The Top 75: Publicis Healthware International

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Combining his medical and marketing training, Roberto Ascione founded Healthware Consulting in Italy in 1996. Business grew first in Italy, expanded into European accounts, and the agency just kept growing from there. Publicis acquired it in 2007 and it became known as Publicis Heathware International (PHI) with Ascione at the helm as president.
The plan is to expand globally though mergers with Publicis siblings and through acquisitions. Last year was a big year on that front—PHI merged with sibling iMed Studios and acquired Dusseldorf-based Digital District.
Headquarters remain in Salerno, Italy, but PHI now has a New York City hub and offices in Paris, Dusseldorf, Milan, Rome, Ames, IA, and Yardley, PA. Kristin Milburn leads US operations.
Worldwide headcount is 124. The iMed Studios merger helped increase US headcount to 38, up from 7 in 2009 (it's 40 now). Business is split about evenly between the US and the rest of the world (Europe is 45%; Asia Pacific is 5%). Ascione reports both US and worldwide growth of about 25% year-on-year.
PHI has three main units—digital, consulting and eBusiness Solutions, which develops software applications for everything from clinical trails to earnings.
“We're putting a lot of attention on digital innovation,” Ascione says. “We're focused on being into the innovation and bringing it back to clients in a way that will be viable and actionable. Other industries, like financial services and travel, have completely changed because of digital. We see healthcare going there.”
Last year, AstraZeneca awarded tablet business for its heart drug Brilinta (US) that expanded to include creative control of the brand assets and guidelines. BMS EMEA awarded preferred digital agency status (multiple countries), and GE Healthcare nominated PHI as a preferred supplier for HCS/EMEA creative agency services. Ascione says the GE relationship is unfolding in a number of projects in multiple countries.
Within four weeks of the iPad launch, PHI had developed a program for Shire reps. It also completed a large digital consultancy project for all Sanofi brands in a major non-US market. He says PHI delivered “a three year roadmap for embracing digital at all levels of the organization.” And, PHI won and launched a program that includes hydrofiber.com for ConvaTech in 16 countries.  
“The US market is more developed in terms of embracing digital faster,” Ascione notes. “The adoption curve is fairly fast because you mostly have a homogenous language, etc. Pan-European growth is limited because, while it's one market to some extent, it's not one country.
“If you want to work pan-European you have to be highly structured and have high level strategy,” he continues. “It forces you to be more inventive. The number of physicians in Europe is probably comparable to the US, but they're in different countries with different regulations. We wanted to create a global company versus a network of different shops because having one company with one leadership creates the most favorable environment to cross pollinate across countries.”
PHI will open a Shanghai office in June. Ascione also wants to expand in the UK and Brazil.
“One key strategy is to help clients embrace digital more, and as they grow, we grow with them,” he adds. “Of course, we'll also keep moving with new clients.”
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