The Top 40: Sudler & Hennessey

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Creativity has been at the forefront of development during the past year at WPP unit Sudler & Hennessey (S&H). In January, co-presidents Louisa Holland and Jim Metropoulos began a major staff reorganization in the agency's creative department, one that continues to fuel the agency's success.

“Until this past year we had the classic creative group structure,” Holland told MM&M.  “We had a creative group and a copy group, an art group, a creative director for art and a creative director for copy. We had big teams beneath each of those. We have restructured the entire creative group into teams that include both art and copy, with five creative directors. They are headed up by Joe Garamella, who this year was named to the position of executive creative director.”

Garamella has been a key contributor, as EVP, creative director and, in the 1980s, copywriter and consultant. Returning to S&H in 2002 after a five-year stint at a West Coast biotech boutique, Garamella has helped shape the agency's creative product, acquire talent and spearhead the launches of Biogen's Amevive, Forest's Namenda and Pfizer's Viracept 625. 

Additionally, in January S&H named Rob Rogers, president of S&H Asia/Pacific, as chief creative officer of S&H in the US. An industry veteran, Rogers has won local and international success across several therapeutic classes and was a driving force behind major product launches such as AstraZeneca's Nexium, GlaxoSmithKline's Advair, Forest's Lexapro, Allergan's Botox and AstraZeneca's Crestor in the US; and the re-launches of Pfizer's Celebrex and Eli Lilly's Zyprexa.

“We've also added something that a lot of other people don't have, a senior creative person in the role of brand catalyst,” Holland explains. “Kathy Jenkins' role as a seasoned veteran with over 20 years in the business is really an investment in creativity. She's not linked to any specific clients. She doesn't have to be billable, her role is truly to be a catalyst for creative thinking, to move back and forth across teams to help stimulate the best possible thinking.”

Jenkins joined S&H from WPP sister CommonHealth, where she was a founder and chief creative officer of its DTC agency, The Quantum Group. Her award-winning campaigns include the launch of Schering-Plough's Claritin and Clarinex, GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough's jointly-marketed Levitra and GlaxoSmithKline's Avandia.  

S&H has also headed up a new internal initiative aimed at generating the kind of creativity you can only get from breaking the chains that bind staff to their offices or cubicles. “We have made an enormous commitment internally to our culture, our people and to people development. We've been working for the last year on a large program to promote what we call ‘an environment of ideas,'” says Holland.

“The idea that we ask people to sit in their offices or their cubicle and tell them to come up with ideas on deadline is kind of a daunting thing to ask them to do over and over again. So we talked and thought about how we can help our people be creative. Last year, we started a program we call ‘Explorations.' It's about trying to bring in some thinking and stimulus from outside our world and show that it's not all about healthcare marketing,” she says.

The group recently booked some time for a private tour of New York's Guggenheim Museum to get the juices flowing. “We had a great visit up to the Guggenheim,” Holland says. “You go when it's otherwise closed and the whole place is filled with your employees. That's kind of an amazing thing to begin with and here we are looking at ancient Russian icons and then you think to yourself, you know, S&H is considered the agency with the most iconic work, with the Rocephin apple and all. Then you notice that the people sitting there looking are making new connections and realizing how things are related. It's been really fun to work on.”

The creative efforts have also met with new business for S&H, including new brands from clients Amgen and Forest, new work from Abbott, Dermik, Galderma and new clients including Procter & Gamble, Schering AG, Genentech, Pfizer and Monogram Biosciences.

“We've grown across all divisions. So every different group is really firing on all cylinders,” Holland says.

S&H works to stay ahead of the curve and addressing some tough industry challenges, including keeping pace with growth, finding talent and keeping its structure “nimble.” “We always marvel at how a 65-year-old agency can be hot, that's a bit of a duality—how can a really large agency also be nimble and provide high-level senior thinking to clients.”

Holland says S&H has welcomed the communications shift from the direct-to-consumer approach to a more patient-centric focus.  “It's a more responsible way to communicate with patients and more helpful to improving patient's understanding of the disease-state. It also provides more help to the client in fostering the doctor-patient relationship,” she says.

Addressing the shift, S&H has formed a new group called S&H Group Pi, to focus on “patient intelligence and helping the doctor make the doctor-patient dialogue as perfect as possible,” Holland says. “Ultimately it's better for the patients and will promote better health care, I'm sure. Our client teams are also becoming better versed in all of these issues, whether it's managed care,  patient care or e-communications.”

The future looks bright for S&H, Holland says, who expects to see business at the firm increase in the year ahead.

“Across all divisions, everyone's doing very well and we expect to get bigger. We are focusing on Latin America, Central America, we are doing some work for Pfizer in Mexico. That's a new focus for us and it's starting to take hold. S&H Group Pi will be certainly something we have big expectations for in the coming year. We want to continue to feel like a place where people get continual attention. We've also just begun work on a multicultural area of communications multicultural competencies for physicians and patients and I think that's a critical health care need.”

Despite the agency's recent successes, Holland anticipates challenges up ahead in managing scale and the relentless pace of change in the drug industry.

“I think the biggest challenge is we kind of live a contradiction. Things move faster and faster. We get bigger and bigger, and yet, we need to stay creative. Those don't always go together. So, staying close to clients at all levels and keeping it feeling small and personalized and creative is really important. The real challenge is creativity. In real estate, it's location, location, location. For us, it's creativity, creativity, creativity. Whether it's a branding icon, or a market strategy, or a medical message platform or a new communications channel, we have to deliver day in and day out. To do that you have to keep your people motivated, happy, fulfilled and percolating the best ideas. That's the challenge we face every day.”

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