Revenue increased 15% to an MM&M-estimated $175 million
“We want to be the [company] that moves the needle for healthcare communications for the whole industry”
“From a political or regulatory standpoint, there are just so many unknowns. Things are changing so rapidly that there’s no confidence about what the next maneuver might be”
When McCann Health North America announced in December 2015 that it planned to unite several of its venerable agency brands under a single banner and P&L, the company didn’t set out to become a corporate trendsetter. The move, in fact, was motivated in equal parts by practicality (better alignment means more business) and ambition (the bigger, the better). If the company’s Interpublic Group parents had been eying “efficiencies of scale” or “consistency of culture across geography” or any of the other catchphrases associated with corporate restructurings, you couldn’t tell from a chat with Amar Urhekar, president, McCann Health, Americas.
“We play big,” he said during a conversation in April 2016. “It’s expected of us. The goal is to be a significant player from a scale and stature perspective.”
Judging by McCann Health’s performance in 2016, the company appears to have realized those goals, and then some. Revenue spiked 15%, to an MM&M-estimated $174.9 million. The company counted 722 full-timers under its roof at the end of 2016, versus 620 at the end of 2015. There are more offices (12), AOR clients (28), and project-based clients (16) than there were a year ago. And there are also more superlatives.
That’s why it comes as somewhat of a surprise to hear Urhekar say, in essence, that McCann Health has barely gotten started.
“Honestly, our evolution is not close to being over,” he says. “The dynamics of the healthcare communications industry continue to change, to the point that what we did last year could be irrelevant next year. We need to keep challenging ourselves as to what we need to do next.”
The idea that McCann Health’s restructuring might have prompted other holding companies to take a similar look in the mirror doesn’t appear to have dawned on him. Indeed, in the 18 months or so since McCann Health moved McCann Echo, McCann Healthcare, McCann Managed Markets, McCann Pharmacy Initiative, and McCann Torre Lazur under the same roof, a pair of its network competitors have followed suit. Earlier this year, WPP unveiled WPP Health & Wellness to house ghg, Sudler & Hennessey, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, and CMI/Compas, while Havas realigned its health and wellness brands under Havas Health & You.
Coincidence? Urhekar seems to shrug it off. “We’ve been on this journey of creating more meaningful, impactful communications, and I think it has worked for [us and our clients],” he says. “We’ve seen how much more able we are to cross channels and we’ve seen how our resources have combined to bring the sharp, pointy edge of our offer into the marketplace.”
Judging by McCann Health’s 2016 new-business bounty, this isn’t the usual exec-touts-own-company’s-bona-fides chatter often shared during agency-issue season. While McCann Health declines to share brand names or detailed account statuses, it reports new work from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Novartis Oncology, Novo Nordisk, and Takeda during the past year or so.
“There’s only so much I can talk about, but the number one change we’ve seen recently is the quality of assignments we’re adding. The engagements are much, much broader,” Urhekar says.
To illustrate those points, he notes that 40% of the company’s work is on global brands and that 60% of clients are engaged with two or more McCann Health agency brands.
Urhekar, not surprisingly, is more eager to discuss the goings-on in the company’s own backyard. He says the integration of McCann HumanCare into McCann Health North America proceeded without a hitch. HumanCare, the company’s consumer-minded health and wellness unit, generated $20 million in revenue in 2015, according to MM&M estimates. He also points to an expansion in McCann Torre Lazur’s San Francisco presence and a doubling in size of the company’s Toronto footprint.
Urhekar, in fact, goes out of his way to share thoughts about each of the brands that were subsumed into McCann Health, lest anyone think they’re soon to vanish into the mothership.
“These brands are such a big part of the larger McCann Health offer,” Urhekar says, noting that preserving and protecting the equity of the individual agency brands remains a huge priority.
“When we were doing this operational restructuring, we put so much effort into making sure our people understood what we were doing and why, how everything was motivated by our clients’ needs. We overkilled ourselves in the communications to staff to make sure this didn’t come across as just something that happened at our headquarters.”
The HumanCare integration prompted a mini-shuffle atop the hierarchy of McCann Healthcare (formerly McCann Regan Campbell Ward): HumanCare president Leo Tarkovsky, group creative director Frank Mazzola, and CMO Andrew Chamlin added similar responsibilities at McCann Healthcare as, respectively, president, EVP and executive creative director, and CMO. Urhekar says the decision to more closely align HumanCare and McCann Healthcare was designed to bulk up its cross-disciplinary offering for clients with evolving needs.
Other McCann Health firms were similarly busy on the personnel front. McCann Torre Lazur poached Pete Irizarry from Vivo Agency to serve as EVP and managing director and promoted agency vet Lauren Lewis into the same role. McCann Torre Lazur also promoted VP and scientific director Nick Megjugorac to head of strategy.
McCann Health similarly pushed forward with a pair of broader industry initiatives. Its The Truth About Doctors study posed a wealth of questions to 450 physicians around the globe, gleaning their thoughts on everything from the decline of entrepreneurship within the profession to their status as what study co-author and McCann Health chief strategy officer Hilary Gentile calls “a devalued cog in a larger wheel.”
The company also collaborated with the Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship program, opening its doors to participants for six-month rotations at McCann Health agencies.
Looking ahead, Urhekar is cagey about sharing his plans. He notes the increasing importance within the marketing mix of payer communications, but it’s not as though McCann Health hasn’t been playing in that space for some time courtesy of its highly regarded brand McCann Managed Markets. Urhekar also has high hopes for Consulting at McCann Health, which formally debuted last September.
But beyond that, he makes few promises or predictions. “I’m sure this is something you hear often, but we’re all about how, organizationally, we can help clients be better healthcare marketers,” Urhekar says. “If we keep doing that, and continue to embrace change more strongly and genuinely, everything will come together.”