TBWA\WorldHealth’s self-branding as the “disruption agency” was put to the test in a year of unprecedented disruption.

To begin with, the agency endured a C-suite shakeup when former CEO Sharon Callahan and managing partner Kristen Gengaro departed to Omnicom network sibling CDM and managing partner Meaghan Onofrey left the agency. In their stead, former global president Robin Shapiro became CEO and former Proximity Worldwide CEO Richard Frazier joined as managing partner,
Health Collective.

“It was a lot of leadership change amid what was going on around us,” Shapiro recalls. “But ultimately we fared well because we’ve always approached our business as a geographically boundless collective.”


The results bear her out. Staff size surged to 434 and revenue jumped 8%, to an MM+M-estimated $86.5 million from an estimated $80 million in 2019.

Internal highlights included the creation of Rework, a team dedicated to envisioning the post-pandemic workplace. “We now know what the office is great for and what home is great for, and what each can do that the other can’t,” Shapiro explains. “We spent a lot of time thinking about what the future could look like.” 

On the client front, TBWA\WorldHealth added seven new assignments in 2020, including work for Amgen (HCP work on blockbuster cardio drug Repatha), Biogen (on Alzheimer’s candidate aducanumab, now known as Aduhelm) and Adaptive Biotechnologies (on COVID-19 diagnostic T-Detect). The agency also claimed high-profile vaccine work from Moderna (on its COVID-19 shot) and Pfizer (on Prevnar).

“We’re seeing evolving vaccine perceptions by the day, so it’s an incredible space to be in,” Shapiro says. “We focus on brands that have the chance to become a category of one …. It’s not about, ‘How big is this going to be?’ It’s about, ‘Is that client’s ambition about changing the world with that product?’” 

Not surprisingly, TBWA\WorldHealth looks to partner with clients inclined toward longer-term relationships, rather than smaller project-based ones. “That indicates to us that a client is going to embrace it not as a transaction, but as a partnership,” Shapiro continues. “We don’t draw a line between client and agency. It’s one team.”

That said, TBWA\WorldHealth hasn’t gotten too caught up in pursuing every opportunity that comes its way. To that point, the agency has lost only two clients in the last two years, Shapiro reports, characterizing retention as its biggest growth driver.

“We will win a couple of nice, juicy businesses every year, but the primary way we grow is by not losing clients,” she says. 

Looking forward, expect TBWA\WorldHealth to push for deeper omnichannel engagements with clients and to leverage AI and related techniques to eliminate gruntwork (“so we can focus on the really tough strategic stuff,” Shapiro stresses). The agency also plans to push the role of empathy in all marketing and communications programs.

“I truly believe the most empathetic brands, rather than the brands with the best data, will be the most successful ones in the future,” Shapiro adds.

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The idea I wish I had…

Procter & Gamble’s Widen the Frame. It’s been a year since George Floyd’s murder and many brands are still stuck in the internal awareness cycle. P&G showed us that there’s no time to waste in taking meaningful and purposeful action. They’ve changed the way they tell Black stories. — Robin Shapiro