Med Ad News 2023 Industry Person(s) of the Year
This year’s honor went to IPG Health’s Renee Mellas, Group President: AREA 23, AREA 23 on Hudson, McCann Health New York, and IPG Health Canada; and Tim Hawkey, Chief Creative Officer: McCann Health New York and AREA 23.
What if a decently humored ice cream truck driver turned lousy bench scientist teamed up with a former administrative assistant who approached every task with the same fierce competitiveness as a D-1 scholarship soccer star? The answer – as is often the case when Tim Hawkey and Renee Mellas ask, “What if” – seems equal parts improbable and inevitable.
The long-time leaders of AREA 23 have recently expanded their reach and responsibilities across IPG Health to include McCann Health New York and AREA 23 on Hudson, as well as FCB Health Toronto and McCann Health Canada (with offices in Toronto and Montreal). However, their early experiences continue to fuel their drive for success.
Mellas, now group president, joined FCB as an admin straight out of college (back when it was VICOM/FCB) and simply wanted to be the best. That hunger and hustle, honed on soccer fields in the Bronx, helped her to continuously exceed expectations, earn advancements at the agency, and eventually work on the mega-blockbuster Celebrex. She followed up that huge achievement by restarting small, spending a decade co-founding, nurturing, and developing start-up agencies before returning home to FCB Health in a leadership role at AREA 23.
Hawkey, now chief creative officer, took a less-direct path, actively avoiding the industry for the first 22 years of his life – thanks in part to being born into an advertising family. After stints selling treats for Good Humor and ruining important laboratory research, he eventually caved in to fate and took a job in healthcare advertising. With no creative training, he learned the business from the inside out by day and dedicated himself to studying old case studies by night to steal the secrets of great creative storytelling.
Upon uniting at AREA 23, Mellas and Hawkey redefined what synergy means by elevating the already very successful FCB Health sibling to even greater heights as one of the most awarded and successful agencies in all of advertising – one that continues to behave with the hustle and drive of an agency one-tenth its size. They credit much of that attitude to challenging their teams to ask, “What if?”
“Years ago, we realized there was a direct tension between clients desiring innovation from their agencies and the standard 1900-hour agency model,” Mellas says. “It meant clients often weren’t getting our best work because everyone defaulted to a scope that was approved the summer before.” Instead, they carved out time for each employee to think proactively about their brands and other meaningful causes and to take a risk proposing ideas outside of the mainstream.
“Our experiment generated disruptive ideas that delivered disproportionately high share of voice, helped our clients stand out in overcrowded or overlooked markets, attracted more talent, and super-charged the agency,” according to Hawkey, who adds that he has made it his mission to raise the bar for what’s possible and what’s expected in the industry. “For all of our sakes, I want you to be able to say at the Thanksgiving table that you work in pharma, and your family doesn’t immediately ask you about an ad with an old couple on the beach or the one with explosive diarrhea. If the work you are doing isn’t scaring you and your clients, and their lawyers, then you probably aren’t doing it right.”
By challenging their teams to reconsider the whole of advertising as their competition, not just existing healthcare agencies, Mellas and Hawkey have helped AREA 23 win more than 100 pitches, alongside earning hundreds of trophies in the last five years from Clio, The One Show, and D&AD. The agency has garnered more than 50 Lions at Cannes in the last five years, including the Grand Prix for Innovation, Radio and Audio, and Pharma, and the Health Grand Prix for Good, as well as achieving Healthcare Agency of the Year in 2017, 2020, 2021, and 2022. Most recently, they were named the No. 1 ranked agency worldwide – out of all agencies, not just health – in The Drum World Creative Rankings and No. 1 overall creative agency in North America by WARC. All of these wins and public acknowledgements further solidify why Mellas and Hawkey say they remain so wed to the IPG Health purpose of being relentlessly passionate about doing what’s right for their clients, their brands, and their people.
Mellas and Hawkey have committed themselves to leading and learning with empathy, embracing IPG Health’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), while leaning into the network’s firm belief that EDI is everyone’s responsibility. Building on this strong foundation, Mellas and Hawkey have actively bolstered EDI efforts within AREA 23 and the industry. The AREA 23 chapter of FCBWE – an internal group of cross-departmental employees working to ensure EDI is part of the day-to-day work and life – was further expanded to their clients with a forum called Cultural Consultations to speak openly about potential cultural impact of work and to resolve issues in real time. They have also launched the WE team’s 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, which has hosted numerous cultural events that encourage openness, education, and sharing. Outside the agency, Hawkey and Mellas have partnered with the D&AD Shift program, a free, industry-led night school for self-made creatives without a university degree, where they and other agency leaders volunteer as one-on-one mentors, lead courses, and dedicate time to helping “shifters” find a great job at AREA 23 or elsewhere.
But, perhaps the most impressive feat of all is that both say they still love to do what they do and where they do it, all the while somehow prioritizing meaningful time with their families and encouraging their teams to do the same.