Top 100 Agencies 2015: Sudler & Hennessey

Offering clients solutions they didn't even know they needed yet

Procrits Health View apps include a design for the Apple Watch
Procrits Health View apps include a design for the Apple Watch

According to New York medical advertising folklore, Andy Warhol once did a stint at Sudler & Hennessey. Therefore, given the agency's celebrity heritage, it should come as little surprise that, as MM&M went to press, group creative director Chris Duffey was preparing to take the stage with Kim Kardashian at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

For their panel, they planned to explore connectivity, storytelling, data-sharing and, of course, Ms. Kardashian's groundbreaking Hollywood video game. You might think all of this has little to do with healthcare communications. Except that these are precisely the topics consuming the thoughts of Sudler executives these days.

“Health is everywhere,” says Louisa Holland, co-CEO, The Americas, Sudler New York. “It's the new green. People expect it from their clothing, they expect it from their technology, they expect it from everyone out there, they want everyone to be thinking about their health the way people used to think about everything around them being green. I feel like that's pulling everyone away from the silos, and away from focusing always on the brand.”

Holland believes that, as an agency, Sudler needs to continually seek a broader view of the entire business market model for its clients. “We must bring, not just channels, but many different ideas and competencies than we've ever had to do before,” she says. “In a way, we have to re-engineer even what account leadership looks like, and what creativity looks like, because in order to reach out and do that, and connect the dots, we just need to be thinking differently.”

The agency is certainly doing that. Jed ­Beitler, chairman and CEO, Sudler & Hennessey Worldwide, notes the group has recently built up a consulting practice in the US and Europe called Primary Source. “It's really not focused on an end executional item or element, it's just pure consulting,” he says. “When you've got people who are former physicians—we even have somebody from the FBI—it's a really different model. They are working across many, many disciplines, even if that's not what the client originally asked us to do, but rather to direct that thinking. So we're training more of our people into that kind of team account, or that horizontal mentality.”

Beitler notes also that Sudler has increased its focus on patients in everything from managed markets and the effect of the Affordable Care Act, to social media and the wearables explosion. He feels that some of these new directions might surprise a few people who still see the agency as the 81-year-old granddaddy of medical advertising.

“Some people think of us as sort of this monolithic institution,” says Beitler. “But when you get here, you actually realize we're in a process of continuous evolution.”

The group put in a solid performance in 2014, reporting growth just shy of double digits. Beitler is encouraged that the performance was strong outside of the US, too. “We had a good bounce-back in Italy, after some tough years,” he says. “Australia has bounced back, too. We had good growth in Spain, which was sort of a surprise to us. Japan was continuing to grow. Although China is having its issues, it even bounced back a little. And we hope to continue that very strong growth in London.”

Beitler also reports lots of new business wins in all markets but he is unable to reveal specific clients and brands.

Sudler has made some significant senior hires over the past year. Tara Churik was hired as practice lead, Primary Source, to build the consultancy business. Richard Marshall, was named director of patient engagement and will spearhead the agency's commitment to patient communications across all channels and in all settings. Heidi Feickert has taken up a brand new role, director of training and organizational development, where she will focusing on training, culture, career development, organizational systems and development, and the changing workforce dynamic.

Outside of the US, Barbara Macelloni is the new head of strategy and business development, Med Ed, EMEA and APAC, while Mark Boulding was named head of strategy, UK.

Beitler says that Sudler is constantly trying to antic­ipate the needs of clients and offer solutions that perhaps the client hasn't thought about yet. “While we can always fall back on, ‘Do you want fries with that?' that's not how we're going to grow,” he says. “That's not how we're going to lead in the industry. And so we are trying to look at the currents that are moving through our marketplace, look at other factors that maybe aren't immediately apparent. We are seeing where we think our clients are going to need help and support, and either hiring that talent, building that discipline, or acquiring that discipline, whatever it may be. That's where we always have to be, in that anticipatory, forward-thinking viewpoint.”

A good example of this is a platform Sudler has developed for serving up Web content in a more efficient way, which it hopes will eventually become the industry standard. “This is something where it's us meeting the clients,” says Rob Rodgers, co-CEO, The Americas, Sudler New York. “We're interested in changing the standards on the Web because we believe every client, not just our clients, can save 20% to 30% of the cost of a website. [Right now] they are just duplicating everything over and over and over again. It would really be a tremendous, innovative thing to do without ruffling anyone's feathers.”

Beitler notes that Sudler has already tested the platform with a couple of clients, both of whom have embraced it. Now the agency must meet with FDA to try to make it the industry standard.

Beitler emphasizes the importance of collaborations in the evolutionary process. “The types of partners and partnerships that we have are really changing the dynamics of what has been our traditional bread and butter, and our traditional deliverables,” he says. “It's ­enhancing what we are, and who we are working with.”

The agency is enjoying an exciting partnership with a highly prominent California tech company that cannot be named. Particularly gratifying was the fact that the company approached Sudler, not the other way around.

“The California company noticed that pharma companies aren't necessarily using tools like iPads to their full potential,” says Holland. “They are trying to figure out how to get [pharma's usage] maximized and optimized, and they realize that we're actually in a position to help them do that.”

“It's pretty interesting,” adds Rodgers. “Where it's going, I'm not quite sure at this point, but I think it will create more interesting, more dynamic tools, at the very least, and help do something much greater at the most.”

Rodgers believes an important concept for the industry to embrace going forward is that Big Data Makes the Individual. “You've got every man and his dog out there wearing devices and measuring the number of steps we walk, the number of hours we sleep, the number of songs we listen to while we're walking, or whatever it is,” he says. “Pharma's challenge is to be able to create something meaningful [from all that data] for an individual patient. It's an exciting challenge.”

Adds Rodgers: “I think it's a sign of this broadening of healthcare. It's just this tremendous, exciting landscape. It's no longer this little private universe. It's blowing the doors off everywhere.”