Questions for 5 of the healthcare agency world's top execs

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As health ascends the national consciousness, the CEOs of the industry's largest holding companies discuss how they're reasserting themselves and the business of healthcare communications — all while keeping an eye on an erratic macro environment and adjusting for the future.

Nick Colucci

Nick Colucci, CEO, Publicis Health

1) How does the broader remit of “health,” as evidenced by developments at today's holding companies, help in appealing to clients and making services more accessible?

Consumers no longer just consider the “care” in healthcare. Health and wellness is a larger concern, and well-being isn't just about medications or managing care. Clients understand this, especially in categories that traditionally weren't engaged in the conversation. From CPG to financial services to tech, we've seen a hunger for expertise in health and wellness. By expanding our remit beyond marketing drugs, we're demonstrating to new kinds of clients that our intelligence and deep understanding of consumers and their well-being have implications for non-pharma businesses, too.

2. What impact did the political and economic uncertainty of late 2016 have on budgets last year and this year? How will the Trump administration's policies play out in 2017?

Last year's election cycle, we found, had little to no impact on budgets. If anything, the outcome of the election has caused more uncertainty in 2017. And when there's uncertainty, companies err on the side of being more conservative and hold back marketing investments. Barring significant progress in the current administration's pro-business agenda, uncertainty could tip toward unpredictability. Then it's anyone's guess what will happen in the remainder of the year and beyond.

3. Agencies now compete against the likes of Google, IBM, and big consultancies. How have you shifted strategies to win new business and retain top people?

Two major forces have had a profound impact on business the past few years: individual empowerment and industry convergence. Traditional consultancies purchasing creative agencies, agency networks adding consulting, and media outlets merging with content providers are examples of convergence blurring business lines and merging capabilities. Transformation is all around. The way to attract clients and talented employees remains unchanged: Be relevant and inspiring, encourage growth, and care about their success more than your own.


Mike Hudnall

Mike Hudnall, CEO, WPP Health & Wellness

1) How does the broader remit of “health,” as evidenced by developments at today's holding companies, help in appealing to clients and making services more accessible 

Viewing our business through the broad lens of “health,” ensures that we can bring a diversity of thinking, creativity, and innovation to help our clients across all industries achieve their objectives. Our traditional clients are seeking new approaches to help people achieve better health outcomes. We're also seeing a more diversified client base as companies in adjacent industries are now re-orienting toward health and wellness.

2. What impact did the political and economic uncertainty of late 2016 have on budgets last year and this year? How will the Trump administration's policies play out in 2017?
 
Despite a sluggish global economy, WPP delivered strong results in 2016. Any administrative change brings uncertainty, especially one as polarizing as this most recent one. It's impossible to predict the future, but we know that our clients are facing an increasingly challenging environment that requires strong partnership and innovative solutions that come from putting patients front and center. That's where our focus is.

3. Agencies now compete against the likes of Google, IBM, and big consultancies. How have you shifted strategies to win new business and retain top people? 

Our priority is providing differentiated value and partnership for clients. We must take a future-oriented view toward clients' needs and be laser-focused on helping them solve the critical business challenges they face today and will face tomorrow. We are transforming our business around data and technology and helping our clients do the same. Our people are our most important asset, and our focus is on recruiting diversified talent and helping them to pursue their dreams.


Donna Murphy

Donna Murphy, global CEO, Havas Health & You

1) How does the broader remit of “health,” as evidenced by developments at today's holding companies, help in appealing to clients and making services more accessible?

For us, it's not just “health,” but rather “health and wellness.” We know that they do not exist in isolation - they live along a continuum. Our Havas Health & You positioning puts us at the intersection of healthy and living. We can pull through all of Havas' health-and-wellness offerings and our thousands of experts. We can serve as change agents for our health-and-wellness clients, using creativity, media, and innovation to inspire healthier lives.

2. What impact did the political and economic uncertainty of late 2016 have on budgets last year and this year? How will the Trump administration's policies play out in 2017?

The political landscape did not significantly impact budgets in 2016 as far as we could see. So we don't expect any notable changes in 2017, either.

3. Agencies now compete against the likes of Google, IBM, and big consultancies. How have you shifted strategies to win new business and retain top people?

Our strategies have not shifted. They have only accelerated in terms of execution and importance in recognition of need and market opportunity. One of our cultural pillars is to be entrepreneurial and to prototype new ideas that bring value for our clients. This has been central to our success in driving long-term client relationships and winning new business. It has also been a major driver of finding and retaining top talent.



Ed Wise

Ed Wise, CEO, Omnicom Health Group

1) How does the broader remit of “health,” as evidenced by developments at today's holding companies, help in appealing to clients and making services more accessible?

There's nothing new about health-specific agencies. The appreciation for what it takes to be a dedicated health specialist is clearer than ever. As many agency brands with a generalist heritage stake a claim in healthcare communications, it's important to let clients know that ours are specialty companies. That means these entities are not dabbling in healthcare, but are dedicated units with all the specialty knowledge and experience required to manage high-science healthcare brands and their complex communications challenges.

2. What impact did the political and economic uncertainty of late 2016 have on budgets last year and this year? How will the Trump administration's policies play out in 2017?

Positive signals out of Washington include a clear U.S. innovation agenda and the promise of favorable tax code changes, which may drive domestic investment and manufacturing. Drugmakers will continue to undergo M&A as a way to improve pipelines and hone strategic portfolios, in some cases retaining cash and driving harder supplier negotiations. Drug approvals may also accelerate. Even in the face of disruption, company budgets have not been slashed. That said, if uncertainty will be the one thing we can be certain about, we remain dedicated to an agile posture as the next few years unfold.

3. Agencies now compete against the likes of Google, IBM, and big consultancies. How have you shifted strategies to win new business and retain top people?

As healthcare and tech converge, we are not so much competing as partnering with big tech to bring clients the best solutions - and, with one of the leading consultancies, to produce new research on the shift to value. We bring our healthcare communication and regulatory expertise to the table while putting tech at the center of our companies, leveraging our scale to create data-driven products. This agenda even shapes our acquisition strategy. Last year, for example, we acquired BioPharm, a data-driven multichannel agency, and Carson Analytics, its advanced analytics partner.


Big Ben

Helene Yan, VP, business strategy, Interpublic Group

1) How does the broader remit of “health,” as evidenced by developments at today's holding companies, help in appealing to clients and making services more accessible?

“Healthcare” is often viewed as the province of physicians, hospitals, and payers along with patients, caregivers, and medicines. However, our responsibility, and our clients' impact, is continuous - it doesn't end after someone is discharged or completes a medication regimen. Healthcare is delivered; health is experienced. Health - or more broadly, wellness - is fundamental: It is a focus on wholeness and acknowledges that prevention can be more important than cure. Shifting attention from improving healthcare to improving health is a springboard to explore new avenues for support, engagement, and care.

2. What impact did the political and economic uncertainty of late 2016 have on budgets last year and this year? How will the Trump administration's policies play out in 2017?

We did not see a major impact on budgets. Yes, there was uncertainty, but uncertainty and change are constants. The ACA has been a hot topic for almost a decade. M&A activity is especially high in pharma worldwide. At the same time, client budgets continue to be driven by company or brand-specific priorities rather than macro forces. So while we're watching the social, political, and economic landscape closely, we - and our clients - are not letting it distract us. We expect a continued good business outlook.

3. Agencies now compete against the likes of Google, IBM, and big consultancies. How have you shifted strategies to win new business and retain top people?

We've always competed against tech and consultancies. Creativity is at the heart of what we do and is not replicable. We'll always be a place for people who want to create and execute life-enhancing ideas. You'll see our strategic and tech­nological firepower more clearly in the work we deliver across agencies, such as the launch of Consulting at McCann Health. Far-reaching policies, such as FCB Health's allocating unbillable time to “what if” thinking, also ultimately benefit clients.

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