Finding the right real estate for the right price is a challenge for any company based in New York, and Evoke founder and CEO Reid Connolly thought he’d solved that dilemma when his agency signed the lease for spacious new offices in Manhattan’s Battery Park City. But things don’t always evolve as planned, and 2020 has proven one of the least predictable years in memory.
The move-in date was scheduled for March 30, and some 240 employees had already packed up their belongings before receiving a directive to work from home. “I haven’t even seen the finished space yet,” Connolly says. “But it’s going to be really nice: 30-foot ceilings, tons of co-working and open meeting spaces and a terrace on the river. It’ll be great when we can move in.”
The new offices were designed to amalgamate the staffs of Evoke New York and Kyne, the global communications and public health agency acquired by Evoke in 2019. Evoke promptly merged it with communications agency brand Evoke PR and Influence to create Evoke Kyne. In the process, Connolly says, the company created “one of the largest and most geographically diverse healthcare-specific communications agencies in the world.” He notes an unplanned secondary benefit as well: “Kyne’s experience with working on global public health crises could not be more relevant today.”
Connolly is enthusiastic about last year’s progress, which set Evoke up to start the new decade “in the healthiest place we’ve ever been, both financially and from a talent perspective.” That came amid a turbulent year for the agency world, marked by continued client and agency consolidations and volatile regulatory activity. It was, Connolly says, a near-record year for product approvals, product rejections and approval delays.
He nonetheless describes it as “hard-fought” and adds that “a lot of great stuff happened for us. We delivered some of our most engaging, innovative and market-shifting work to date, whether in our creative agency brands, in PR and communications, in market access or in media.”
On the administrative side, the agency integrated and realigned the acquisitions it had made the year before (the left-coast firm now known as Evoke Giant and market access agency Evoke Navience). “We ended up with strong performance and a great team,” Connolly declares. The numbers agree: Evoke’s North American revenue jumped 6% from $134.7 million in 2018 to $142.9 million in 2019.
Evoke also succeeded where many of its peers failed during 2019, adding A-list talent during a year when the economy was booming.
“While a lot of agencies struggle with bringing in new talent, that’s an area I think we’re particularly good at,” Connolly says. Among other factors, he credits investments made in Evoke’s talent acquisition team for the jump in head count, which surged from 550 at the end of 2018 to 663 at the end of 2019.
New executive team members include Dr. Karsten Risch, who assumed the newly created role of chief medical officer after a 13-year stint at Havas Health & You. Risch leads the agency’s science and medicine practice, implementing standard medical approaches and scaling best practices across the group’s client base.
Jennifer O’Dwyer, most recently a client services exec at CDM, joined Evoke as president, North America. She filled an opening left by Tom Donnelly, a 10-year Evoke veteran promoted into the newly created position of chief growth officer. In another in-house shift, James Tsuyuki, one of Evoke’s longest-tenured employees, was promoted to chief technology officer and added to the executive leadership team. A final addition was Evoke Kyne EVP of strategy and business engagement Barbara Box, who spent 15 years at Weber Shandwick, most recently as EVP of North America.
Connolly is pleased to have new team members who are not only “supremely competent” but also a good cultural fit with the agency.
“Our mantra is ‘health more human,’ because the human aspect of what we do is never lost on us,” he explains. “And though we’ve grown exponentially over the years, we’ve never lost our entrepreneurial spirit. We’re still a group of open-minded, hungry people with a growth mindset, who are looking to do things in new and different ways.”
Over the course of Evoke’s existence, that hasn’t deviated one bit, Connolly adds. “In December we turned 13 years old, so now we’re a rambunctious teenager. That feels right for us. It’s our agency’s personality.”
Though we’ve grown exponentially over the years, we’ve never lost our entrepreneurial spirit. We’re still a group of open-minded, hungry people with a growth mindset, who are looking to do things in new and different ways.Reid Connolly
Notable brands represented by Evoke in 2019 include the Boehringer Ingelheim/Eli Lilly type 2 diabetes blockbuster Jardiance; Foundation Consumer Healthcare’s Plan B One-Step, a morning-after pill; and Celgene’s psoriasis drug Otezla, which has since been acquired by Amgen. Evoke was also behind the MS MindShift campaign for Bristol Myers Squibb and Celgene, designed to underscore the importance of brain health for individuals living with multiple sclerosis. Existing clients made up 74% of the company’s growth and 26% came from new ones.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus-related hardships, Connolly remains upbeat about the future — both for Evoke and for the business it has long serviced. “Healthcare tends to be the most resilient of industries, and we hope that remains the same,” he says.
In the months ahead, Connolly and Evoke expect to confront the daunting task of helping clients discover new ways of releasing data to the market and connect with their audiences in a far less in-person world.
“Luckily for us, our DNA is digital,” Connolly continues. “That’s going to be a big strength for us as we help our clients navigate the new complexities of the marketplace.”
Meanwhile, Connolly remains impressed by the alacrity with which Evoke’s staff adjusted to working remotely in March. “Our team across the globe is so resilient and everybody is doing an amazing job. We have a remarkable operational and technological infrastructure, and some things are actually more efficient now. I’m proud of everybody.”
The best marketing we saw in 2019…
IKEA’s ThisAbles is a suite of product adapters that make the company’s furniture and goods accessible to those with disabilities. It’s a broad interpretation of health, but it really speaks to our mantra of “health more human”— keeping people and their needs at the center of everything we do. Some subgroups of the population are so underserved, and this is a great way to address those needs. — Reid Connolly