At the dawn of 2017, Ashfield Healthcare Communications was a fledgling network with small agency brands dotting the U.S. and U.K. and just over $31 million in North American revenue. By the time the year was out, it had pocketed two of the agency world’s most coveted acquisition targets, rare disease ace Cambridge BioMarketing and behavioral science pros MicroMass Communications, jumping revenue to $83.7 million.
And that’s just the beginning. With the financial and intellectual heft of Dublin-based UDG Healthcare behind it, Ashfield has expansion plans in almost every healthcare marketing discipline and therapeutic category.
“You will not recognize us in 2019,” predicts Doug Burcin, the Klick and Havas Health veteran who became Ashfield’s president this year. “We’re looking for aggressive innovation and the biggest driver will be on the M&A front. [UDG] sent me to go shopping.”
The Cambridge BioMarketing and MicroMass purchases likely provide the blueprint for acquisitions going forward. In both instances, Ashfield snapped up agencies with a lot of experience in a well-defined specialty.
“They were the first [companies] in those areas when nobody else was paying attention,” Burcin notes. “Strategically, they bring us further up the commercialization pathway.” Next additions could include more analytics muscle, as well as heightened expertise in content delivery.
Indeed, in early July, after MM&M’s print edition went to press, Ashfield continued its acquisition binge with the additions of creative shop Create NYC [LINK] and consultancy SmartAnalyst.
With this sort of growth comes the challenge of introducing the “new” Ashfield to the market, especially in the U.S. Even with the two big acquisitions, the firm was slightly bigger outside North America than inside it at the end of 2017, with global revenue of $183 million. Not surprisingly, the agency views this more as an opportunity than an item to place atop the to-do list.
“Our brand recognition in this market is low-to-mid, but that’s not a bad thing. There aren’t any negative connotations,” Burcin notes. “Our proposition needs clarity. We need to connect the dots to the whole.”
This could mean a winnowing down of Ashfield’s 20 or so brands in the interest of the aforementioned clarity. “Are we a branded house or a house of brands? I can’t give you the answer yet,” Burcin says. “Better alignment and reduction in agency brands is probably the direction we’ll go, but that’s still under advisement.”
This profile has been updated to include Ashfield’s acquisition of Create NYC and SmartAnalyst.