As Merkle Health’s Jane Portman navigated midtown traffic on a fall day last October, it should have felt like the thousands of other workdays in her career. But as she made her way toward the office, she couldn’t help but note that the NYC streets were on the empty side.

“It still felt a little like the Wild West,” she recalls.

It wasn’t until the leadership team for Merkle’s health vertical gathered that Portman saw signs of life. She loved that everyone had taken advantage of the empty offices, spreading out across the entire floor. Simple things, like a catered lunch, added to what she remembers as “this special, almost out-of-body experience. We got so much done, and it left us feeling re-energized and ready to take on the world.”

That pep translated into sizable gains, with revenue jumping a tidy 25% to $160 million, up from $128 million in 2020. “In 2020, we put so much thought and effort into how we could help our clients begin their transformation journeys,” Portman reports. “That paid off in 2021.”

Portman, the company’s health and nonprofit practice lead, says the Dentsu-owned agency differs from its competitors owing to its all-under-one-roof solutions. “We are the only experts in customer experience management, with a unique set of data assets and the necessary analytics and technology chops to connect the dots. We help brands create meaningful, connected and personalized experiences,” she says.

In other words, Merkle sees itself as less a traditional marketing agency than a consultative partner. Portman believes the company’s focus on helping brands orchestrate marketing efforts enterprise-wide allows it to most effectively “reach and activate audiences, and connect marketing to overall business performance outcomes.”

Merkle Health claimed six new accounts during the year, including work from Galderma (on Cetaphil, Alastin, Aklief and Restylane), the Cleveland Clinic, Seagen (Tukysa and Adcetris), Allergan (Vuity and Restasis) and Hill-Rom Holdings. For Novo Nordisk, it added enterprise IT across all brands.

Portman is especially enthused about the firm’s launch of Vuity, an eye drop that treats presbyopia. “It’s a unique product. With our analytics chops, we were able to help them size and activate in a new market,” she says.

Meanwhile, Merkle’s work with Galderma includes marketing cloud and commerce cloud implementation that rolled out in multiple markets. Galderma has “become one of our biggest clients, both from a global perspective and an integrated Dentsu point of view,” Portman continues.

In August, Merkle spent $250 million to buy LiveArea, a digital e-commerce business. Paired with recently added digital agency DEG, the acquisition has firmly established Merkle in the commerce space, Portman says.

Personnel changes included the promotion of Michael Komasinski to global CEO and Pete Stein to Americas president. Komasinski replaces Craig Dempster, who retired at the end of 2021. Overall, staff size increased from 494 people at the end of 2020 to 502 a year later. 

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

I usually best remember tear-jerker campaigns, but this year’s Super Bowl had some of the most clever commercials. The one that I particularly enjoyed was FTX’s Don’t Miss Out with Larry David. Playing on people’s reservations about crypto, the campaign used David as the anti-sponsor, and it couldn’t have given people more pause about not jumping on the bandwagon. Clever marketing and extra points for being hilarious. — Portman