In August 2020, when Andy Main took over as Ogilvy’s worldwide CEO, Ogilvy Health’s position within the broader global network changed. Where it had previously existed as a separate entity, it’s now one of five business practices, joining PR, experience, growth and innovation, and advertising, brand and content.

The new structure brought greater integration in and around the firm, according to Ogilvy Health CEO Kate Cronin. “We’ll often reach across the aisles and bring in expertise from different areas to serve the business,” she notes.

In his first executive appointment, Main named Cronin as CEO. She’d previously been co-president with Andrew Schirmer, who departed the company in October to run Syneos Health’s GSW New York. Other A-list additions included EVP, head of planning Andrew Thorn, previously managing director, strategy at W2O, who has been charged with oversight of the health unit’s planning, strategy, analytics and experience teams. 

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Then in January, James Kinney arrived from Mother USA to serve as Ogilvy Health’s global chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and chief people officer for North America. The role is an expansive one, with both internal and external components.

“James is doing a fantastic job helping our clients reach underserved communities in authentic ways,” Cronin notes. “We never thought we’d bring our chief talent officer to client meetings and pitches, but it’s wonderful to hear the ideas he brings.” 

Kinney also played a large role in Ogilvy Health’s efforts to create a stronger sense of community via the launch of 100% You, a series of weekly webinars featuring professionals from outside the realms of marketing and advertising. Its goal: to help employees nurture their whole selves, rather than just their professional ones.

“We’ve had an Emmy award–winning saxophonist [Braxton Cook] helping us think through creative ideas, an Olympian giving stretching techniques and a nutritionist talking about healthy eating,” explains PR&I managing director Shannon Walsh. “It’s really nice to welcome all these cool, eclectic people into our homes.”

Other senior staff changes included the elevation of Renata Florio to chief creative officer. Florio, previously global executive creative director for health and wellness in Ogilvy’s New York headquarters, replaced Sam Dolan, who departed to Klick Health. 

For all the talk about the importance of diversity in the upper leadership ranks at other multinational agencies, Florio believes Ogilvy Health is one of the few that truly walks the walk. By way of illustration, she points to the number of women in leadership positions.

“Ogilvy is ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity and women’s empowerment,” she says. “And that’s reflected in the work we do.” 

Cronin thinks Ogilvy Health is similarly ahead of the curve in the essential field of behavioral science. “We no longer cut the journeys across just demographics. It’s also about behaviors and attitudes,” she says. To that point, the company’s Center for Behavioral Science is led by Chris Graves, who sits on a World Health Organization COVID-19 committee and has recently been working with major NGOs on the issue of vaccine hesitancy.

Ogilvy Health

Despite the high-level personnel additions, overall head count dropped at Ogilvy Health, from an MM+M-estimated 750 people at the end of 2019 to an estimated 700 at the end of 2020. Last year, MM+M estimated Ogilvy Health’s 2019 North American revenue at $150 million; MM+M estimates that figure dropped to $145 million in 2020.

On the new-business front, the agency added Ontrak, which uses behavioral therapy and AI techniques to reach care-avoidant populations, to a roster that includes huge pharma companies such as Pfizer and Merck. “Ontrak works with people suffering from addiction or mental health issues, using telemedicine approaches and connecting patients with therapists,” Cronin explains, noting that its services were well developed before COVID and they were in even higher demand last year. 

Cronin also reports continued expansion of Ogilvy Health’s 17-year relationship with Bristol Myers Squibb, which now encompasses the realms of immunology and immuno-oncology. “We’ve been with them from the Taxol days to Opdivo, and it’s exciting to be part of that journey,” she says. The agency similarly broadened its relationship with Ferring Pharmaceuticals, winning the company’s PR business and an assignment around its first microbiome product, which involves fecal transplantation.

Then there’s Ogilvy Health’s point-of-care practice, which launched five years ago — well before the channel’s current boom. “It applies technology to engage with doctors wherever they are — on the web, in the EHR, in the hospital or clinic,” explains chief digital officer Ritesh Patel. “The pandemic forced a shift — sales reps can’t get into buildings and can’t engage with the doctors —  so more of our clients have moved to this new way of engaging.”

And like other agencies big and small, Ogilvy Health spent much of 2020 dreaming up ways to let staff know they’re appreciated and to ensure that everyone feels connected. One tactic that connected: a live lottery, with three monthly winners receiving personalized gifts (for a housebound traveler, a basket of snacks from around the world; for a whitewater rafter, a waterproof camping bag). 

Cronin acknowledges the obvious: Working remotely was a major challenge. “We’ve all figured out the Zoom thing, but often the way we grow our business is just by walking the client’s halls,” she says. “It’s hard to engage when you can’t do that; we have to work doubly hard to get in the client’s head. I miss being with the clients and I know my team members do as well.” 

At the same time, she firmly believes that telehealth and many other changes of the past year are here to stay: “We’re not going to market the way we did pre-COVID. We’ll need to keep helping our clients figure out how to support sales efforts remotely.”

As for an eventual return to the office, stay tuned. “We have people who won’t want to return full-time,” Cronin continues. “So how do you manage a workforce that’s part in the office and part outside? In meetings, we’ll have to make sure we’re still using digital tools to include those who aren’t in the room.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

Launched within hours of the Biden/Harris inauguration, Today We Rise captured the swearing in of our 49th Vice President, Kamala Harris, as seen through the eyes of young girls across the U.S. To shoot it, a volunteer network of photographers and cinematographers fanned out to some 30 households around the country. It chronicled history in the making. — Kate Cronin

This story was updated to correct erroneous information about Ogilvy Health’s work with Ferring Pharmaceuticals.