Among the 50 new client engagements VMLY&R Health secured during 2021, a certain vaccine maker that’s now a household name topped the list.

“Our biggest emotional win was the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, because every single health agency went for it,” says chief creative officer Augé Reichenberg.

This, of course, isn’t to suggest the VMLY&R Health team plays favorites. The company is just as proud of its work on Emergent BioSolutions’ opioid overdose drug — which, according to newly promoted chief experience design officer Walt Geer, “is another big piece of work that’s really about saving lives.” He adds that it’s a preview of sorts for what’s to come: “The work that’s going to come out is going to be some of the most compelling creative executions I’ve ever been on.”

VMLY&R enjoyed the biggest 2021 surge among firms in the $100 million-plus revenue bracket. The agency generated $204 million in revenue during 2021, up a whopping 82% from $112 million in 2020. Additions included work from Walgreens Boots Alliance, AstraZeneca and Abbott.

The company almost doubled its staff, growing from 400 full-timers at the start of 2021 to 757 at the end of it. The people moves included a handful of C-suite-level additions, including chief strategy officer Nichole Davies and chief client officer Jason Gloye. Additionally, Claire Gillis was promoted from chief executive to CEO.

While most agencies have embarked on DE&I-related initiatives, VMLY&R took a different — and smart — approach toward attacking the vexing industry problem. By way of example, Geer points to the agency’s culture studio, staffed by a diverse group of employees and tasked with ensuring message authenticity.

“When brands get messages wrong, they get torn apart on social media,” Geer explains. “But when health brands get it wrong also means that lives are at stake.”

The team, Geer adds, includes “not just the right people of color, but people with disabilities and with different cultural backgrounds based on where they live and what countries they’re from .… It’s incredibly important to have them at the table.”

As for what’s next, VMLY&R is excited about the possibilities that come with marrying health technology and experience design.

“Pfizer saved the world, so now the expectation is that every drug or medical device that comes to market is going to change the world,” says co-lead of North America and chief experience officer Christianna Gorin. “That’s why we’re arguing that it’s important to shape the overarching health experience, not just the problem your treatment is solving.”

“Medicine can help a person’s life, but what about the rest of their life outside the medicine?” Reichenberg adds. “We look at the technology that exists and then change it for the needs of that person. That way, the brand can honestly say, ‘Not only do we have medicine to help you, but we have other ways to help you as well.’”

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

In response to a social media troll who commented that the color of a Ford truck was “very gay,” Ford Germany created a gay pride vehicle. The company tweeted back that “very gay” is a compliment, then made a stunning glittery rainbow-colored Raptor truck to support pride. What an amazing way for Ford to not only shut down a hater, but to move culture forward by living its brand values in a contagious way. — Reichenberg