Top 100 Agencies: Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

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A piece for the BMS-supported Melanoma Exposed public awareness program
A piece for the BMS-supported Melanoma Exposed public awareness program

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide Chairman and CEO Matt Giegerich really likes his work. “I love this industry,” he says. “I always have.” His enthusiasm for the global agency is so great he has lost track of how many years he has spent at the agency, pegging it first at 23, then 24 years. (It's 22.) “I think it's just a great way to combine doing something that's really noble and meaningful and powerful and being a kid at the same time,” he says.

Giegerich isn't the only exec at the agency with that kind of zeal. “It's a fantastic time to be in the business,” says managing partner Michael Parisi, who immediately begins to tick off some of the top reasons why: 1) The globalization of the healthcare conversation; 2) The need for a new type of health conversation now that medical successes have created a communications need among patients living “beyond diseases like cancer, living with diseases like HIV;” and 3) Technology, which is enabling rich dialogues by connecting patients with information and with other patients who then share and parse data and experiences with communities and physicians. In sum, Parisi says OCHWW is in the perfect position to apply its multi-touch approach in a way that can contribute to “something big and something meaningful that is going to change the world.”

This energy is a big part of what's behind the agency's success in landing 54 new US accounts in 2012, and is also what's behind its ability to keep revenues steady with 2011, at the over-$100 million mark. Managing partner Marc Weiner says keeping revenues on par is an achievement, considering the flux the healthcare field has seen over the past 12 months. He says the feat is even more remarkable when you take into consideration that the headier days of 2011 and 2010 were performance benchmarks. “Overall, I'd say flat was actually a pretty solid performance, especially for a group as large as we are.”

But “flat” should not be confused with static. Weiner says that 2013 is off to a strong start, and the scale of the clients the agency has been invited to pitch are large, multi-channel behavior-modifying global opportunities for which OCHWW is “uniquely qualified.”

Those opportunities reflect what Parisi and his partners say is an increased sophistication that they are seeing among clients who are looking to partner up with the agency. “The lines are being blurred between what's a public relations ask, what's a medical education ask, what's a health professional ask, what's a digital ask,” he says, adding “the good news is that all of our clients, and us included, are all focused on results… and we've been creating relationships between companies and companies, and brands and brands, and patients and brands, and healthcare professionals and brands, to payers.” He says this all in one breath, then adds “It's really [become] an exciting time.”

Underpinning the agency's abilities to hit all these points is the team fondly referred to as “the mathletes,” and officially as the behavioral healthcare insights group. This crew is in charge of keying in on what makes patients, professionals and payers tick, and embedding that insight into client touchpoints. The group has been doing this for some time, but the recent jump in Big Data awareness has given the analysis more visibility, in terms of its potential to add value, as well as for the solid results it can provide for clients with slim budgets and high expectations.

Weiner says the mathletes' work makes an impact because it provides Big Data from a multidisciplinary standpoint: “It's the first time I've seen a group of social scientists married up with the more hard science, the medical strategists, and it's very interesting to… put them in a room with creative and digital specialists,” Weiner says. The team, headed up by Iyiola Obayomi, senior director of Ogilvy Healthworld's Marketing and Analytics Consulting group, distills data points into efficient, actionable strategies that help clients communicate with the right audiences in the right way. While the agency couldn't give a headcount regarding just how many heads it puts together to find the client sweet spot, execs did share that Obayomi's staff has nearly doubled since he joined up in 2011.

This data read includes predictive analytics, advanced analytics and post-launch reporting, which is threaded through with insights gleaned by exploring such online resources as chat rooms and patient communities so analysts can “see and listen and do computational analysis on the language they use,” says Weiner.

While many claim Big Data fluency, Parisi says what separates Ogilvy's perspective from research firms like McKinsey is that peers “look at the work from 300,000 feet down, whereas we're creating the work with the metrics we're thinking about” during development.

The agency's Melanoma Exposed public awareness campaign is an example of what happens when this insight comes together. Initially launched in 2011, the Bristol-Myers Squibb-supported outreach offers up a variety of interactions. In addition to messaging that features former NFL Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, the program includes a social media campaign, free screening at NFL and NFL-partner training events and camps, and a website game called GoalPost Avenue that allows visitors to use their neighborhoods as backdrops and toss a ball around while learning about skin cancer. OCHWW says around 2,000 people have been screened at events, around 20,000 played GoalPost Avenue and 1,000 have used the specialist locator to find a dermatologist since the program went live.

Parisi says the melanoma project is just one example of how several disciplines can come together organically to deliver on the right approach. He says the wider perspective is that it is also a realization that the siloed request is dead and that clients could benefit from some guidance. “Our clients are recognizing [the question is] not ‘Do I ask this of the med-ed group or the advertising group. It's more of ‘here is a problem…   let us know how you are going to solve it,'” he says.

In addition to Obayomi's mathletes, this insight also comes from a series of promotions and a breadth that allows Ogilvy CommonHealth to tap into the strengths of its more than 1,200 employees, as well as those of the additional 18,000 across the Ogilvy network. Recent moves of note include Mindy Price, who came on board as Planning Director in July 2012 from OgilvyOne, where she was Group Planning Director. Price has been with Ogilvy for around 14 years, and provides, what Parisi says is a “freshness” that helps them tell insightful stories. Paul O'Neill, who has worked both as a Pfizer rep and has an agency history that includes ­Draftfcb Healthcare and working as ICC Lowe's general manager, joined up as OCHWW's wellness marketing president in April 2013, while Kate Cronin moved over from Ogilvy PR to establish OCHWW's official PR division, which merged Ogilvy PR's healthcare practice and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide. Additional changes included naming Darlene Dobry and Shaun Urban managing partners, and Ekaterina Vaganova posting the agency flag at the new Moscow office in March.

If prospective clients think OCHWW's size makes the experience less an agency interaction than working with a machine able to gobble up any account, be warned: the agency is not shy about turning away work.

“It's about understanding the business,” Parisi says, meaning if a client's “ask isn't clear enough and we can't really feel like we can get a handle on what is truly being asked, that's a place where we might say we might not be able to answer your question.” The agency has walked away from RFPs where clients won't provide clarification for this same reason—the lack of clarity means the agency and client won't be able to have a productive conversation, and he says that's just not going to work.

In addition to expanding its development, digital and planning teams since checking in with MM&M in 2012, Weiner says there's been particular emphasis on expanding the strategy team because “we're finding that our clients are really asking much more strategic and very sophisticated strategy questions, so we're bringing in… less generalist, more skilled” talent. “Some of our clients,” he says, “have leapfrogged… in terms of their ability and knowledge. They've gotten sophisticated very fast.”

That means more time is spent discussing things like how and when to employ a strategy, as opposed to having to explain the significance of such tools as geo-targeting or responsive design. Weiner says this knowledge makes clients more curious about what's possible, instead of closing potential communication channels because they fear regulations. He says clients now say “I know how regulated we are, and you know how regulated we are… let's come up with a solution.” Weiner says he likes that clients are going beyond saying they want change and “are willing to experiment.”

Part of this experimentation includes helping clients reframe the idea of ROI, a term Parisi says is a “very dated” 1980s standard of measure which may have worked for sample drops and leave-behinds, but no longer works when the outreach drives multi-dynamic conversations between and among audiences. The goal is the same—behavior change—but the way to measure impact varies from brand to brand, and OCHWW lays out the approach in the context of a program idea or a campaign idea—pointing out what they are looking to measure and how they plan to optimize each engagement.

Dobry, like her colleagues, notes that their clients' wraparound perspective has spilled over into an increased sense of the value of public relations aimed towards healthcare providers—as well as an increased willingness to invest in it. She says the new PR capability is of particular significance, with the expansion of what the term “healthcare provider” means, with the increased prominence of roles such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. To help clients increase the scope of conversations with professionals, the agency brought on Amy Graham as EVP director of client services for specialty marketing. Dobry explains that it's a new position for OCHWW and a critical one because Graham's experience in specialty, biotechnology and therapeutic areas will provide a foundation in the communication stream that is “going to be so pivotal and critical to our continued growth in the specialty markets.”

Linking these expanded conversations is what Parisi calls an underlying truth: While “we all like brands,” liking a brand isn't enough to compensate for a growing need among patients, providers and payers to understand “What does it mean to me?” in terms of patient and provider support.

Parisi also has an ask for clients, which is to spend time with the agency before selecting them. “Take some time to see us in our natural environment,” he says. “Spend half a day with us and tell us your biggest problems and we'll come back to you with solutions.”
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