Harrison and Star CEO Jen O’Dwyer, who joined the company from Evoke in September, is quick to acknowledge the obvious: That 2022 was a transitional year for the venerable agency.

“We weathered a lot of changes across the organization,” she says.

O’Dwyer adds, however, that those changes provided Harrison and Star with a rare opportunity to gaze inward. “We spent a lot of time at the end of 2022 reimagining what we stood for, as well as our purpose and where we were headed from a strategic perspective,” she continues.

Harrison and Star endured a tough 2022. Revenue dropped 39%, from $115 million in 2021 to $70 million. In 2020, the firm generated $120 million in revenue.

Head count declined from 220 people at the end of 2021 to 199 at the end of 2022. In addition to O’Dwyer, the company brought in SVP, group creative director Michael Harr, who arrived from Brick City Greenhouse.

Some of the downturn can be attributed to Harrison and Star’s longstanding self-identification as a high-science agency. EVP, chief creative director Daniel Jay notes that therapies in this realm are very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

“A lot of the decline was linked to occupational hazards,” he says. “A number of drugs that were active and quite large clients of ours suffered a series of setbacks.”

With O’Dwyer’s hiring, Harrison and Star hopes to turn the tide toward growth. A big part of that effort includes an expansion beyond its recent focus on oncology.

“We’ve made our intentions clear that we’re going to continue to say yes to oncology,” O’Dwyer stresses. “But we’re also going to say yes to categories such as immunology, cardiovascular, women’s health and CNS. We’re going to diversify our footprint a bit more.”

Harrison and Star made gains on the new-business front during 2022, adding work from Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer, Regeneron, Daiichi Sankyo, BeiGene, Merck/Eisai and the Cardiovascular Research Foundation.

Jay points to work for the latter organization as one of Harrison and Star’s proudest achievements of the past year. The campaign, Little Monsters, centers around the risk of cardiovascular disease among women — which, Jay believes, isn’t discussed as often as it should be.

“It portrays heart disease through the use of a ‘little baby monsters’ metaphor,” Jay explains. “It asks the audience to think about which problem they would rather deal with: something in its infancy or something that has grown into a monstrosity that can no longer be controlled.”

Reflecting on her first six months at Harrison and Star — which marks her second stint at an Omnicom-owned health shop, following 13 years at CDM Group — O’Dwyer says she’s already convinced that her decision was a wise one. “My headline on Harrison and Star is that it’s an amazing agency, backed by individuals who are proud of our high-science roots,” she says.

Items that top her to-do list for the remaining months of 2023 include growing the agency’s patient vertical and investing in inclusive marketing. “We have a lot to be excited about,” she adds. 

. . .

Our marketing role model…

Patagonia seems to have figured it all out— not just because it creates high-quality performance apparel, but because it behaves the way it ought to. The company understands its customers and what’s important to them. Most importantly, they put their money where their mouth is. Compare Timberland to Patagonia, since they loosely exist in the same domain. Why is Patagonia so committed to universal climate issues and humanitarian causes when Timberland isn’t? (Apologies if they are — if so, they need a better PR company.) — Jay

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