In April 2020, at a time when confidence was in short supply, McCann Health global CEO John Cahill bucked the trend. He expressed a strong belief that his company’s connections to public health officials and its global footprint — particularly its presence in Asia, where COVID-19 first appeared — would help the agency shift into what we all know now as “pandemic mode.” Cahill was even optimistic that the ordeal would fortify McCann and the industry as a whole, and that both would emerge stronger.
Cahill made the comments while living and working in Hong Kong, which had by then seen more of the effects of COVID-19 than North America and Europe. So more than a year later and with the benefit of hindsight, how is Cahill feeling about the state of the McCann Health union?
He says the agency’s global footprint conferred three important advantages. First, it gave the agency a 360-degree view of the pandemic and the recovery, which have been highly variable based on location and time. Second, it allowed McCann Health to shift resources — or “weight and unweight,” in Cahill’s terminology — based on COVID’s impact on various sectors of the global healthcare business.
“Most of healthcare has done reasonably well through the pandemic,” he notes. “It’s not just because we’re in a health crisis. There has been a renewed set of interest in overall health, from almost every part of humanity and every sector of business.”
And third, McCann Health’s substantial presence in Asia — 12 offices spanning the continent from Dubai to Tokyo, including four in China — meant that, at every stage, the agency had early eyes on what might happen next.
“We had the benefit of pivoting into remote and hybrid work situations, making sure that all systems, processes and technology were geared toward that kind of work model,” Cahill explains. “We could prepare our people for what we saw was going to be a much longer period ahead of coming through it.”
One unexpected outcome is that the new reality of virtual work spurred more creativity agency-wide. “If you allow people to work where they want and how they want, and give them the tools and the facilities to do that, then not only do you get productivity gains, but you get more invention, which I think is great for an ideation business,” Cahill explains.
DE&I initiatives also furthered that aim. The company launched an authenticity program last year to look at new ways of recruitment, even casting its lines beyond the traditional fishing ponds of healthcare.
“Showing up as your best authentic self is not only great for a business that relies on ideation, but it’s very good for culture,” Cahill says. “It’s pretty well proven that diversity equals innovation.”
McCann Health has spent the past several months honing ways to carry those learnings forward into a post-pandemic world. That includes augmenting the new hybrid workplace with a new offering dubbed the McCann Health Habitat, which includes tools to ensure that people can work together across locations. It also features a social network overlay that brings together “all of the people connections and the belonging that normally would occur if you were sitting in the office and bumping into people at the water cooler,” Cahill says.
Cahill reports that McCann Health came through 2020 with “growth in virtually all sectors.” Head count increased from 850 at the start of the year to 975 at the end of it, while revenue rose 15%, from an MM+M-estimated $227.5 million in 2019 to an estimated $262 million in 2020. About 80% of that growth was from existing clients, which Cahill and new president, North America Jim Joseph chalk up to clients trying to maximize their existing portfolio relationships.
“Whatever buzzword you want to use — omnichannel, experience planning, customer experience, engagement — it has been a huge focus area for us,” Joseph says. “It’s part of our core transformation of the business from traditional advertising to modern marketing, which is all about multiple channels, relating to the customer as humans and building an experience for them.”
To guide that transformation, McCann Health created a SVP, omnichannel strategy role and hired Morayea Pindziak, formerly of Amplity Health, in June 2020. This June, the agency promoted GM Matt Silver to president of McCann Health New York. Then there’s Joseph, who arrived in August from BCW and jokingly calls himself “that guy who decided to take on a new role in the middle of the worst pandemic we’ve seen in modern history.”
McCann Health calls its newish approach “mixology,” which means that teams are now composed of people from different functional disciplines and different expertise. “You don’t just have a ‘brand strategist’ anymore,” Joseph explains. “You also have a behavioral scientist and a medical scientist and an omnichannel planner and experience planner. It’s a huge part of where we’re going. It’s the marketing of the future.”
Cahill agrees, adding, “There’s been a paradigm shift from presentation to conversation in how stakeholders are now communicating, and tools of conversation are somewhat rare in the pharmaceutical industry. So there’s a massive opportunity to invent things for the future.”
To that end, McCann Health debuted several new services in 2020, including Futurescape, an intelligence platform that “predicts the future” by aggregating market data to describe the forces shaping the industry at a macro level. It then uses that intel to make recommendations based on brand and franchise.
On the new business front, McCann Health claimed a cardiovascular launch for Novartis. Joseph characterizes the win as “a huge game-changer,” given how it allows the agency to test its mixology approach on a big piece of business right from the outset. “We’re able to sell in big thinking and integrate some of the things we’re incubating,” he adds.
The agency also added new assignments from Biogen, AbbVie, Allergan, Nestlé Health Science and GenesisCare, and expanded its relationships GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Cahill describes the BMS relationship as “truly rewarding. They started to put a lot more emphasis on ensuring that their science was approachable and therefore understood by all stakeholders.”
He hopes that such assignments become the norm in the months and years ahead. “That platform of science is what makes the pharmaceutical industry different, and we believe it is the basis of how the industry builds societal trust,” Cahill continues. “We have seen that play out in the pandemic.”
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The idea I wish I had…
Save Ralph, a documentary-style stop-motion PSA for the Humane Society International. In it, we meet Ralph, a “working rabbit,” voiced by Taika Watiti. Ralph tests cosmetic products, which has left him blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and covered in chemical burns, but he is resigned that this is just part of his job. Ralph’s tale both makes the audience fall in love with him and draws awareness to the horrifying way animals are treated for the sake of cosmetics. The craft is stunning and the message delivery is distressingly provocative. — John Cahill