Top 100 Agencies 2015: Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

An agency running on all cylinders

A journal ad for FORUM Pharmaceuticals
A journal ad for FORUM Pharmaceuticals

Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide has a well-earned reputation as a firm that does most everything exceedingly well. It invested in the digital and mobile spaces early, getting a head start on its similarly sized competitors that it maintains to this day. It works as ably and nimbly alongside organizations like Weight Watchers as it does pharma giants like Novartis, Roche and Bayer. It rarely goes with the industry flow; its top generals have something of a contrarian streak, refusing to hew to industry trends unless they see evidence of them with their own eyes. It's worth noting that OCHWW higher-ups were the only ones not to mention the word “wearables” during their agency-issue debrief, even when discussing the company's 2014 launch of a wellness/well-being practice.

Perhaps owing to that across-the-board skill, OCHWW rarely gets showered in superlatives. It does what it does, and it does it with consistent effectiveness. As a result, it's easy to downplay the company's 2014 performance on the grounds that it doesn't come with an easy narrative or flashy headline. OCHWW didn't restructure, tweak its brand or break ground on a new office tower. It just went about its business, generating around $150 million in US revenue in 2014.

“It was a really good year for us,” Matt Giegerich, OCHWW chairman and CEO, says. “I wouldn't call it our best year ever in terms of growth, but we're building off a bigger and bigger base.”

It's tough to get an exact bead on OCHWW's 2014 new-business performance. Even by the standards of an industry that's stingy about disclosing client and/or brand relationships, the company is aggressively stingy about disclosing client and/or brand relationships. Nonetheless, Giegerich allows that OCHWW added a range of brands to its roster during 2014, winning pitches at a 60% clip “on a high volume of opportunities … We have lots of work we're proud of, but we just can't mention it.” Managing partner Michael Parisi adds that the company worked on a trio of drugs bearing a game-changing breakthrough designation—which required both logistical and philosophical shifts among the client teams that handled them.

“These are not just incremental gains in clinical results, which is what we used to see. This is cure level. How often have we been able to use the word ‘cure' in healthcare marketing?” he explains. “Even the existence of the breakthrough label itself—that's opened up so much dialogue and made the world of patient advocacy more of a communications target. It's been a rapid shot out of a cannon.”

Indeed, 2014 saw a considerable jump in investment in specialty medicine by OCHWW clients. “They're getting more involved in the commercial integration process and marketing in ways they never have before,” says managing partner Shaun Urban. “It's provided a different type of opportunity for us, to provide counsel and serve as a resource. Things like thought-leader engagement, narrative development, driving a strategy around real-world evidence—these aren't activities [those clients] have done too much in the past.”

It's no surprise, then, that OCHWW similarly upped its emphasis on payer- and access-related work in 2014 and the first half of 2015. To give clients the support they crave, the agency snapped up Element Marketing Group and rebranded it as Ogilvy CommonHealth Market Access.

“Inside that business, which is its own healthy, freestanding payer agency, you have some incredibly focused data-driven technology that helps physicians better understand payer status when they make their prescribing decisions,” Giegerich says. “The goal is to get the right medicine prescribed and used. We can give reps more to say than the standard safety/efficacy spiel.” 

In the wake of the pricing uproar over transformative hepatitis-C drugs like Sovaldi, it's become clear that pharma brand teams need to do a better job of breaking down reimbursement and coverage hurdles—and do it much more quickly. OCH Market Access will likely be called upon to handle such challenges. “The idea is to create custom experi­ences with patients and physicians and office staffs that will drive preferences to brands,” Urban says.

OCHWW also focused more attention on biosimilars during 2014, when their eventual path to market became slightly clearer. This creates an interesting dynamic for an agency like OCHWW—which, presumably, works on behalf of brands that will be challenged by biosimilars as well as companies that will seek to produce them. While stressing that “a generics company is going to treat them different than a company with brands,” managing partner Marc Weiner says that the agency will approach biosimilars “very carefully. Some people interpret them as generic, which they're not. Plus there's an inherent gap between what payers expect the cost to be and what the cost will actually be. You already have payers who have publicly made statements that they're expecting price erosion of as much as 60% to 70%.”

The aforementioned OCHWW well-being practice, which garnered considerable momentum in the marketplace in 2014 (“it had been a little bit of a secret success story,” Giegerich quips), won't have any such issues with which to contend. Rather than readying themselves to butt heads with irascible payers, well-being team members face the more welcome challenge of defining a space—health and wellness—that means different things to different people.

“We're moving from illness to wellness to well-being as an active state you have to work toward,” Parisi notes.

The practice already counts Nestlé Nutrition and Kimberly-Clark (for Huggies) as clients, but the roster could eventually expand to include other types of packaged-goods companies, makers of medical foods and health delivery networks. “We're extending our ambitions way beyond the healthcare business,” Giegerich says.

OCHWW has also extended itself geographically, via last September's launch of a full-service office in Dubai. Dubbed Ogilvy CommonHealth Middle East & North Africa, the new office is led by Karen Kamel. The company clearly views the market as rife with opportunity—as witnessed by the fact that it, you know, opened an office there. But when asked about challenges faced during the last year or so, Urban points to the risk inherent in any such geographical expansion.

“There are places you can consider safe bets, and then there are markets that are kind of cross your fingers and hope it works,” he says. “Over the past few years we've had our share of missing on our bets—taking a gamble on starting operations in an emerging third-world market or an emerging Central European market. These are necessary gambles, with the inevitable ascension of Western medicine and more defined healthcare, but the roles of an agency and marketing can be tenuous.”

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