Even with well-heeled corporate parents and revenue approaching the $100 million milestone, H4B Chelsea manages to retain its reputation as a creative haven. It’s a tricky line to toe, requiring a dual focus on managing the headaches that come with greater scale and fostering an atmosphere in which creatives feel protected and inspired. But Chelsea pulls it off, which has everything to do with its bigger-picture priorities.

“Some agencies spend a lot of money on talent they don’t really know to come in and make work that wins awards. That never made sense to us,” says president and chief creative officer Christian Bauman. “That’s not to say we don’t enter and put on the tuxedos and enjoy ourselves, but it isn’t who we are. We put our arms around young, talented creatives.”

Violet Aldaia, who joined the agency as president in September, agrees, adding, “We like to let our people try on new things.”

H4B Chelsea

During 2020, that encouragement manifested itself in a program that the agency called “quarantine creations.” Faced with the creatively limiting circumstances of shutdown, Chelsea’s young staffers reacted the only way they knew how.

“It was basically, ‘We’re all locked up and you’re all artists. What are you doing at home? Let’s inspire each other with that,’” Bauman recalls. As the year progressed, the agency responded to the horrors that fueled the #BlackLivesMatter, #StopAsianHate and #MeToo movements in a similar manner.

“We turned our focus to addressing all of it creatively. That’s what got us through,” Bauman says.

Despite the loss of two client companies that “basically went down due to COVID,” as Bauman puts it, revenue was up a tick at Chelsea during 2020: It grew to an MM+M-estimated $100 million from last year’s sum of an estimated $97 million. Head count was flat overall at 300 full-timers, but the agency scored a coup when it lured Aldaia away from Omnicom-owned Daggerwing Health, where she was president.

While she bemoans not having met many of her new colleagues in person, Aldaia says the transition was a smooth one. “You do more frequent reach-outs to make up for the conversations you’d have in the hallways,” she notes, before adding a small caveat. “You can’t just put 15 minutes on somebody’s calendar, because then they start wondering why the president would do that. I’m always like, ‘No, no, I just want to say hi!’”

On the client front, Chelsea continued its AOR engagement with decade-long client Relypsa after it was acquired by and merged into Vifor Pharma, and claimed an assignment in the women’s health realm from Astellas Pharma. The agency is especially proud of its work on Therapeutics MD’s birth control ring Annovera, Bauman says. “The entire focus is women taking back control, which is a message that really strikes a chord with everyone here.”

Look for growth in and around Chelsea’s nurse and commercial strategies practices, as well as continued emphasis on CX. And look for Chelsea to remain true to its creatives-in-control roots.

“We don’t show up smoke-and-mirror-y when it’s time to put on the suits and pitch,” Bauman stresses. “We show up every day.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

The decision to greenlight a documentary series about an Oklahoma con man and pseudo tiger trainer. Who knew that would be a big idea? — Christian Bauman