Marcia Goddard wasn’t about to accept the first job that came her way. After a successful multiyear stint as the president of McCann Health New Jersey, she’d earned the right to be a little picky. For six months, she took lunch after lunch without finding the right fit.

Then she met with Fishawack Health. “I sensed an immediate connection,” Goddard recalls. “It felt like the good old days of advertising, when people were nice to each other and worked hard together to make something special.” 

And so it was that, in March, Goddard joined the agency as chief creative officer for its U.S. business. Soon thereafter, when she was having drinks with some of her new Chicago-based teammates, the crew found itself approached by an unfamiliar figure. “A stranger came up and said, ‘I just want to get hugs from you guys. You really seem to love each other!’” Goddard’s response: “Have you thought about becoming a copywriter?”

It was a year of good vibes at the agency. After reconfiguring its U.S. business in 2020, the company bulked up in 2021. Additions included CEO John Koch, who arrived in October from the Henry Schein Global Dental Group; chief people officer Elizabeth Landon; global head of client partnerships Jas Hummel; president, U.S. marketing Dave Ormesher; and president, value, evidence and access David Sykes.

The hiring pace hasn’t slowed in 2022: In addition to Goddard, Wunderman Thompson’s Scottie Lee has joined as chief delivery officer. 

Koch explains that Fishawack Health’s team members come together in four areas: marketing, medical, consulting, and value, evidence and access. The latter capability was added during 2021.

“Because healthcare is changing so rapidly, we need to get ahead of our clients’ needs,” he notes. “It means defining strategies for commercializing innovative products, therapies and devices in complex environments.”

Business picked up in 2021, with revenue growing 45% — to $139.4 million from the previous year’s $96.1 million. “Clients were advancing their strategies and the development of therapies and technologies with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and confidence in the future,” Koch adds.

The agency claimed 13 AOR assignments in North America during the year. Launches included 16 rare disease therapies and 20 medical device and wellness brands, including work for GSK, Merck, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sanofi and Roche.

“Everything we do is important to patients,” Goddard says. “It’s not like we’re launching the next cure for foot fungus. Specialized drugs that target rare disease and oncology make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

Staff size rose from around 400 people in North America at the end of 2020 to 676 a year later. Fishawack was also active on the deal-making front, acquiring former MM+M Agency 100 honorees StoneArch and Closerlook as well as consulting firm Fide.

Closerlook, in fact, was responsible for one of Fishawack’s most resounding successes. As part of its MG United campaign for Argenx, the agency built a database for the myasthenia gravis community — a rare-disease population of fewer than 70,000 people. The effort also included A Mystery to Me, a docuseries about what it’s like to live with the disease. 

Just as Fishawack took care of its client communities during the decade of a year that was 2021, so too did it focus on its own people. When asked how the company kept employees connected during the pandemic, Goddard points to a culture based around empathy.

There’s a book club, a “cute pets club” and regular celebrations of new babies and other personal milestones. “Whenever we announce new hires and promotions, everyone jumps in to welcome and congratulate people. It’s a very warm feeling,” she says.

Of course, Fishawack employees are given considerable flexibility to choose between remote and in-person work arrangements. Meanwhile, Koch speaks enthusiastically about the company’s employee network groups focused on mental health, which allow staffers to share their perspectives and circumstances in “a safe and warm way.” 

Then there’s Fishawack’s ongoing work in the realms of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We felt it was important for our staff to reflect the patient and consumer populations we serve,” Koch says, pointing to the 2021 hiring of a senior leader, Sheena Amin-Liebman, as the agency’s diversity and inclusion director. “She’s helping to embed D&I in everything we do, including our work for clients.” 

A big part of that effort is the six rapidly growing employee network groups focused on gender, equality, diverse ability, race and ethnicity, family mental health and LGBTQ+. “It’s company-sponsored, but it’s a grassroots effort. People are embracing it in fantastic ways,” Koch adds.

As for what comes next, Koch notes the need amid an ever-changing healthcare environment for Fishawack to layer other capabilities atop its marketing work. 

“We’ll continue with our broader strategy of supporting customers from the earliest R&D through to post-launch and beyond,” he proclaims. “But we’ll also keep growing our digital and omnichannel marketing through platforms and services, and our consulting and value evidence and access space in areas such as health economics and outcomes research.”

Earlier this year, Fishawack Health acquired Policy Analysis, an organization led by health economics and outcomes research wonk Gerry Oster. “We see synergies between that and the marketing work we do,” Koch notes. “Right now we’re one of the few organizations that has market access and evidence-generation capabilities, and we’re seeing more projects that leverage those in concert.”

Koch also touts what he characterizes as “an impressive suite of technology products” — such as Backstage Intelligence, a cloud-based marketing platform driven by artificial intelligence.

While all this is going on, Goddard has been reorganizing the creative department to more effectively align with Fishawack’s four lines of business — by appointing a general manager for each segment, for example.

“That will give creatives an equal playing field and more strength to their voices,” she reports. “Once people are in the right place, I expect a great lift in the work — and to see us winning at the award shows.”

She pauses, then adds, “It’s not just about the awards, but doing award-worthy work. And to have our creative department make a noise in the community while we’re at it.” 

. . .

Work from outside pharma you admire…’s Match Made in Hell, featuring 2020 dating Satan. I was drawn in by the insight, the humor, the fantastic craft and the guts. It came out in a time of hope when vaccines were on the horizon, but people were starved for social contact. The campaign drove connection, and even a sense of community through shared cultural experiences. Pushing the boundaries, the originators created something extremely engaging, relevant and memorable. — Marcia Goddard, chief creative officer