For much of the industry, 2022 marked a return to gatherings and congresses. But for the staff of Merkle Health, the post-COVID revival didn’t feel complete until the company was able to stage its Health Exchange event again in person.

Held in May 2022, Health Exchange brought Merkle’s clients and internal teams together for the first time since before the pandemic. Not surprisingly, it proved one of the year’s high points, according to EVP, health and nonprofit practice lead, Merkle Health Jane Portman.

“The event was two days, with 50 clients together in a room in Atlanta talking about how we can do better for the industry,” she recalls. “A lot of what we discussed were issues around trust — how we can help create trust in the healthcare industry, especially from the patient and HCP sides.”

Merkle saw revenue rise 4% in 2022, to $166 million from $160 million in 2021. Still, the year wasn’t the agency’s easiest, with Portman citing broader economic uncertainty, reduced media budgets and in-housing difficulties as challenges Merkle stared down.

“We had originally set out with more aggressive growth targets,” she says.

At the same time, Merkle enjoyed a solid year on the new-business front, bringing in assignments from food company ChromaDex, health system Hoag and Blue Shield of California. Herbalife Nutrition signed on with Merkle for customer-experience work, while Lonza tapped the agency for assistance on the commerce side.

Merkle also acquired three companies, including India-based tech firm Extentia. The deal helped Merkle beef up its Salesforce capabilities as well as its cloud engineering and UX offerings.

“It will allow us to scale globally. It gives us more ability to service clients across different regions and markets outside of the Americas,” Portman says.

Staff size jumped from 502 at the end of 2021 to 566 a year later. Merkle promoted several executive leaders, including Amanda Moore to chief growth officer, Merkle Americas and Michel Mayor to SVP, global Salesforce practice lead. Tim Perlstein stepped into the chief marketing officer, Merkle Americas role.

As for the work itself, Portman singles out a digital AI skin analysis tool Merkle developed for Galderma’s Cetaphil skin-care brand. Cetaphil AI Skin Analysis uses photos to identify the products an individual might need for specific skincare issues, then provides recommendations.

“As Galderma’s customer experience agency, we wanted to create an engaging experience that led customers to the tool and encouraged brand affinity,” Portman reports. “I’ve used some of these AI tools with my kids to identify skin rashes — and they’re quite accurate.”

Portman isn’t Pollyanna-ish about the months ahead. “We do have growth ambitions,” she notes. “But to be perfectly candid, 2023 is going to be a challenging year.”

Still, she’s excited to see Merkle bolster its data identity and analytics capabilities, as well as to work with third-party data partners to build identity solutions that are workable in a HIPAA-regulated industry.

“That’s really needed in healthcare,” she says. 

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Our marketing role model…

Reese Witherspoon, particularly through her work via Hello Sunshine, is creating groundbreaking opportunities for women of all ages in the entertainment industry and beyond. She’s built a wildly successful and inclusive business that is genuine and enables trust with her audience — something incredibly important in the health marketing industry. In a space such as health, we can help our clients rethink what’s possible by creating more inclusive experiences and greater opportunities to seek out support, and by building trust within the greater ecosystem. — Portman