To begin with, the health unit has had three leaders in as many years. In 2015, when Merkle combined its health insurance and provider business with its pharma arm, long-tenured business development head Owen McCorry was appointed interim leader of Merkle Health. Agency veteran Mike Goldin assumed the role in August 2016, then current SVP, GM David Magrini replaced Goldin this past October.
Magrini, who joined the agency in 2010 to establish its insurance and wealth management practice, led the company’s insurance and provider business before taking over as GM. Given the recent intense M&A activity Merkle has experienced, it can’t hurt to have a company veteran at the helm.
Six years ago, Merkle began snapping up U.S.-based companies to enhance its capabilities — primarily, Magrini notes, in the digital addressable space. In 2016, Merkle itself was acquired by the Dentsu Aegis Network. In January, Merkle merged with a Dentsu agency in China called &c, a union that gave Merkle scale, analytics, and execution muscle in Asia.
As if all that activity weren’t enough, Merkle acquired six companies during the past two years. The most health-relevant of the bunch were Utah-based digital shop Axis41, which specializes in driving consistent experience across digital channels; Detroit’s HelloWorld, which adds experience in the loyalty-program space; and Sokrati, which increases Merkle’s analytics capabilities in India.
Finally, Merkle added an Australian agency earlier this year. While there aren’t specific health-related needs in the region right now, Magrini believes that will change within the next three years. He expects global acquisitions to continue at the pace of one or two per quarter.
Merkle’s health business spans global pharma, insurance, and provider and health systems (about 50% is pharma, 30% insurance, and 20% provider). Within the pharma space, animal health ranks among the most important categories. Additions during 2017 included business from GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Takeda, Stanford Healthcare, MD Anderson, St. Jude, Cigna, Western Dental, Cohen Children’s Medical Center, and Select Medical.
These additions helped Merkle’s revenue climb 4.5% to $96.2 million in 2017. Staff size also increased from 350 to 368 people.Merkle Health embraces its profound technological bent. Assignments can range from building CRM databases to developing analytics-driven customer strategy to managing organizational change to handling “regular” AOR engagements. As long as the work is broad and deep in personalization and people-based marketing, Magrini doesn’t care what it’s called.
“Our value and desire is partnering with like-minded organizations that embrace personalization and understand the value of delivering an enhanced experience,” he says.
Asked about industrywide trends for the rest of 2018 and beyond, Magrini says providers — and specifically hospital systems — will likely continue to embrace the power of CRM. He also suggests ongoing disruption in the healthcare landscape will forever change how health insurance is consumed in the U.S.