When you ask the heads of super-big agencies or holding companies about the size and velocity of their businesses, most try to sell you on their supposed nimbleness. These agencies are “entrepreneurial,” they say, and “have a lot in common with high-tech startups.” As a result, the agency brands housed therein can “pivot on a dime” and “operate in real-time, all the time.” These are the actual words that come out of the actual mouths of actual agency leaders.
And then there’s Amar Urhekar, president of McCann Health Americas, who late last year announced an ambitious plan to unite five well-regarded brands — McCann Echo, McCann Healthcare (formerly McCann Regan Campbell Ward), McCann Managed Markets, McCann Phar- macy Initiative, and McCann Torre Lazur — under a single banner. Rather than attempt to position the newly integrated company as a lithe, sleek upstart that just happens to employ 620 people and generated an MM&M-estimated $130 million in revenue in 2015, Urhekar freely admits that the move was all about scale and scope.
“We’re embracing our McCann-ness,” he says. “We are a large, global network. We play big. It’s expected of us. The goal is to be a significant player from a scale and stature perspective.”
This isn’t to say that McCann Health operates like a colossus, or that it wants to overwhelm the competition by virtue of its aggregated bulk. In fact, if there’s anything to take away from the company’s performance during the past year — and particularly in the six months since it unified its agency brands — it’s that McCann Health has a keen understanding of what clients and staff want from a circa-2016 organization of its ilk.
For clients, it’s seamlessness in the delivery of ideas and services. “The idea is that clients can talk to us as one McCann Health,” Urhekar explains. “What they want is for us to come in with a single McCann Health contract and for all the other logistics to happen on the back end and be invisible to them.”
That extends to the assembly of McCann Health brand teams as well. “The operational-efficiency perspective is important, but so is the alignment of talent,” Urhekar continues. “For one client a certain team and mix might be great, but for another there might not be any chemistry at all. This gives us better talent mobility.”
As for McCann Health staff, Urhekar admits that he worried about how the structural shift would be received, if for no other reason than that people are naturally averse to change. “In any situation, change is difficult. It puts people in the zone of the unknown,” he says. To that end, Urhekar and the leaders of the five agency brands erred on the side of overcommunication to agency staff, making sure to articulate the reasons for the move and, well, what was in it for them.
Beyond the opportunity to work with colleagues across the McCann network on a greater breadth of projects, Urhekar pointed to a new slate of training and development programs — 30 in Q2 of 2016 alone, he says. “That’s not something we’ve done in the past. It’s about building a coherent common culture and investing in what matters to us. I know everyone tells you this, but it’s about making sure we attract and keep best-in-class talent.”
To ensure follow-through, both in talent development and retention as well as on the integration front, Urhekar put into place a new North America executive leadership team. McCann Health lured one-time GSK Worldwide president Tammy Fischer to serve as EVP, chief growth officer, and promoted McCann vet Hilary Gentile to EVP, chief strategy officer; both posts are new. They’re joined on the leadership team by Urhekar and CFO Mike Lawlor.
So how were the changes received? With the caveat that the new McCann Health North America only recently celebrated its six-month birthday, Urhekar says he’s happy with the progress to date, especially as it pertains to the company’s creative offerings. “There’s a relentless commitment to creativity,” he says. “It’s not creativity for the sake of pretty pictures and clever ideas. It’s about dedicated solutions.” Along those lines, Urhekar singles out the firm’s work in the DTC and wellness arenas as having been particularly effective.
“[It’s about] different, engaging, innovative solutions that make an impact with clients and on their business,” adds Jeremy Perrott, McCann Health’s global chief creative director.
As for the agencies united under the McCann Health North America banner, they continued to hum along like a well-oiled machine during 2015. If their people had any issues with the new structure, it was evident neither in their work nor in its results.
McCann Echo reported double-digit growth, fueled by 37 new projects across several brands and new business from Janssen’s immunology franchise. In addition to its name change, McCann Healthcare added oncology/rare-disease ace Ben Wills as EVP, MD, and won what it describes as “a major network-integrated assignment in women’s health.”
McCann Pharmacy Initiative, the latest addition to the McCann Health family, won an AOR assignment from GSK Pharmacy and upped headcount to 46 full-timers. McCann Torre Lazur elevated Mark Willmann to president, opened a new office in San Francisco, and added nine AOR assignments. McCann Managed Markets has doubled in size since 2013 and added office space to accommodate further growth in 2016 and beyond.
When Urhekar surveys this wide range of successes, it validates in his mind McCann Health’s decision to roll the five agency brands under a single P&L heading. “There’s a tension that has existed in this business forever between [creative] progress and [financial] performance,” he explains. “A few years ago, we said that we’re not going to do one or the other — we’re going to do both. That’s the mantra that drives us to achieve difficult and lofty goals.”
As for what’s left of 2016, Urhekar is focused on ensuring that the new McCann Health North America offering continues to be received enthusiastically by staff and clients alike. What’s most important to him is that McCann Health continues to do right by the people and organizations that have entrusted the company with their success.
“We owe it to our talent to ensure that they find this journey enticing and we owe it to our clients to keep building on the velocity of this seamless platform offering,” he say. “Those are the most immediate items on my list. The successes that we’ve demonstrated to our people and clients shouldn’t be restricted to anyone.”