AREA 23, an IPG Health company
New clients 5
New products 25
Active business clients 20
Healthcare/Professional assignments 60%
DTC/DTP assignments 40%
Most Creative Agency
Most Admired Agency
Best Experiential Campaign
Best Digital Patient Campaign
Best Managed Markets Campaign
Best Medical Device Campaign
Best Patient Engagement Campaign
Best Philanthropic Campaign
Best Consumer TV/Radio Campaign
Best Consumer Web Campaign
Best Digital Patient Campaign
Best Philanthropic Campaign
Pest Professional Print Campaign
“How does an agency like AREA 23 keep up the momentum it’s created through years of consistent growth and top creative honors, especially during the pandemic and so-called “great resignation”? AREA 23 President Renée Mellas offers a refreshing perspective: “We’re still winning, but not at the expense of losing. Five, 10 years ago, it was win at all costs, all about results. But we’ve come to realize that if we focus on our people and creating a great workplace for them to thrive in, the results will follow.”
“And boy have they followed,” adds Tim Hawkey, AREA 23 chief creative officer. “The people at AREA 23 stepped up and turned 2021 into the agency’s best year for growth, culture, and creativity in the last decade.”
How did this evolved philosophy translate to the agency’s actual financial performance? According to Mellas, “Without sharing specific numbers, we can tell you that the agency grew the equivalent of a Tier 2 agency, and that we reached a major revenue milestone… a very round number. And this is not unbridled growth, it’s very choiceful.”
In a year that saw the healthcare industry grow at a rapid pace, with opportunities at every turn, AREA 23 leaders made sure to regulate the growth of their own agency.
“We’ve long talked about taking a more strategic approach to new business,” Hawkey says. “Well, we’ve taken that approach to the next level, we call it our ‘Smart Growth’ approach. While other agencies are pitching everything under the sun, we torture every opportunity with a broad executive team. Does it fit our core values, is there a culture and vision fit? Is the pitch or the assignment right for our people? These questions have become key. We’re also leveraging our strong portfolio strategy experience so we can target not just single brand assignments but entire portfolios.”
According to AREA 23 leaders, their Smart Growth pitch philosophy had the agency turning down 52 RFPs and focusing on select opportunities, resulting in seven massive new account assignments. New accounts include Apellis DRY AMD (Global HCP and US HCP, DTC, DTP); Lilly’s ALZ portfolio (US HCP+DTC, Global HCP+DTC and Global+US Diagnostics); Biogen SMA product (Global HCP + DTP); Biogen MS Portfolio (US HCP); ANI’s product for chronic autoimmune disorders (US HCP); and Sanofi Vaccine Portfolio and Sanofi Diabetes Portfolio.
“When we look at the brands we now have the privilege to work with, we’re looking at breakthrough brands and legendary portfolios,” Mellas says. “Biogen MS, Lilly Alzheimer’s, Sanofi Vaccines, Sanofi Diabetes – these are portfolios that either established their category or are actively disrupting it. They are household names to anyone in the industry. Apellis’s Dry AMD and Biogen’s SMA product, both are breakthrough treatments for previously untreatable conditions. And ANI’s auto-immune product is poised to completely disrupt the ACTH market. These aren’t just new assignments; they are carefully chosen relationships with brands that really excite our staff. They are the perfect complement to our existing client roster and a perfect embodiment of our people-first approach.”
Knowing that new product launches are the bread and butter of healthcare advertising but also big contributors to burnout, the agency provided unprecedented support to launch teams in order to successfully bring seven new brands to market, including ViiV’s HIV product, the first and only once-monthly, injectable, complete-treatment regimen for HIV-1; ViiV’s other HIV product for heavily treatment-experienced people living with HIV; Lilly’s treatment for BRAF V600E mutant metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC); Bayer’s once-daily pill, which represents the first real advance in chronic kidney disease in decades; and Lilly’s product for early breast cancer, adding to its metastatic indication.
“It was a Herculean effort, but the processes and the resources were in place to make sure we monitored and minimized the impact on the teams,” Hawkey remarks.
Living up to its strong creative reputation, AREA 23 once again dominated the award show circuit, which managers attribute to a prolific collection of creativity and craft. At the center of it all was SICK BEATS, a breakthrough innovation for kids with cystic fibrosis (CF). AREA 23 partnered with Woojer to create the world’s first music-powered airway clearance vest for CF, using the clinically proven modality of soundwave therapy to merge the music kids love with the daily treatment they need. SICK BEATS earned a rare Pharma Grand Prix along with a Grand Prix in audio.
“This recognition from Cannes and the industry is validation that SICK BEATS is a magical idea that has the power to transform lives,” Hawkey says. “And we are committed to getting this innovation to mass market. Things are going very well so far from a clinical and regulatory standpoint.”
Other noteworthy Lion winners included the beautifully crafted film “Unbreakable” and “Trapped” for Insmed,
“Fighting for Words” for Constant Therapy, and “The Inevitable News” for The Columbia Journalism Review. This impressive body of work earned AREA 23 the coveted “2020/2021 Healthcare Agency of the Year” title at Cannes and the No. 4 spot for all agencies (non-healthcare) worldwide. The agency went on to win more than 100 trophies at the One Show, D&AD, Clios, MM&M Awards, and The Andy Awards. At the 32nd Annual Manny Awards, AREA 23 took home the “Most Admired Agency” title for the sixth consecutive year and the “Most Creative Agency” honor for the sixth time overall.
“Due to the pandemic, no one attended the shows in person last year, but that’s okay, we made up for it with agency Zoom award show happy hours, group congratulatory texts, and good old fashioned phone calls,” Mellas says.
In July 2021, AREA 23 became part of the newly created IPG Health Network, integrating with other IPG Health agencies. According to management, the move gives the agency increased access to a variety of best-in-class resources from one of the largest and most-awarded health communications networks in the world.
Structure and services
Since the agency has grown to the next level, “it’s fitting that this year has been a ‘next-level’ growth year for the individuals within the agency as well,” Hawkey says. Management reports many noteworthy hires, appointments, and promotions that will position the agency for further differentiation and growth for years to come.
Last year, AREA 23 leaders brought on Franklin Williams to serve as executive VP, director of Experience Design, reporting to Hawkey. In this newly created role, Williams leads the agency’s digital creative output and a team of experience designers, user experience (UX) architects, and creative technologists to handle the creation of all digital products.
Williams is a trained technologist who has spent his entire career in advertising working to find new ways to marry innovative ideas with brand creative. “I’ve been following Franklin for years,” Hawkey says. “He has the reputation of being the MVP at any agency he’s at, we are thrilled to welcome Franklin to our executive leadership team.”
“There is a misconception out there that creative and digital are these two separate things,” Williams says. “I’ve even heard clients say that they felt they had to decide between a digital agency and a creative agency, and sacrifice one or the other. In my new role I hope to dispel that myth once and for all. It’s with experience design that we will carry our award-winning creative through to digital execution without sacrificing the integrity of the ideas, the brand, or the campaign along the way.”
Mellas adds, “With Franklin on board, and with other investments we are making in marketing science and data integration, our digital capabilities will cease to be just another reason to believe. They will be a true differentiator for AREA 23.”
To help manage the agency’s impressive growth track record, Latifa Alladina and Brad Peebles were promoted to Executive Directors. “At AREA 23 we don’t have account services, we have account management, and Brad and Latifa are the best account managers in the business,” Mellas says.
Recognizing an outstanding creative track record and outstanding client brand results, Jason Graff was elevated to Executive Creative Director. In his new role, Graff is helping Hawkey lead the 250-person creative department. “Jason’s creative leadership has helped AREA 23 take home repeated Agency of the Year honors. But it goes beyond the work – people are drawn to Jason’s leadership, both clients and staff,” Hawkey says.
Acknowledging that operations can be a key growth driver, AREA 23 promoted Jen Ma to Group Director of Production. Agency leaders say in this newly formed role, Ma will leverage her deep digital roots and agile approach to scale agency processes to deliver award-winning work, more quickly and effectively for clients. Ma will further streamline execution across all areas of production, including art, broadcast, editorial, print, technology, project management, and regulatory operations. She also serves on the Veeva Agency Opinion Leader Forum (AOL) and provided next-level thought leadership at their big EU Summit in 2021 on modular content.
According to Ma, “Operations can be the difference between a great experience for an agency’s staff, and a terrible one. Our processes are not just built for client efficiency and excellence, they are built to create a more seamless and enjoyable experience for our agency teams.”
While DE&I was always an important focus, in 2020, agency leaders formed the AREA 23 chapter of FCBWE, an internal group of employees from across departments and roles to lead DEI efforts and ensure that DEI was a part of everyone’s day to day. “In 2021, FCBWE overdelivered on the ask by bringing inclusion to clients’ brands as well,” agency managers say. “With the goal of ensuring that the creative work the agency is producing for its clients is as inclusive as the agency itself, the team introduced Watch Out Words, a cultural competency training program based on implicit biases and microaggressions that are found in advertising, codifying them into a common lexicon that colleagues can continue to reference as they develop creative work. And they built a forum called Cultural Consultations to speak openly about the potential cultural impact of the work, and to resolve issues in real time.”
According to Hawkey, “This is not just about protecting our clients from having a ‘Pepsi Kendall Jenner’ moment. It’s important to acknowledge that a small creative decision can have unintentional, but very real negative impacts on different groups. Nobody wants to make a group feel bad with a creative campaign. And now we have tools that build cultural competency right into the work and help our clients’ brands be far more inclusive. It’s a superpower that I don’t think many agencies have.”
Within the agency, the WE team created the Unarmed Truth site, an internal platform that allows colleagues to call out barriers in the workplace that prevent the authentic expression of who they are. The team also curated cultural events throughout the year to shine the spotlight on underrepresented groups, and worked selflessly to make a next-level impact on the agency.
“The results we’ve achieved are far from performative and are making a real impact,” says Fritz Loriston, a co-chair for the AREA 23 chapter of FCBWE, and member of the agency’s executive leadership team. “They’ve resulted from brave collaborations, empathy, and caring colleagues doing their part to help ensure that the agency is a diverse work environment that allows individual peers a voice. And it’s not just doing good, it’s good business.”
Hawkey adds, “We know that diverse teams are more creative and drive better results. And we know being in a diverse and inclusive work environment is a priority, especially important during this so-called Great Resignation.”
Speaking of retention, leaders say a topic that’s on everyone’s mind is “return to office” and the future of office life. Recognizing that things are no longer one size fits all, AREA 23 has implemented a work appropriately philosophy, which allows each employee to determine their best combination of remote, in-office, and hybrid, on their own terms. The result is an AREA 23 workforce that is happier, and considerably more spread out.
According to Mellas, “Before the pandemic, over 95 percent of our staff lived within commuting distance to the office. Now that number is 82 percent, and 200 employees have migrated to 30 states, all the way to Hawaii. I call it ‘AREA 23 Across America.’”
The future of this industry is the people,” Hawkey says. “It’s no longer about who won the pitch or who has the big account, it’s who has the agency that people want to work at and stay at. If we want to keep doing the best work, we have to be the best place TO work.”
Mellas adds, “We want to be clear; we haven’t shifted our focus. We’re still going to be the most creative agency, we’re still going to execute seamless launches, and deliver impressive business results. But we’re going to continue to find ways to do all that while still having fun and being a great place to work. We still want to win, but not at the expense of losing.”
While in the past, AREA 23’s philanthropic efforts came mainly in the form of pro bono campaigns, agency leaders say there was a larger focus on volunteerism in the past year, particularly in the area of partnering with DEI-focused nonprofits to train talent for careers in advertising. Of note was a strategic partnership with the D&AD Shift program, a free, industry-led night school program for self-made creatives without a university degree. AREA 23 leaders volunteer as one-on-one mentors for the “shifters,” lead night-class courses, and dedicate their time to portfolio reviews and other enrichment events to help shifters find a great job.
According to Hawkey, “These students are amazing. So much so that we hired a third of the graduating class in our first year together. Three of these employees have been promoted already, and one of our mentees won the Hero of the Year award at our annual agency Hero Awards. To me, watching a career blossom like that is better than any Cannes Grand Prix.”
Tackling the issue of gun violence, the agency partnered last year with Columbia Journalism Review to chart a new path forward for gun violence journalism. To challenge journalists to take responsibility for the failures of gun violence journalism, they launched “The Inevitable News,” a newspaper covering every mass shooting since Parkland with one single article, to point out the cut-and-paste approach to much mass shooting coverage. By angling the newspaper to journalists, they were able to gather numerous influential media institutions for the Gun Violence News Summit. Hundreds of journalists participated in the live event and discussed how to be more responsible in their coverage. From this discussion, the panelists created the Gun Violence Coverage Commitment, an unprecedented agreement outlining the new standard for gun violence reporting.
To address rampant cyberbullying, the agency partnered with Stand for the Silent to create Social Bullets, an experiment showcasing the effects of 24 hours in a typical American student’s life on social media. Research revealed that for every 233 bullying posts online, one teenager attempts suicide. To represent this staggering number to parents, the agency developed an AI algorithm to track bullying posts and fire real bullets into posters at a shooting range in real time to reflect the statistical occurrence of suicide attempts by teens.
In a series of online sessions, Stand for the Silent brought together parents with bullying survivors to discuss the project and learn about the impact of cyber bullying first hand.
In 2021, the agency produced its third TV installment for Mollie’s Fund. The animated PSA “Solar Distancing” exposes the fact that while “social distancing” may prevent us from catching COVID, no amount of “solar distancing” can keep us safe from developing melanoma. The timely commercial resonated with networks across the country and received more than $1 million in donated media.