Healthcare Communications Agencies/Networks Report 2022: Back in black (tie) again

By Christiane Truelove • [email protected]

We’re back! Tonight we had an opportunity to clink the cocktail glasses and snarf up some hors d’oeurvres, because after two years of online streaming, the Manny Awards were live once more!

Perhaps you’ve had an opportunity to break out the tuxedo jacket and bow tie, or the little black dress with the Spanx and high heels, sometime in the last quarter of 2021, when everything opened up briefly in the fall before shutting down again in the winter. Maybe you even splurged and got yourself a new outfit or new accessories, as you try and become accustomed to stiff dress shoes or high heels once more (I in fact had to buy a new pair of heels for this shindig because the pair I had worn for the 2019 Mannys, I tried wearing again for a wedding in 2021 and completely forgot how much they tortured my feet.)

Either way, I hope you were ready to party with us again, because this year marked another milestone – it’s the Manny Awards’ 33rd anniversary. Numerologically speaking, according to highly knowledgeable sources on the internet, 33 is a “Master Number;” that is, “the most influential of the Master Numbers and resonates with the energies of honesty, compassion, inspiration, courage, and blessings.”

Frankly, the way the last two years have been, I am not going to pooh-pooh this positivity too harshly. In fact, if you saw me running around this year’s venue – The Lighthouse at Pier 61 – waving incense and yelling “Good vibes only!” I hope you’ll understand, or maybe even joined me. In some ways, 2022 has felt like, “2021, the Sequel: Electric Boogaloo, Part Deux!”

Taking a moment to be less flip, for a Generation X-er like me, there’s a grim sense of deja vu as we all witness what’s happening in Ukraine and the nuclear threats from Vladimir Putin. Our Boomer parents practiced duck-and-cover drills, and we were scarred by “The Day After.” My ’80s playlist of nuclear disaster songs sounds oddly fresh.

But in one way, 2022 has been an improvement, in the lightening of the global pandemic that has kept us home and curtailed many activities. Yes, the novel coronavirus is still around, but vaccines and boosters have allowed us to start going about our activities once more (with appropriate precautions – you won’t see me going maskless on public transit or in very crowded stores anytime soon). We’re getting to, or maybe even have arrived at, a new normal. And as we exist in this new normal, the healthcare advertising industry continues to not only survive, but thrive and lead the way.

2021: A fruitful year

In 2021 many of the agencies featured in this special issue declared that they had great years. A few even stated that the last year was the best in the agency’s history.

For Category I Agency of the Year FCB Health New York, in 2021 the agency experienced “phenomenal 25 percent growth on an already industry-leading base,” according to its leaders. They add that FCB Health achieved 27 major wins with 21 new brand assignments. These new wins included Alexion, BioXcel, Day One Biopharmaceuticals, Inflammatix, Novartis, Omeros, and UCB. “We are committed to exceeding our clients’ expectations time after time, and our clients clearly recognize that: organic growth from existing clients represents a stunning 50.2 percent of our growth, with the remainder coming from new clients.”

Category II Agency of the Year Concentric Health Experience was propelled by the launch of Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy, which was recognized as the Best Launch Campaign by Med Ad News.

According to the agency’s managers, “Never before has such a significant, sustainable weight loss therapy hit the market, and Concentric matched the promise of this innovative therapy with sharp strategy and tenacious drive. The team’s ability to dispel weight loss myths with the unbranded campaign while communicating Wegovy’s benefits in the branded push added up to a surround-sound approach that exceeded the already lofty expectations.”

Concentric took the momentum from its achievements with the Wegovy launch and transferred that energy directly into new business efforts, the agency’s executives say, adding, “The team has been on a roll winning business with a 66 percent conversion rate to close the year, while also garnering partnership opportunities based solely on reputation and experience.”

For Category III Agency of the Year Brick City Greenhouse, despite the continued challenges of the pandemic, agency leaders say 2021 was a banner year. In 2021 the agency’s client roster grew by five clients and nine new brand assignments. This included four concurrent launches, relaunching three completely redesigned corporate websites, and broadening their client portfolio in the areas of women’s health, immunology, oncology, gastroenterology, and rheumatology, for both HCP and DTP. This resulted in a 138 percent year-over-year growth, closing out 2021 with just over $19 million in annual revenue. The agency also substantially increased its headcount, adding 35 new full-time employees.

According to the leaders of Klick Health, “Without a doubt, 2021 was also a remarkable year for new business and contributing to positive health outcomes.” Beyond picking up new clients and expanding work with present clients, the agency worked with brands that have revolutionized dermatology, nephrology, neurology, diabetes, oncology, cardiology, rare genetic disorders, autoimmune disorders, opioid addiction, urology, antibiotics, vaccines and more. Last year Klick supported the launch of Endo’s first-ever branded TV spot for Xiaflex. According to the agency’s leadership team, the campaign, called “The Bent Carrot,” was created in a completely remote environment and executed in record time — with only six months from concepting and market research to launching in-market.

At Fingerpaint Marketing, the agency still managed to exceed all internal goals and projections for 2021, management says. “That recipe included equal parts cultivation and strengthening of existing client relationships while forging new paths and partnerships, with a total of 21 new accounts wins for the year.” The agency delivered revenue upwards of $107 million, more than a 100 percent increase over two years.

According to management at Neon, new business wins made up 40 percent of this growth. “We had an impressive 10 new business wins in 2021, representing 10 brands from seven different clients and including everything from established treatments to new mechanisms of action and an exciting new vaccine for COVID-19,” according to Neon.

“While winning new business is always exciting, we are proud that most of our growth – about 60 percent – came from our existing client relationships,” says Mardene Miller, managing director. “Our unwavering commitment to excellent client service, and to finding new and innovative ways to drive deeper engagements for our clients, helped propel our growth.”

Leaders at McCann Health Managed Markets defined the agency’s 2021 growth as “remarkable” and “record-breaking.” They say, “We set a new milestone with 28 percent growth over the prior year. Fueled by a combination of organic growth with long-term client partners and the addition of several new pharmaceutical clients, MHMM added more than 30 new hires in 2021.”

“In the year of our country’s ‘Great Resignation’ our 87 percent retention rate is a testament to our company culture and leadership,” says Kim Wishnow-Per, president of MHMM. “We are proud to be a talent destination.”

In 2021, as it has year after year, Calcium continued to demonstrate substantial growth and success, agency managers say. Among many highlights, the agency registered a near 30 percent increase in revenue, derived from both existing and new clients. The agency also onboarded more than 50 new employees, including many strategically important hires and fresh new talents and voices.

In 2021, AbelsonTaylor saw a 15 percent growth in revenue, eight big new business wins, 15 creative awards, and 10 percent staff growth.

EVERSANA ENGAGE added 26 new product brands to the roster and 18 new manufacturer clients. The ENGAGE team launched five therapies throughout the year, leading marketing efforts to bring critical therapies to patients in need across a range of therapeutic categories. According to the leadership team, EVERSANA ENGAGE saw impressive growth in all four primary parts of its business – market access, accounting for 45 percent of total business; direct-to-patient campaign work, netting roughly 30 percent of the business in 2021; communications targeting healthcare providers, at 18 percent; and the remaining work on medical communications programs.

For Real Chemistry, according to the company’s leaders, revenue grew 36 percent to $475 million, in what they say is the agency’s 20th consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth.

At CrowdPharm, managers say by offering healthcare clients “a true partnership” in driving brand performance, in 2021 the agency generated a 77 percent increase in new clients and a 298 percent increase in revenue. Its proprietary technology, management says, helped the agency to build customized global teams that scale to clients’ needs while working on brands across a wide range of therapeutic categories.

McCann Health New York continued to witness “unprecedented” business success, agency executives say, enjoying 35 percent growth since the start of the pandemic. “In 2021 particularly, the agency built upon strong relationships with several existing clients to drive tremendous organic growth. Of note, our Janssen business grew by 25 percent and Alkermes by no less than 100 percent. McCann Health New York also enjoyed a string of targeted new business wins in women’s health, mental health, and oncology, as well as blockbuster wins to launch game-changing therapies for Sanofi and Novartis.”

YuzuYello, which launched in May 2020, continues to grow exponentially, with revenue quadrupling versus last year, and more than doubling its headcount in addition to hiring its first compliance director to launch a patient ambassador specialty, according to leaders at parent network IPG Health.

AREA 23 leaders say the agency reached a major revenue milestone – “a very round number.” President Renée Mellas says, “ … this is not unbridled growth, it’s very choiceful.” Chief Creative Officer Tim Hawkey says 2021 was “the agency’s best year for growth, culture, and creativity in the last decade.”

Managements at Centron says the agency was successful in its new business efforts in 2021, adding TG Therapeutics, KalVista, and Taysha Patient Affairs to the client roster.

“We had a high pitch conversion rate,” notes President Celine Vita. “And even the few pitches that didn’t go our way received extremely positive feedback, and our engagement generated recommendations and referrals that led to additional opportunities.”

SOLVE(D) experienced 45 percent revenue growth and significant expansion in scale, clients, and headcount since its launch in 2018, agency executives say.

In 2021, Elevate Health achieved 42 percent growth, reaching the next inflection point of agency business. Management says the milestone of surpassing $10 million in billings with just over 50 employees is remarkable for a from-the-ground-up independent agency – all the more so because it was achieved in six years.

For RevHealth, agency leaders say, “In 2021, our approach enabled us to increase our total revenue by more than 20 percent.”

Several agencies and networks expanded their service offerings in the past year – organically, through acquisitions, or even though integrations. For example, Ogilvy Health launched its ABM offering, a B2B strategy in which marketing and sales align to target accounts across the entire customer journey. “ABM can help identify companies through IP addresses and other data sources and reveal people’s interests from their internet browsing behavior within the B2B world of content,” OH executives say. “This helps OH clients know which accounts to target and which in-market behaviors line up to their brand or service, allowing ads to be served up to interested consumers across a variety of networks.”

For CMI Media Group and Compas, an innovation launched in 2021 was PROACT Rep, which company executives say is the first and only offering allowing pharmaceutical sales reps to have full control over digital media to support promotional needs.

In terms of its client offerings, management says one of RevHealth’s most significant accomplishments was the introduction of full-service media and analytics. They say the expansion of the analytics department also helps the agency bring more capabilities in-house. The analytics team is now focused on four major areas: metrics and reporting, SEM, SEO, and programmatic media. “Combined, these service areas allow us to capture attention, have share of voice, be discoverable, and appear in meaningful intersections in a brand’s journey with audiences,” executives say.

Real Chemistry introduced new products, such as Integrated Swoop, which company executives say is a leader in AI-generated digital audiences, and, a leader in uncovering under-defined patient populations in rare/specialty diseases for clinical trials. The agency also created a Corporate Pricing and Public Affairs practice specializing in communications around drug pricing, reimbursement, access and value, and a Global Inclusion & Health Equity practice that “brings the best of public health and healthcare to improve outcomes for historically excluded people,” company executives say.

Fingerpaint Group made four acquisitions in 2021, beginning with a strategic investment in Leaderboard Branding. The acquisition of London-based Engage solidified Fingerpaint’s global footprint and diversified its current data analytics strengths. In a similar sense, the acquisition of North Carolina-based MedThink brought the group’s client expertise in the areas of medical and scientific communications. Additionally, the addition of Splice, a Northern California healthcare marketing and communications firm, bolstered the marketing group’s West Coast footprint and gave clients an additional option in the Bay Area.

In 2020 Concentric spun off production services into a new agency: The Furnace. Management describes The Furnace as a collective of photographers, designers, videographers, editors, animators, illustrators, UX/UI specialists, developers, and print production artists who execute a wide range of innovative creative projects. “Powered by Concentric HX, The Furnace prioritizes creativity, efficiency, operational excellence, constant learning, and strong client relationships.” Leaders say 2021 was The Furnace’s busiest year to date, with the team knocking out more than 20 photo and video shoots both at the studio at 1 World Trade Center, and on location across the country. These projects ranged from full-blown photography campaigns for clients such as Provention Bio and PUMA, to crucial production support on major DTC broadcasts spots for Merck Animal Health and Novo Nordisk.

In a series of strategic acquisitions over the past 12 months, the network Fishawack Health boosted its standing as one of the fastest-growing commercialization partners in the life science industry, managers say. In March, the company welcomed market access consultancy PRMA Consulting, followed by securing analytics and data-driven digital marketing agency closerlook in June. In November, FH cemented its commitment in the immuno-dermatology therapy area by formally welcoming FIDE, a leading network of dermatology experts, to its group.

Additionally, in January 2022, FH added U.S.-based health economics outcomes research (HEOR) consultancy Policy Analysis Inc. (PAI). “These strategic acquisitions enable FH to deliver an end-to-end service offering across a product’s life cycle, driving better health outcomes for patients and greater business results for our clients in the biopharma, med-tech, and wellness spaces,” says CEO John Koch. Fishawack Health expanded its scope of digital capabilities to include several technology-enabled applications that leverage strategy, data, and AI. The network’s digital products include Backstage – a cloud-based marketing intelligence platform powered by artificial intelligence, which provides a 360-degree view of the customer – and five cloud-based VEA applications, including heRo3 and PRMA Navigator and Tracker, designed to accelerate access to life-changing therapies.

In late 2021, Intouch Group was acquired by EVERSANA, the parent network of EVERSANA ENGAGE and the leading independent provider of commercial services to the global life sciences industry. “Over the last 20 years, Intouch has transformed digital engagement and pharmaceutical promotion,” says Faruk Capan, CEO of Intouch. “Imagine what the next 20 years will bring as we set our sights even higher, unafraid to transform healthcare as we know it.”

Network of the Year IPG Health was formed halfway through 2021 with the combination of FCB Health and McCann Health. According to managers, IPG Health “is the biggest disruptor in our industry.”

“When we reflect on what makes us different, at a fundamental level it’s our connected bonds and enduring culture, and an unmatched global footprint,” management says. “It’s our people, brands, offerings, and services. When people start at IPG Health, they realize it’s something different. Individually, each of our McCann Health and FCB Health agencies, is highly awarded and respected in the industry with an enviable roster of clients. “

“It’s the fluidity of how people work with each other that demonstrates the strong bond that has been built, and the culture of connectivity across our network,” says IPG Health CEO Dana Maiman. “By enabling collaboration and breaking down silos, we’ve collectively realized that we’re much smarter and stronger together. We believe that one person’s success is all of our success–it’s this commitment to a common goal that cannot be faked or emulated.”

Calcium announced the formation of Vitamin MD, a division dedicated to providing leading-edge medical education and communications solutions. “With experienced MDs and PhDs in its talent pool, Vitamin MD will answer the industry call for scientific and medical content that is authoritative, timely, and highly engaging,” Calcium says. The division is led by industry veterans Lauren Lazar, M.D. as Executive VP/Medical Director and Brad Quosig as VP, Client Engagement lead.

Working all over

You’d think that with the COVID-19 pandemic easing up, agencies and networks would have their people heading back into the office. That assumption is incorrect. From large shops to tiny boutiques, many agencies found they were just as, or even more productive, than they were when everyone was heading into the same piece of real estate each day.

At IPG Health, “Recognizing that things are no longer one size fits all, we continued to lean into flexibility, accountability, and trust with our ‘work appropriately’ philosophy, empowering our people and teams to decide what works best for them and their unique client needs,” network executives say.

RevHealth came up with a system managers call “RevFlex.” “By instituting RevFlex, we provide our staff with flexibility when it comes to where they work, how they structure their day, and how to best work with their respective teams. Our objective with RevFlex is simple: To ensure the best quality of life while preserving our dedication to great work, collaboration, and fostering a learning environment that benefits us all.”

Because Brick City Greenhouse’s goal is to attract, inspire, and retain the most talented personnel in the industry, leadership says the agency has created a work structure that seeks to empower employees not only to do their best work but lead their best lives. Managers say there is complete flexibility in work arrangements, with a truly remote working structure that has 65-plus employees spread across seven states.

Since the agency’s beginning in 2009, Create NYC designed a groundbreaking “work from anywhere” policy.

“The right people in the right work environment make all the difference in doing what is right for our clients every day,” Create NYC executives say. “We are committed to a virtual workforce, and we are honored that our staff currently creates across 18 different states.”

According to executives at Patients & Purpose, “Throughout the pandemic, the agency has remained strong and efficient. In fact, Patients & Purpose was among the first to deploy collaborative software, remote shoots, and hybrid work once it was deemed safe. They remain focused on flexibility and on the safety of those who work at Patients & Purpose, while continuing to be the best patient marketing partner to clients.”

For Evoke, “As we entered another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to leverage our agility and rally around new norms, starting by formalizing a ‘Work Where You Work Best’ policy that enables all employees to work where best for them – we have seen staff use this as an opportunity to make changes that benefit not only them but their families and, unlike with other businesses, this policy will remain in place after pandemic restrictions end.”

Evoke management says, “We have continued to build a thriving remote culture with nimble and collaborative day-to-day operations (introducing new frictionless working technologies, including the online collaborative whiteboard platform, Miro) and creating an employee experience with genuinely people-focused moments (holiday contests, Super Bowl squares, Employee Appreciation Day gift cards, etc.). We have re-imagined and expanded our talent acquisition and onboarding programs to allow us to attract and retain the best talent in the industry without the constraints of in-person work. We also welcome new hires to the agency with personalized welcome swag kits mailed directly to their home before their start date.”

DE&I expands

Many of the agencies in this special issue continued their focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in 2021, starting new programs and expanding current ones.

For IPG Health, the network made “sizable” investments in various DE&I initiatives it already had in place, its executives say. These include:

• “Inclusive Manager’s Toolkit”: A customized, intensive 10-week training program, in partnership with DeEtta Jones & Associates, which provides EVERY manager with the resources needed to lead inclusive teams.
• The reintroduction of the Disrupting Everyday Bias program as a regular offering, and the launch of Allyship, Microaggression, and Disrupting Thought Patterns workshops.
• Support of the Employee Relations Group, which is dedicated to ensuring an equitable and healthy working environment by providing inclusive and consistent support to employees.
• Continued ongoing partnerships with diverse recruiting institutions including 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP), Jopwell and Braven.
• Support of Culture & Inclusion Communities, which are employee-led groups continued their ongoing commitment to creating interconnectivity while promoting diversity as a part of the network’s fabric and offering peer-to-peer learning opportunities and activities throughout the year around critical diversity issues that matter to our employees.

“Our commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion is one of the reasons our agencies are so successful, and our work so lauded. The best work is created through diverse thinking and diverse people,” Maiman says.

AbelsonTaylor hired Yolanda Macias as its first Director of Diversity and Inclusion, created a formal DE&I mission, and identified five focus areas addressing employee centricity, psychological safety, communication systems, DEI training and awareness, and diverse representation. The agency also established a partnership with The Equality Institute.

2022’s DE&I Manny Award winner, 1798, part of the Fingerpaint Group, has diversity from the top down from founder Roshawn Blunt. “I have always wanted the workplace to reflect what the actual population looks like,” Blunt says. “I look forward to a time when every company is this diverse, but until then, we keep at it. And because we are working in market access, it is especially important to make sure we have people who can represent patients and relate to the many different types of challenges patients face.”

Inclusion and diversity continues to be a major focus for CMI Media Group and Compas, company leaders say. Although the agency has a diverse staff and leadership, management believes it is important to formalize inclusion efforts to ensure the company’s positive track record of diversity continues and remains sustainable through its growth.

This has included employee-led initiatives that are supported by corporate leadership. In 2021, CMI Media Group and Compas formally launched several Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERG leads partner with the executive team to drive education and better practices and policies across the organization. In addition, Stan Woodland, Executive Chairman and founder of CMI Media Group and Compas, continued to serve on the WPP Inclusion Council.

CMI Media Group and Compas also supported positive change among clients, executives say. This included partnering with research firm Community Marketing and Insights to create a study focusing on the healthcare communications needs of LGBTQ+ consumers, the results of which were shared at several conferences. This also included partnering with diverse agencies across WPP to produce educational sessions for clients. And in 2022, CMI Media Group is launching an “Inclusive Media” offering, leveraging its position and capabilities in bringing diversity equity and inclusivity to media.

In 2021, CDM New York launched a program called CDM­Rise – an internship designed to expose diverse talent from local NYC high schools to the healthcare advertising industry. “At a time when agencies are all making commitments to bringing in more diverse talent, we wanted to find a way to move upstream and get to the root of the issue: many young, talented, BIPOC creative students are unaware of our industry, and are potentially lacking the guidance and resources to build their first portfolio,” says Kristen Gengaro, President of CDM. “This program was born of our employees’ desire to move the needle on DE&I efforts. For me, it’s just one of the many proof points that this organization is authentically heart-forward.”

For GSW, powered by Syneos Health, an initiative that saw continued growth in 2021 was the success of RISE (Realizing Inclusivity and Success through Equality). Led and created by employees, RISE’s shared goal is for everyone in the agency to have the same opportunities to grow and advance as the person sitting next to them.

“Today, RISE has grown from just a few founding members to dozens of active teams cultivating a sense of belonging for all employees across the Syneos Health network,” according to managers. “Events are well attended, and the initiatives have further sparked open and thoughtful communication throughout the organization.”

According to Heartbeat leadership, a large part of the agency’s success is due to the strong D&I efforts led by Michelle Edwards, VP of Operations & Human Resources. In addition, Heartbeat’s thriving business resource groups (BRGs) instill a welcoming environment that encourages diverse Heartbeaters to bring their whole selves to work, agency executives say. BRGs like Asiancy, Latidores, Meet All the Black People, and Queerbeat are dedicated to sharing their community’s history and traditions, particularly during affinity months.

When asked what went into building the diverse and inclusive culture Heartbeat has today, Edwards says, “It’s about the foundation – it’s putting people first, and the proof is when people tell me they feel more accepted or more included here in the Heartbeat community than they’ve ever felt at any other workplace. And I always get teary-eyed! Because what could be more beautiful and meaningful than knowing someone feels they are embraced just as they are?”

Real Chemistry focuses two of its biggest philanthropic contributions on addressing anti-Asian racism. The two organizations are stopaapihate, an organization that helps combat anti-Asian racism, tracking and responding to AAPI hate; and the Asian Pacific Fund, which is a community foundation in the Bay Area that works with APPI to provide grants and services, scholarship programs and leadership support.

The agency also continues to provide pro-bono support for the Black Coalition Against Covid, whose mission is to increase vaccine confidence among Black Americans.

Calcium also announced a robust DEI initiative in 2021. “In keeping in the spirit of an agency that puts people above everything else, we announced the creation of our DEIBA (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and accessibility) department, which will enhance our agency culture and client offerings in every way possible,” says Melissa Morrow, Partner and Chief People Officer.

Entrée Health Network remains deeply committed to ensuring equity of opportunity, and to openly discussing ways to be a more anti-racist organization. Examples include internships through MAIP and executive coaching for Black leaders through the 4As Vanguard Program, active participation in Omnicom Health Group’s DE&IU, and a network-specific initiative called Pod For Better, “a listening and discussion group focused on thinking critically about racism and discovering, together, how to make our piece of the world a better place.”