As part of an effort to transform itself into an organization that’s “fit and fierce,” as CEO Mario Muredda puts it, Harrison and Star (H&S) spent a good part of 2018 looking inward. By the time the dust settled, the company had restructured itself into, essentially, three smaller agencies, each staffed by a multi-disciplinary team and able to navigate multiple therapeutic disciplines.
All three of the teams have their own leadership, and a little more than half of the agency’s employees are tethered to a single practice. The other half of H&S staffers move freely between units. To that end, account, creative and strategy people are focused within practices, while medical, operations, editorial and analytics talent tend to work across the three teams.
The restructuring was prompted by Muredda’s increasing belief that H&S had become too vertical and, as a result, was struggling to providecareer paths to its up-and-comers. By contrast, the new model “gives people more purpose and the sense of being connected to a smaller operating group. It allows clients greater exposure to the leadership of the practices,” Muredda explains.
Though Muredda characterizes 2018 as a “tough year,” revenue was flat versus 2017 at $110 million. Head count dropped precipitously — from 430 at the end of 2017 to 275 at the end of 2018 — due to H&S’ full integration into Omnicom Health Group. Departments such as production, HR and finance are now part of shared services, meaning that H&S personnel in those realms have officially become Omnicom employees.
“The shared services model will help us focus on creativity and strategy,” Muredda says.
There was major change in the C-suite as well. Mardene Miller, a 20-year H&S veteran who was named president in 2012, left the firm in early 2019 to join Neon as EVP and managing director.
“We will eventually replace that position, but I have chosen not to for the time being as we restructured into these smaller practices,” Muredda explains. “I wanted to make sure I was leading from the front and getting closer to our clients.”
Look for more higher-up hires to follow. Muredda says H&S is actively recruiting creative talent as well as data and technology wonks.
“In the past, highly scientific therapeutic areas like oncology have not always been the breeding ground for the most creative work,” he continues. “We see creativity becoming more important as products in highly specialized areas become less differentiated.”
On the client front, H&S earned high marks for its work on Stemline’s Elzonris, approved to treat a rare and serious blood cancer. The agency also handled Biogen’s multiple sclerosis drugs Tecfidera and Tysabri. It no longer works with Novartis on cancer drug Tasigna.
“Tighter budgets have forced agencies to be introspective and ask themselves, ‘Are we driving the right amount of change in the marketplace or are we just being reactive?’” Muredda says. “We have some of the best minds in the business. How are we leveraging those minds to help clients push their work further?”