Havas Health Wave’s origin story begins at the end of 2017, when parent group Havas Health & You assembled a village-type model to better accommodate its most important clients and functions. The idea was to create houses of expertise in three areas: hematology and oncology, CNS and high-end digital work.

Clients ranging from Sanofi to Novartis to Arena Pharmaceuticals immediately embraced the approach — which, ironically, created an unexpected challenge. They wanted to spread the wealth to their colleagues working in different (and unrelated) therapeutic conditions.

As a result, the Sanofi-centric CNS village was spun out into Havas Village X (see p.95) and the hematology and oncology village became Havas Health Wave, known internally as “The Wave.”

There are worse problems to have, associate managing director Richard Marshall acknowledges. “What we do, which is connect with communities and patients beyond just sharing information and trying to sell drugs, is something that all companies want, not just companies in hematology and oncology,” he says. “So now we’re our own thing again.”

Clearly the demand was there. Revenue grew 17% in 2021, to an MM+M-estimated $35 million from an estimated $30 million in 2020. The agency employed 72 people at the start of 2021 and 115 at the end of it. In September, it scored a coup on the personnel front with the hiring of chief creative officer Yana Hunt, who previously served as creative director at J. Walter Thompson.

The Wave continues to count Novartis as a foundational client partner, but bolstered its roster with assignments from Sanofi and ViiV Healthcare. All three, Marshall stresses, have bought into the agency’s community-centric approach to marketing.

“Building communities is the most important thing we do,” he says. “We create meaningful connections with groups of people facing some serious stuff.”

For example, Marshall points to The Wave’s work on Life Interrupted, an unbranded effort supporting Novartis’ sickle cell drug Adakveo. The campaign included a host of digital components, notably a film-like retelling of a patient’s experience with sickle cell disease.

It was supplemented by intense engagement with what Novartis has dubbed “Generation S.” The broad initiative featured everything from block parties to a TikTok dance choreographed by Ellen DeGeneres sidekick DJ tWitch.

The Wave’s challenge in the months ahead is to make sure clients in all therapeutic areas know that it is very much open for business. “The perception of our agency right now is based on our legacy work,” Marshall says. “That’s not a bad thing, but there’s a lot we can do now that we didn’t used to do.”

And while it will look to staff up, Marshall is one of the few agency heads who doesn’t seem spooked by the hiring climate.

“To an extent it’s a transactional marketplace right now, so what we’re doing is tapping into the younger generation’s desire to do some good,” he says. “My sister-in-law’s brother is a retail pharmacist and he’s bored. I keep saying, ‘You don’t have to be a retail pharmacist! Come work for an ad agency!’” 

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

Things have been very, very serious lately. Short of an alien invasion, we have experienced just about everything. Pandemic. Post-pandemic. War. Drought. Massive floods. Fires. You name it and I am pretty sure we dealt with it. Which makes me want to do something silly, such as Cheetos’ Can’t Touch This ad. Also, my kids would think I am a creative genius. — Hunt