Revenue fell 14% to an MM&M-estimated $110 million
“We are thrilled not only by the unique health-tech clients in the Bay Area, but the type of talent with new skill sets that we can attract to the agency”
“Marketing services work within the pharma sector will become more consultative and focused on specialty products”
Media is the new name of the game at Digitas Health. Over the past year, the Publicis Groupe shop has started to execute on a strategy that focuses on new — and smarter — ways to use media in its work for clients and dropped the LifeBrands moniker from its name to “really focus on the essence of Digitas Health and everything that makes it unique,” an agency spokeswoman said.
One part of this shift in strategy was about execution, while another was operational. Earlier this year Publicis announced that Matt McNally, who previously served as president of Publicis Health Media and president of Razorfish Health, had earned a new role: president of Digitas Health and chief media officer of Publicis Health. He reports to Alexandra von Plato, group president of Publicis Health’s communications and media agencies in North America.
As a result, a “connective tissue” now exists between Digitas Health and Publicis Health Media, McNally says. “Media and creative cannot be separated.”
“We believe in creative and media integration, and bringing Matt into his role leading the largest agency demonstrates both the network and the firm’s commitment to do that,” a spokesperson added in an email. On the execution side of things, the team at Digitas started to explore new ways to use media in 2016. It worked on two campaigns for Shire, one of them an unbranded campaign featuring actor Jennifer Aniston to raise awareness about eye health, and the other a branded campaign focusing on Xiidra, the drugmaker’s new treatment for dry-eye. “From an integrated media [perspective], it was a big win for us,” McNally says.
Graham Mills, Digitas Health’s global chief creative officer, agrees: “Creative today without a media person in the room is silly and a little bit quaint.”
Which isn’t to say that the year didn’t present its share of challenges, especially on the financial front. Owing in part to a change in its business mix, Digitas Health’s revenue fell 14% to an MM&M-estimated $110 million in 2016, down from $127.5 million in 2015. It currently employs 500 people, down from 525 in 2015.
According to McNally, the decline wasn’t driven by the loss of clients. Rather, he says the agency is now “recasting” as it examines new services and its more successful offerings, including but not limited to social media and content marketing. The past few years — 2013, 2014, and 2015 — focused on the rising role of the digital AOR, McNally explains. That work accounted for much of Digitas Health’s growth during those years. But as with other marketing services within the pharma sector, more work is now consultative and focused on specialty products — which means an ever-increasing portion of budget is shifting away from traditional TV and print ads. Clients are now more likely to demand nimbleness, in the form of project-type relationships, than they have in the past.
By way of response, under McNally’s leadership Digitas Health has reoriented to focus on media, technology, and data. “Through data and technology, we’ve amped up our game,” he says. This is one reason Digitas Health hired Lee Slutes as its resident data scientist and VP of advanced analytics, a role in which he’ll lead the firm’s new data-science practice.
Slutes is working on everything from predictive models to means of securing organizational buy-in for digital-targeting capabilities. Slutes’ background is in media analytics and he most recently worked for EXL Advanced Analytics. “We’re doubling down in data and technology,” McNally notes.
Another major hire was Karen Beckert, who joined the agency as SVP and group account director. She was formerly EVP and director of client services at Calcium. Digitas Health also snared John Mangano, a former SVP at ComScore, as SVP of strategy and analytics. “John is the visionary guy about how we pull data in to understand consumer and HCP audiences through data,” McNally reports.
As part of Digitas Health’s evolution as an agency, it is looking to capitalize on the increasingly prevalent role of partnerships within the healthcare industry, a strategy that McNally aptly characterizes as “the notion of ‘partnerability.’”
Last July, the company formally announced a strategic partnership with seed accelerator firm Dreamit, which helps digital health startups develop their businesses. Per the terms of the partnership, Digitas Health will offer brand-related guidance and its clients will have the opportunity to explore joint projects with startups.
“We’ll meet with entrepreneurs and introduce clients,” McNally explains. “We’re seeing what’s next in health technology and they’re seeing Digitas as a broker between today and the future.”
Still, media work remains at the core of Digitas Health’s identity, with roughly 300 media professionals sitting across the hall at the company’s Philadelphia headquarters. Alex Tamayo continues to lead Digitas Health’s media strategy and connections planning.
Digitas Health continues to work on MS Lifelines, a content engine that was developed on behalf of EMD Serono. It has also led Tumblr programs for clients, such as a page for teens with cystic fibrosis on behalf of AbbVie. The page focuses on the digestive issues affecting individuals afflicted with cystic fibrosis.
Another Tumblr-centric campaign raised awareness about healthy sexual behavior on behalf of Gilead Sciences, which markets Truvada, a pill for HIV prevention (via pre-exposure prophylaxis).
Digitas Health has also seen its remit expand over the past year or so, this time to include clients in the technology, beauty, skincare, and financial-planning sectors.
As many healthcare-marketing executives will tell you, drugmakers are currently under increased pressure to sell not just their products, but also their pipelines and their cost-cutting prowess to investors. “The brand teams are getting smaller and the marketing world is getting smaller,” McNally explains. The task for agencies like Digitas Health, then, is a challenging one. It becomes about “how we work, how we deliver, and how we partner with outside companies to deliver in this really competitive and challenging time for our clients,” McNally notes.
Not only does that include working with pharma companies to develop stronger pricing and access brand strategies, but it may also mean interpreting the data — even down to the ZIP code — to get a better grasp on where access is an issue — and also where it isn’t.
Beyond pharma, Digitas Health continues to look at work with other players in the healthcare system, including everyone from health systems and health-tech firms to nutritionists and vitamin makers. Mills sums up the Digitas Health strategy succinctly: “When there’s no TV budget, that’s where we really thrive,” he says.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the Gilead campaign. It is an unbranded campaign. It also incorrectly cited Matt McNally’s title. He is chief media officer at Digitas Health.