To tell the story of Ogilvy Health’s 2019, it’s worth recapping briefly what happened in 2018.

Amid turnover in the C-suite at parent company WPP, the health and wellness group that housed Ogilvy and its sibling U.S.-based health agencies was dismantled. Mergers ensued. Executives were shuffled to and fro. By the end of the year, the agency formerly known as Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide had new leadership and a new name, and was integrated with Ogilvy, under the umbrella of WPP.

It was an eventful year. Through it all, business was flat.

So, it’s no small thing when Ogilvy Health co-president Kate Cronin says, “I’ve been with this company for 16 years. We’ve never been more connected than we are right now.”

That sentiment is echoed by the agency’s other co-president, Andrew Schirmer. “That the two of us are talking to you about the new Ogilvy Health offering is probably the biggest indication that we’ve done a lot of heavy lifting over the last year,” he says.

JED Foundation

Whereas Ogilvy CommonHealth once resided in a health and wellness unit of 400 or so people, the newly streamlined Ogilvy Health is plugged into a 20,000-strong global organization with offerings across the communications spectrum — and the capacity to tap into that as needed. Schirmer says that about half of Ogilvy Health’s existing client business and almost every new opportunity leverages insights from the network.

“It has expanded our footprint in health and our ability to engage at any level with a more diverse offering, covering a wider spectrum of marketing and communication, target audiences, and channels and geographies,” he explains. 

Cronin agrees, adding that this makes for a more flexible, adaptable agency. “I can create a SWAT team for our health clients and bring it in on a moment’s notice. I can offer the deepest thinking across our network.”

The breadth of capabilities also enabled the agency to develop new specializations across its offices. The New York office, for example, has people who focus on influencers, while the Cambridge, Massachusetts, outpost caters to nearby biotech and the startup community.

Cronin and Schirmer believe that the more comprehensive offering led to bigger wins in 2019. To that end, Ogilvy Health expanded its relationship with Pfizer, claiming the PR assignment for a Clostridioides difficile vaccine as well as PR and social media for multivitamin brand Centrum. It handles work on Pfizer’s pneumococcal conjugate vaccine Prevnar 13 and smoking cessation treatment Chantix.

Bayer Unbranded

The agency also added Inova Health System, a network of healthcare services in the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC, region, for work that includes an expansion of the system’s brand narrative. In all, Ogilvy Health won 29 accounts in 2019 and lost five, with 77% of its growth coming from new clients. Revenue was flat at an MM&M-estimated $150 million, while head count decreased from an MM&M-estimated 760 to 750.

While there was less change in the executive suite during 2019 than there was during 2018, Ogilvy Health registered two notable hires. One was former McCann Health SVP, group creative director Toby Trygg, who now serves as executive creative director out of Ogilvy’s New York headquarters. That allows him to work alongside different sibling organizations to increase the health offering’s connectivity to creative talent and leadership across the network.

The other A-list addition was onetime TBWA\WorldHealth chief digital officer Dan Chichester, who joined in March as chief experience officer. In that role, Chichester has been charged with guiding and overseeing the mix of creative and experiential expertise Ogilvy Health now offers. The agency’s innovation lab, a sandbox of sorts for digital innovation, is under his purview. Chief creative officer Sam Dolin departed in April for Klick.

The overall goal is an ambitious one: To create legitimately integrated, holistic brand experiences for clients. “We’re seeing that just pushing messages out is kind of an old way of looking at our business,” Schirmer explains. “In actuality, we’re creating brand experience at the corporate level and at the microlevel every day.”

Cronin notes that, over the past year, clients have increasingly been asking Ogilvy Health to help build out corporate narratives. “A lot of our pharmaceutical clients are looking at where they stand in the world and asking how they make a difference,” she says.

Ogilvy Health’s work on behalf of Merck offers a fine example of the approach. An integrated WPP team that included Ogilvy Health won the corporate business account for the U.S. pharmaceutical giant last year. From there, Ogilvy supported Merck’s first investor day in years and oversaw a CSR initiative around social content for the company’s Fellowship for Global Health. At the same time, Ogilvy Health was also handling high-science medical education work for Merck’s vaccine arm.

We’re creating brand experience at the corporate level and at the microlevel every day.Andrew Schirmer

Schirmer believes the relationship with Merck neatly encapsulates the direction in which Ogilvy Health has been heading. The goal, he notes, is to get clients to view the agency as an integrated entity and as a resource, so that they come calling with “broad, how-do-you-help-me-with-my-business questions, instead of just buying widgets.”

The collaboration across teams encouraged by Ogilvy Health’s new positioning has been a boon for morale, Schirmer adds. The agency’s culture is fed from the bottom up by its diversity and inclusion network, which is composed of four working teams run by mid- and junior-level employees: The Young Professionals Network, The Women’s Leadership Professional Network, The D&I Council and SPIRIT.

The factions work collaboratively, each addressing different aspects of Ogilvy Health’s D&I efforts. Their work is both inward- and outward-facing, and has spanned assignments from a pro bono campaign for the JED/New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to unconscious bias training for all employees. It also led the charge on the agency’s “Boogilvy” Halloween events.

The spirit of teamwork and camaraderie has helped ease Ogilvy Health’s transition to a work-from-home environment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Schirmer says the agency’s teams have been functioning without any major issues, while Cronin enthuses about a virtual pitch that included experts in digital, social, PR and direct response.

The goal for the remaining months of 2020? To be able to guide clients “in a way that’s responsible and attuned to what’s happening in the world,” she says.

The best marketing we saw in 2019…

Outside the health category, Burger King’s A Day Without Whopper campaign is noteworthy. The company stopped selling whoppers for a day to support McDonald’s annual day of giving, during which the proceeds of sales for every Big Mac go to children’s cancer charities. It was impressive to see Burger King align with a competitor to help sales soar for a good cause. — Kate Cronin