Headliner: Sam Welch of Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications

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With its strong professional offerings and unparalleled consumer shop, Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications might be the biggest name in healthcare advertising today. But new president Sam Welch says that, given the fast-changing, topsy-turvy environment that his firm and its clients inhabit, that's no guarantee it'll still be tops tomorrow.

“Our history, especially in New York, has been handling these huge blockbuster brands,” says Welch, who moved up from his previous role as head of Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Advertising when former president Mike Trepicchio took a network-level Publicis post. “It's what we service and manage well, from launch throughout the lifecycle. But that's not where the future's going to be.”

The old advertising model that made Saatchi & Saatchi a household name is dying along with the blockbuster. “Our consumer division was built traditionally, off TV, and that, in five years, will be such a minor component of what they do,” he says. In its place, he sees Saatchi taking a “many-tentacled, customized approach” to marketing and communications as the ad industry moves toward a personalized marketing to complement the dawn of personalized medicine. That means ramping up the interactive capabilities of his three agencies—Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Advertising, the network's professional arm, DTC/CRM shop Saatchi & Saatchi Consumer Heath and Wellness and Newton, PA-based Saatchi & Saatchi Innovations, which handles smaller and challenger brands.

“We can't afford to contract to a digital company,” says Welch. “We have to be the digital company, because those capabilities are going to be at the core of what we do. By the end of this year, we will be doing trend-setting stuff in the digital world. That's the internal deadline I've set.”
The company is working on an internal repositioning designed to align the network behind the vision of “inspiring healthier living.” It's still early days, but Welch says they're looking at companies like eco-apparel maker Patagonia, which offers employees sabbaticals to work on cause-related environmental projects. In July, the network held a one-day environmental education confab, dubbed “greenGIG,” for staff.

It's a natural fit for the 43-year-old Welch, an avid skier and outdoorsman who grew up in Utica, NY, in the foothills of the Adirondacks. With a trio of tots (twin girls, 3, and a 1-year-old boy), he doesn't ski as much as he'd like these days, instead decamping with the family to Prospect Park or Fire Island to unwind. Business is in his blood, too—born into a family of brewers, he spent much of his youth making up Saranac kegs and beer balls and delivering them to VFW halls. His hops expertise made him popular at nearby Hamilton College, and from there, he was recruited to Proctor & Gamble, which had its pharma division just down the road. P&G taught him solid communications skills as well as giving him a primer in pharma marketing. “They spend so much of the first years of your career on teaching you how to distill your thoughts into the most focused communications possible,” says Welch.

From there, he went to Boots, KPR and Botto, Roessner, Horne & Messinger (now the healthcare arm of Ketchum) before joining Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, heading its Prilosec business.
He's been around the industry long enough to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same. “When I was a brand assistant 20 years ago, we were all freaking out about this new thing called managed care,” says Welch. What has changed is the role of the consumer in influencing product choice, and how we get our information. “I can't go to you with a mass approach anymore,” says Welch. “I have to understand who you are, and that's going to influence our choice of communications vehicles as well as what we say.”

Sam Welch
President,Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Comm

Saatchi & Saatchi, account sup. on Prilosec-president

Boots, KPR and Botto, Roessner, Horne & Messinger, various

P&G Pharmaceuticals, brand assistant to brand manager

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