, accountability, and trust. According to Mellas, “Unlike other agencies and networks, we trust our employees to work with their teams to determine what works best for themselves, their families, and their clients.” 

Future plans

CHAT GPT – Write a paragraph about the future plans of AREA 23.

OK: While AREA 23 leaders are always looking ahead, the agency is currently laser-
focused on launching (among others) four of the top 10 most anticipated drug launches of 2023. Beyond that gargantuan task, AREA 23 teams are producing what agency leaders claim to be their most impressive portfolio of work yet. So, if ’23 is going to be the year of AREA 23, it means that they’d better make more room in the awards cabinet, prepare for another year of growth, and buckle up for some groundbreaking success for their clients.


Equity, diversity, and inclusion are at the core of the agency’s most effective work, leaders say, adding the key to that is delivering culturally relevant and competent creative solutions. They believe AREA 23’s most talked about philanthropic effort of 2022 was its partnership with Hip Hop Public Health, and bringing the “Lil Sugar” campaign to life. “Lil Sugar addresses the decades-old issue of excess sugar consumption in Black communities,” executives explain. “Because of historical red lining and the emergence of food deserts, often the only food options for many are highly processed and packed with sugar. And to make matters worse, food manufacturers don’t call it sugar anymore, more commonly referring to the over 100 names that sugar goes by. The character, Lil Sugar, seeks to blow the whistle on all the disguises of sugar.”

 Voiced by iconic RUN DMC rapper Daryl DMC McDaniels, the character launched in a music video, and also makes appearances in a children’s storybook, and the Lil Sugar augmented reality app, which allows users to “catch” sugary food before they purchase it, using artificial intelligence and computer vision. Executives claim that the campaign has had “astonishing results,” with the video being shared to more than 5 million school children nationwide. Additionally the campaign has been incorporated into the health education curriculum by the NYC Department of Education, and in June the campaign was awarded the United Nations Cannes Lions Health Grand Prix for Good. The team has since been working with the UN to bring the campaign to countries worldwide. 

Another major charitable effort in 2022 is a project AREA 23 developed with the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) called “The Minds Eye.” According to Hawkey, “Very early in 2022, when we were experimenting with the private beta of MidJourney AI image generator, we realized how naturally the iterative, push-button interface could translate to those living with ALS who rely on eye tracking technology. People who are locked in and currently have no means of self-expression or creative outlet. The AI revolution has brought boundless creativity to the masses, but it’s stopped short of communities that can’t access these tools. So, we made it our goal to build a tool that would allow this community to partake in AI image generation by the end of the year. And we were successful.” 

The Mind’s Eye is a self-contained, web-based AI prompt and image generator, designed to be used on GridPad, the most popular eye tracking tablet in the ALS community. The tool allows users to build “text prompts” by selecting from a stepwise library of styles, artists, and details, minimizing the need for arduous typing. Users can generate images directly in the site, iterate on them, and build a gallery of their favorite images. The tool has been launched with a large group of early users in the UK, and the launch to the global MNDA community is forthcoming. 

“ALS has seen some of the most incredible tech innovations over the last decade,” Hawkey says. “Eye tracking and voice banking come to mind. These innovations solve real problems, but at best, they hope to fix a deficit. We have a different ambition with ‘The Minds Eye.’ We hope to bring some joy to the ALS community. The joy of expression and creativity, and that thrill that comes from creating something that has never existed before.”

Continuing in AREA 23’s efforts to build an agency community grounded in the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, AREA 23 leaders extended several ongoing initiatives, and invested in new ones. The agency extended its financial and mentorship support to the One School and the D&AD Shift programs, both serving as portfolio schools and industry entry points for BIPOC creatives. Internally, a multidisciplinary team has developed an AI based tool in an effort to flag potential microaggressions in real time for employees as they communicate with each other. According to Mellas, “The team calls the tool ‘Check Yourself,’ but I like to think of it as a cultural spell check that can help educate the staff about important cultural nuances, and help reduce microaggressions in the workplace.”

Editor’s note: This agency profile was created by AREA 23 with the assistance of ChatGPT

Renee Mellas, Tim Hawkey

Winner | Agency of the Year, Category I
Tim Hawkey, chief creative officer; Renée Mellas, group president