After spending 2019 consumed with the integration and teething pains involved in absorbing WPP siblings GHG and J. Walter Thompson Health, Wunderman Thompson Health rediscovered its market niche in the crucible of 2020. That’s because the pandemic, which prompted marketers to engage in more relevant ways, freed the agency to double down on its strengths.
“One of the things that has always distinguished us is our ability to unite our CRM credentials, our data credentials and customer experience,” explains CEO Becky Chidester. “And, of course, now we’re in a situation where clients are making that much more of the way that they engage with their customers.”
So what is its niche, anyway? Wunderman Thompson’s mantra for many years — breaking health inertia — isn’t going away, but the agency found that the COVID world reinforced its positioning.
“The year 2020 forced us to look in a very focused way at who we are and how we serve the needs of the marketplace,” says chief growth officer William Martino. “Inspiring growth for ambitious health and life science brands is, at its simplest, who we are. The world needs more inspiration. We have to inspire people as individuals and, if we do that on behalf of our clients, business will grow.”
After a slightly off year in 2019, revenue swung to an MM+M-estimated $169 million, up 9% from 2019’s take of $155 million. Head count grew in kind, to 700 last year from 615 in 2019.
Some of that rebound can be attributed to a focused effort to grow and deepen relationships with existing clients— particularly one of its largest, Pfizer. The agency sought to push forward with new indications and new brands alike. Wunderman Thompson now works on six Pfizer blockbusters.
Wunderman Thompson also sought to flex its muscles across multiple geographies. Of its new business wins, eight involved global work, says chief strategy officer Michael Cole.
“We’re not only using the core strength that sits within the North American team but also the broader network, making sure we have local insights but also translating that win into operational and executional abilities in different regions,” explains Cole, who joined the agency in April 2020 from Evoke Health and also serves as global client partner for Pfizer.
Wunderman Thompson found several other sources of inspiration. In response to clients asking about how they could become better partners in addressing health inequities, the agency launched Health4Equity, a practice devoted to helping them do just that.
Wunderman Thompson also picked up brand-reinvention work for clinical trials tech firm Medidata Solutions, which helped Moderna run studies for its COVID-19 vaccine. As a health tech firm, Medidata represents “a different kind of client for us,” Martino notes.
The Medidata assignment further dimensionalized a portfolio that includes everything from traditional pharma to animal health to OTC. Whatever their fundamental differences, each type of client has had to become more tech- and data-oriented in how it interacts with customers, Chidester says. By way of response, Wunderman Thompson leaned into what she calls “human-centric” marketing: treating people like people and helping them get the right treatment for themselves or a loved one, through the right channel and with the right content.
On the talent front, the agency bolstered its science and medical strategy practice by bringing in chief medical officer Dania Alarcon from FCB Health Network. Alarcon proceeded to expand her team by six over the course of 2020.
The additions have been “a huge boon for us,” she says. “They’ve amplified the need for medical strategy for some of these newer, high-science, global wins that we’ve had, and in rare disease categories where you really need a level of expertise to identify where these sources of inspiration can come from in terms of brand uptake.”
It’s no coincidence that Alarcon, who spent the early part of her career as a cancer researcher, arrives with deep experience in that realm. Many of Wunderman Thompson’s newest opportunities have been in and around oncology.
“We put a lot of commitment and resources behind it,” Chidester notes.
In May, the agency scored a coup with the hiring of TBWA\WorldHealth’s Wallye Holloway to serve as managing director under new Wunderman Thompson CEO Audrey Melofchik, who now oversees the New York office, including health. The partnership of Melofchik and Holloway “really helps us do precisely what we’ve been hoping to do, which is bring the best of Wunderman Thompson and make sure we’re doubling down on the specialization that we know is required,” Chidester says.
Along those same lines, WPP veteran Jennifer Lambert was named chief health officer, Wunderman Thompson Health International. The new role will see her bring together capabilities embedded in the agency’s offices around the world.
Moving forward, Wunderman Thompson sees plenty of opportunity in high-science brands, Alarcon says. “As those disease states start to look at innovative ways to treat, they tend to lean on the more targeted approaches.”
And as products get more specialized, Cole adds, the companies that make them will need agency partners that “can dive into that specialization either from a deep understanding of it or that can use CX, data and technology to bring that specialization to the relevant customer.”
Of course, WTH also hopes to continue inspiring — which is to say, helping — clients in all verticals do the same. “Our clients are still trying to figure out how to inspire people at an individual level, at scale,” says Martino. “We see that in every client conversation and in nine out of 10 RFPs that come in the door.”
Being able to tap into the specialist talent across the organization should serve Wunderman Thompson well in this regard. “As a result of our integration, we’re not only able to service the industries where we have a great deal of expertise,” Chidester says. “There are new companies and new opportunities as a result of us being part of a bigger offering.”
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The idea I wish I had…
Pfizer’s Science Will Win campaign. Not only is it timely, topical and spot-on the cultural zeitgeist, but it works on so many levels. It’s a corporate brand campaign, a public service announcement, a product launch announcement, a content platform and an employee engagement tool all wrapped into one. — Becky Chidester