Wunderman Thompson Health’s 2022 was very much defined by the leadership succession in its C-suite, with Patrick Wisnom — formerly leader, WPP global health community and global client leader, Johnson & Johnson — succeeding industry legend Becky Chidester midyear. While her shoes were big ones to fill, Wisnom and Wunderman Thompson Health managed the transition with grace and seeming ease.
Speaking about 10 months following his ascent into the global CEO role, Wisnom acknowledges head-on the complexity of the challenge that any such succession presents. While he stresses that there wasn’t anything broken that demanded an immediate fix, Wisnom notes that he had plenty of ideas for the first, defining, months of his tenure.
To that point, Wisnom chose to devote considerable time and resources toward reemphasizing the importance of creativity in Wunderman Thompson Health’s core offerings. This meant meeting the changing expectations of a client roster that includes Pfizer, Janssen, Boehringer Ingelheim, AstraZeneca and Regeneron, as well as 2022 additions Walgreens and Nestlé.
Wisnom senses increasing commonality among clients in the healthcare realm. He notes that while some companies are undergoing large-scale changes in the public view, others are doing so in a much quieter manner. Either way, they’re largely asking the same question of firms such as Wunderman Thompson Health: How can you partner with us to deliver for our audiences in more efficient ways?
“One of the things that I was mindful of in my arrival and taking over this role from my predecessor was that I inherited an organization that was incredibly successful and had some of the best capabilities in the industry,” he explains. “However, we also had an opportunity to do work and demonstrate creativity in a way that was more impactful for our clients, brands, patients and even healthcare professionals.”
Some A-list help arrived in the form of global chief creative officer Renata Maia, who joined in January after three years as EVP, group creative director at Area 23. In recalling the process that led to Maia’s arrival, Wisnom notes that she was the first person he met with about the role. He was immediately interested, and a second meeting confirmed that initial impression.
“Renata’s energy, passion and commitment to the craft is something that is going to benefit our agency and help elevate all of these different capabilities we have to an even greater place,” Wisnom adds.
Wunderman Thompson Health continued to grow in 2022. MM+M estimates that the company generated $225.8 million in revenue, a 5% jump from 2021’s estimated take of $215 million. Head count grew from 890 to 925 full-timers, due in large part to the company’s decision to bulk up its global content development and production studios.
The agency also grew via acquisition, scooping up influencer shop Village Marketing as well as commerce agencies Diff and Fēnom Digital.
When discussing Wunderman Thompson Health’s overall performance since he took over as CEO, Wisnom acknowledges many of the broader economic stressors that have affected client-side budgets over the course of the past year. Despite what he categorizes as client “nervousness” in the face of the volatile macroeconomic environment, Wisnom believes Wunderman Thompson Health remains well-positioned to build on the successes of the last few years.
“In moments that are harder, companies look for change, new ideas and opportunities, so I like our chances,” he says. “My hope is that the worst of the cost-cutting is behind us. With our experience in creating transformation, the talent coming in and the focus on creativity, we’ll do fine in creating relationships and building partnerships with clients.”
Wisnom’s vision for growth also includes plenty of time in The Sandbox, a decentralized virtual world for gaming that was created in tandem with technologists at the Wunderman Thompson mothership. Its goal: to develop metaverse brand experiences.
Wunderman Thompson Health’s alignment with the larger brand experimentation taking place in The Sandbox should allow the agency to learn faster — and adapt its client offerings accordingly. Wisnom believes the arrangement is unique, given that only a handful of healthcare marketing agencies can tap network relationships of this sort.
He adds that Wunderman Thompson Health is eager to explore the possibilities of virtual gaming in the healthcare space and sees parallels with the mainstream popularity of ChatGPT.
“A lot of our focus right now is on things such as AI and The Sandbox, which is an area that I call the Wild, Wild West of Health,” he explains.
An important part of that journey will be selling historically change-resistant pharma companies on the virtues of the new technology.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to play out for us, because we’re going into a space that’s new and untested and may be uncomfortable for some healthcare clients,” Wisnom continues. “How to dip our toes carefully into the right places is what we’re trying to figure out right now.”
Meanwhile, following three years of the world’s worst public health crisis in a century, Wisnom underlines the need for continued effective mass communication by healthcare brands. If the pandemic has taught us anything, he says, it’s that people are keenly aware of the importance of healthcare within their lives.
While some may be overwhelmed with existential dread at the thought of adjusting to a brave new world following years of infection, death and misinformation, Wisnom believes that medical marketers must meet the moment.
“As patients and as people, we are more engaged than we ever were in the past — and we are only going to get more engaged around what every decision we make means for our health,” he adds. “Medical marketers are at the center of being able to influence that. What an incredible time it is for all of us to be in healthcare.”
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Our marketing role model…
Ryan Reynolds continually pushes his creative limits and evolves his brand and his career — as an actor, producer, investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. In every project with which he’s involved, Ryan Reynolds contributes more than just his time and name. He brings his passion, creativity and personal investment. He’s not only an investor in Aviation Gin and Mint Mobile, but a creative director and spokesperson. When he purchased the Welsh football club Wrexham AFC, he developed a documentary series to promote the team, its fans and the Wrexham community. When we think of ambitious brands, we think of Ryan Reynolds. — Wisnom