Sudler & Hennessey execs like to boast that their shop may be long-lived—it's the oldest in the business, they say (Art Sudler opened his studio in 1936 and launched Sudler & Hennessey six years later)—but that they've maintained its youthful vigor by changing with the times.
The WPP network was the first big medical advertising shop to go global in a big way, and that's a nice place to be right now as their clients pin their hopes for growth on emerging markets. When we spoke to worldwide chairman and CEO Jed Beitler and co-CEO for the Americas, Louisa Holland, their colleagues were in China and Russia on business.
“Russia's really heating up lately, even though they don't have as formal a pharma industry as other countries,” says Beitler, “and surprisingly not just on the professional side but on the patient and consumer side as well.”
The agency once ran a branded Viagra campaign in China. “We went to the ministry of health and petitioned them, showed them what we were going to do, and they said: ‘Go for it,'” says Beitler. The government eventually cut off the campaign, but only after a year and a half.
“In other markets, it's really catch as catch can,” says Beitler. “You have to be aware of both what the local regulations are and then who's in the know, who you can talk to, whether it's a government ministry or some other regulatory body, because there's probably more opportunity than most people think.”
Sudler & Hennessey won four global pitches in the fourth quarter of 2010, bringing the New York office's roster of global accounts to 12. Three of those global accounts were from European multinationals, and fall into the categories of oncology, fertility, orphan diseases and diabetes.
The network boasted a 68% win rate on new business across all divisions, including medical education, promotion, digital, managed care, training and education, says Beitler, and saw revenue growth “in the high single digits.”
In the US, says Holland, “It was a strong year for us.” “We spent a lot of time, apart from pitching and winning and launching new products, to focus on how we're organized and how we would deal with changes in the marketplace and changes in what your clients expected of us. It seemed like the first time in a long time we've had to reexamine the agency model and make some tweaks.”
Integrating digital expertise throughout the network was a big part of that. Ditto for education and training.
“We have done a lot to blur the lines” between departments, says Holland. “The lines are blurred already from a marketing perspective. So, the expectation is that people will be thinking broader and across all disciplines. Nobody has the right to live in one discipline anymore.”
The company recently held a meeting of its global managers to work on “the convergences going on—online and offline, global and local, education and promotion, patient and consumer and healthcare professional,” says Beitler. “Sometimes we get ourselves caught up in our own silos, even as we're trying to break down silos within the client. We have to make sure our people are fluent across the board, in an array of disciplines.”
In a network overhaul two years ago, company execs went through all their global shops and assigned them to three tiers, the top tier being those requiring in-house digital, strategic, creative and med ed expertise, while the bottom two tiers could get away with “fluency” and borrow expertise from sibling shops as needed.
Fittingly, as the company is rethinking how it works, the New York office is in the midst of a major renovation project.
“At some point you actually have to sit down and figure out when all the floors are done, what will be the adjacencies—who will sit next to each other,” says Holland. “The physical realignment of the building has allowed us to sit down and say ‘We grew these departments as different divisions but when you start with an empty floor plan, yes, technology and creative can sit closer together. It's eye-opening to be able to start from scratch that way.”