For the last few years, traditional healthcare agencies have worried about the incursion of consultancies onto their turf. In 2018, TBWA\WorldHealth pushed back, expanding its offering to include consultancy-like services.
The company did so by unveiling its new Disruption Advisory Group, described by TBWA\WH CEO Sharon Callahan as “an organization that’s between a creative agency and a business consultancy.” She admits the new group’s creation was spurred by the invasion of consultancies into agency territory.
“We have to build a bigger moat and higher walls around what we do,” Callahan explains. “You see these stories about Accenture buying Droga5 and you wonder. Even though our business is growing, we’re seeing some of the types of business that we used to do going to consultancies.”
The addition of the consultancy-like unit wasn’t the year’s only structural change. In the wake of the merger of fellow Omnicom-owned firm WildType into TBWA\WH, the company added specialized oncology experience to its topical mix.
While Callahan allows only that 2018 “was a strong growth year” for TBWA\WH, MM&M estimates that revenue jumped just south of 15%, from $52.5 million (which includes WildType’s 2017 sum) to an estimated $60 million. Head count more than doubled — from 140 to 289 — in large part due to the absorption of 100 people from WildType.
Client growth came both organically and from new assignments. The latter group included work from Roche, AstraZeneca, Alcon, Bluebird Bio, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Horizon Pharmaceuticals, Sarepta Therapeutics and the Mayo Clinic.
TBWA\WH reports that it neither lost nor resigned any clients — which, per Callahan, means that 2018 was the third straight year the agency notched a 100% client-retention rate.
Callahan suggests, however, that there isn’t likely to be a fourth. “We’re going to shift our goal to having 100% healthy client relationships in 2019,” she explains. “As we grow and change, some clients aren’t a great fit for us anymore. With the scarcity of talent, we’ve got to deploy great talent in a way that fits our agency best.”
On the recruitment front, TBWA\WH made several senior-level hires in 2018. Tech industry vet Walter Geer joined as SVP, group creative director/innovation and experience, while Risa Arin, previously with Neon, joined as chief experience officer.
TBWA\WH enjoyed its share of spotlight moments in the early months of 2019. Callahan was named the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Woman of the Year, while agency global president Robin Shapiro served as president of the Cannes Lions pharma jury.
“It feels like there’s a light on our agency right now and we’re in a really good place,” Callahan says. “But I’ve been in this business for so long, I know what goes up must come down. So when you’re strong, you’ve got to focus on making yourself even stronger and better. That’s really what 2019 is about.”