If the advertising industry had a safehouse right now, it would be health.

No arm of marketing is immune from the economic earthquake COVD-19 has sparked. But healthcare’s foundation is flexing its muscles: The sector’s brands are ploughing on with global reviews, virtually; they’re hiring third-party vendors to help them transform and breakdown silos; they’re demanding even more of their partners in terms of assignments as the need for consumer and doctor-facing education only rises.

In short, this all means more work for agencies.

“We’re going full speed ahead — we’ve had no dips — we’ve had increases, actually,” said Donna Murphy, CEO of Havas Health & You, speaking to the shop’s workload since isolation took hold. 

“What’s interesting and a little bit troubling to us is, during the pandemic, folks have ignored their personal health for routine or chronic conditions such as diabetes because they’re unable to get healthcare. We think there’s going to be a huge push as we come out of the pandemic across all of healthcare that people have neglected during this time.”

Focus lies with telemedicine marketing for doctors as well as health and wellness education for consumers. These needs have been growing rapidly over the past several years. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. But it has changed how clients operate, or rather sped up transformation that would have possibly taken years to cement.

The smart healthcare brands (and companies across all other sectors) are working to remove legacy silos to collapse and converge departments with a goal to ultimately make the business more agile. And they’re looking to agencies for help, which means they’re under pressure to transform even faster. 

The future agency model

“We have to be more agile and move quicker with less layers,” explained Murphy. “We are doing that by testing agency models. Agencies, historically, have been stacked like a pyramid — so instead of testing vertical, we’re testing horizontal.  

“Our business is moving into short snippets of content and movement so we have folks end-to-end going from writing, creative, shooting — delivering straight across. As we move forward the model will change quite dramatically.”

This has already been put in practice with the launch of Havas Mango, a Miami-based collective looking to revolutionize how consumers experience wellness through immersive, unique virtual and digital platforms and technology.

Permeation of Havas’ health capabilities across the network’s creative and media consumer categories is nothing new. In fact, the Havas media arm was launched jointly with health a number of years ago to allow for greater flex — a move Murphy says has been “hugely successful.”

Ability to go all in with such a model is compounded by Havas Health & You’s single P&L, meaning the 4,000-strong global workforce all deliver for one brand with no internal competition. 

Former ARNOLD Worldwide CCO joins Havas Health & You to helm creativity

The agency builds on that convergence today by welcoming Icaro Doria as its new global chief creative officer for the network. Doria recently served as U.S. chief creative officer for ARNOLD Worldwide, where he was celebrated for challenging traditional creative approaches and pushing for innovation across new platforms. 

Prior to joining Havas, Doria was chief creative officer of DDB New York and founded Wieden+Kennedy’s Sao Paulo office. He’s judged and won the industry’s major creativity and effectiveness awards several times over, including 42 Cannes Lions, 68 Clios and 30 D&AD Pencils. Doria’s debut into the health world says a lot about the direction in which Havas Health & You intends on taking its creativity. 

He said: “The health and wellness categories have fascinated me for a long time, and have profound importance right now and in the future. I am excited to join Havas Health & You to help elevate collective and personal wellbeing by bringing the best that contemporary creative storytelling has to offer, while partnering with the companies who are leading this crucial mission around the world.”

Could the agency go fully virtual?

As the agency charges full steam ahead, Murphy’s focus falls on an important operational decision: When to return to the office. 

The answer is nuanced and different in every market. Parts of China are open. France is in the process of going back. Spain will return on June 1. Some offices in Germany never closed. Murphy, who sits on a global taskforce for Havas network’s return strategy, said London, New York, Chicago and Boston will be among the last to open because they are all based in larger office blocks.  

She said: “The way we work in the office is going to change. I already hear people trying to decrease footprint in real estate. We’re going to have much more flexibility with where and how we work — we’ve proven it — 4,000 people, we haven’t missed a beat. It’s very easy for us to do now which I don’t think we imagined to this extent. 

“It’s going to be interesting because we actually have to de-densify the offices. How do folks come in slowly? The anxiety level is higher than I imagined. We’re doing things like coffee machines are leaving, water machines are leaving — there were even discussions about taking the doors off the conference rooms so people aren’t touching door knobs.” 

Murphy continued: “We have to have a bathroom attendant. We have to have a flow in the office where you come in one way and leave another way. It’s been really intense. We’ve had discussions about whether temperatures are taken in the lobby and how we get people up in the elevator — can we coordinate with other companies in the building? You would not believe the conservations that are happening. First and foremost we want folks to be safe and focused and not worry about themselves or their families.”

Some companies have already made the decision to allow their employees to work remotely forever. That won’t be the case for this agency. Not in the near future, at least. 

Asked if Havas Health & You could go fully virtual, Murphy said: “I believe no, because our business is collaboration and personal communication. Do I think we need to be in the office five days a week? Absolutely not. 

“Prior to this we tested work from home one day a week, and our hope was to move this to two days. It’s interesting; a couple of our competitors have tried [going fully virtual], and the turnover is pretty high, because people don’t feel a cultural connection as strong. You think about a lot of younger people — this is their social life. I don’t see us going 100 percent away from the office. Maybe in time, but not in the immediate future.”

COVID-19’s impact on network-wide jobs

For many, returning to the office and the implementation of a new normal will signify some mental relief in terms of job security. But the reality is a bit more complicated. Havas Group was fast in making a commitment to protecting employees as the world went into lockdown. CEO Yannick Bolloré told his 20,000 global staff in an email that the network is financially strong and will get through the disruption. To this day, Havas is the only major ad holding company which has not publicly disclosed if it has installed any cost-cutting measures such as staff reductions, furloughs and pay cuts

“I think we’re very fortunate because we’re owned by Vivendi, and the group is controlled by the Bolloré family,” explained Murphy. “We made a decision early on that as folks were in quarantine we wanted to do everything we can to preserve jobs and families because we felt it would be difficult to make folks redundant during that.”

She added: “I think we have business obligations which are going to have to be addressed.”

Meanwhile, the agency powers on and remains bullish on diversifying its portfolio of services. 

A drive for new business arms to serve emerging markets

Havas Health & You recently became the first ad holding company to launch a cannabis consultancy. The unit, called Havas ECS, serves the use-specific needs of pharmaceutical, health, wellness and brand communities, powered by expertise and a network of medical advisors skilled in the application of cannabinoid medicine. It’s been a huge hit. The agency fielded roughly 200 client calls in the first two weeks.

“We were shocked,” said Murphy. “It was crazy.” 

Uptake is less surprising when you realize just how underserved the market is. Seventy percent of med students are not exposed to cannabinoid education, the CEO explained, adding that there are numerous Fortune 500 companies are launching cannabinoid foods and drinks in the near future — all of which will need guidance. 

Other areas of investment for Havas Health & You fall on content, drawing from the entertainment side Havas’ parent company, Vivendi, brings to the table. There is also a big focus on data and analytics. HVH, a joint venture with a defense-grade analytics company which has the ability to pre-diagnose patients three to five years before a physician, is already seeing much success. 

What talent will thrive in a post-pandemic world?

New agency models, a ridiculously fast-paced landscape and a convergence of media, creative and health means that what is required of talent is changing, too.  

“People who are entrepreneurial and strategic and creative are going to be critical,” said Murphy, speaking to the types of talent which are needed the most in this new normal. “Some folks in our business have had a tough time evolving to the new normal, and being agile — and they’re going to have a rough time going forward because they’re still living in the early days of advertising which don’t exist anymore. 

“This is a new normal — let’s go.”

This article first appeared on campaignlive.com.