It’s every agency’s worst nightmare: Unexpected results from a late-stage clinical trial derail a public launch, leaving a gaping hole in the company’s workflow and hindering its ability to hit financial targets. How an agency responds is a test of its talent, resourcefulness and ability to thrive under pressure.

McCann Health stared down this very scenario during Q2 of 2018. But to hear Amar Urhekar, president of McCann Health Americas, tell the story a year later, the would-be pitfall was actually a “blessing in disguise.” What was a problem instead became a moment “where leadership came together and galvanized itself to figure out what more could be done and how things could be done differently.”

More and differently meant pitching new clients and shifting now-freed-up creative resources to current assignments, rather than panicking and letting people go. Urhekar says the additional bandwidth enabled McCann Health to “think new and think differently” and over-deliver on other assignments, thereby strengthening relationships with existing clients.

Despite the unexpected pressures, McCann Health emerged unscathed. MM&M estimates that 2018 revenue nudged past the $200 million barrier, landing at $207.5 million. That represents a 6.4% jump over 2017’s take of $195 million.

Staff count increased from 750 to 797, which included a handful of executive-level changes. Marcia Goddard was named president of McCann Health New Jersey; Andrew Chamlin was elevated to chief marketing officer, McCann Health North America; and Matt Eastwood was brought in from J. Walter Thompson to serve as global chief creative officer. Eastwood replaced Jeremy Perrott, who was fired last summer for allegedly making inappropriate comments in the workplace.

Other roles were redefined as McCann Health continued to adjust its internal structure in the wake of the 2016 integration of its 12 North American agencies. That shift allowed McCann Health to develop competencies consolidated under one platform, from research conducted by global intelligence unit McCann Truth Central to high-end management consulting, to medical communications, market access and HCP engagement. The challenge now, Urhekar says, is making the consolidated offering compelling enough for clients to believe it’s truly differentiated from the competition.

That comes down to talent, which Urhekar identifies as perhaps the biggest challenge facing health-centric agencies today. “These are all great strategies to put on paper, but what makes them successful is how strongly committed we stay to building a flexible, agile talent model,” he explains.

In other words: McCann Health can never have enough strategists steeped in digital fluency and able to conceive and execute the experiential solutions today’s clients are demanding. “There’s a war on talent — I’m sure every agency head is going to talk about it in some way,” Urhekar continues. “The question becomes, ‘How do we attract passionate performers?’ I don’t think there’s one silver bullet.”

To that challenging end, McCann Health made several changes in 2018 designed to attract and retain talent. It created work-from-home days for most of its workforce, incorporated some of McCann Worldgroup’s talent policies (including tuition reimbursement and educational programs at a network level) and formalized a training calendar, which lays out daily training goals for an entire year.

But the most notable part of the effort, Urhekar says, was the agency’s “laser-focus” on diversity and inclusion. Not only does that bring in different people with different ideas, but it helps align the McCann Health workplace with the values of the young talent the agency is trying to attract.

As the head of the company’s diversity and coalition committee, Urhekar has a personal stake in the matter. The company’s social calendar is packed with celebrations for Diwali, Black History Month, and Cinco de Mayo. Similarly, last year, McCann Worldgroup launched a Cultural Spotlight Week, during which McCann offices around the world shared insights about the role cultural diversity plays in fostering creativity.

“People are very diligent about the type of organization they want to work for,” Urhekar says. “What are the values and behaviors we subscribe to? Staying true to our audacious diversity and inclusion goals has been a scoring point for us in terms of talent, but it’s also the right thing to do by society.”

Being forward-thinking on diversity serves McCann Health and its worldwide remit well, given that a significant percentage of its work was on global brands. Seventy-five percent of 2018 growth came from existing clients such as Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Actelion, Eisai, Celgene and Daiichi Sankyo. The agency also scored three key assignments last year: a rare disease launch for Horizon Pharma, Reckitt Benckiser’s Enfamil infant formula and Takeda’s dengue vaccine.

Urhekar says that McCann Health’s positioning as a consolidated agency with a wide range of offerings helps it with twin goals. The agency is able to become strategic partners not just at the brand level, but at the enterprise level as well. “That gives us better insight, better access to strategies and, most importantly, helps us bolster relationships at the senior levels of our client organizations.”

Looking ahead, Urhekar says that McCann Health will continue to build its practices around social sciences. “That comes out of a core philosophy. The better we can understand the covert drivers of human behavior, the more we will be able to drive the change we want within our stakeholders, whether that’s HCPs, patients or policymakers,” he explains.

Urhekar also expects payers to increasingly dictate the shape of healthcare marketing, which is one of the key reasons why McCann Health has invested so heavily in its McCann Managed Markets brand and partnered with independent consultancies. “That gives us a head start,” he notes. “The intensity and influence of payer marketing cannot be underestimated.”

But as McCann continues to grow, Urhekar says the biggest challenge will always be bringing in the right kind of talent and then grooming and developing it. “I’m a big believer in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,” he adds. “Now that the restructuring is done, we need to make sure we stay on track and continue to build and invest in our offices.”