Healthcare leaders from the five largest ad holding companies answer three questions.

Q1. Amazon is amassing more data on us than any other company, spanning what we shop for, eat, buy, watch and read, not to mention the audio collected by the now HIPAA-certified Alexa. Are you worried about the online behemoth leveraging its data in the healthcare marketing industry, why or why not?

Mike Hudnall, WPP

Answer: Amazon has made their ambition to be a serious player in health clear. Far from being worried, I’m excited about the impact they can make. Amazon excels at reducing friction to create better service experiences for customers, and they leverage data to do so – most notably in retail. Imagine the possibilities as Amazon accelerates its presence in healthcare, which is an area that currently has a massive amount of friction. I expect some big disruption and disintermediation. As a consumer, I am excited about the potential of a “Prime Health.”

Clearly there are regulatory and data privacy issues Amazon needs to navigate, but expect them to navigate these hurdles successfully. I believe consumers will continue to provide Amazon with their data for a better service, lower costs and less friction in healthcare. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Donna Murphy, Havas

Answer: We welcome the data revolution whole-heartedly, particularly in health and wellness. Our core purpose is human purpose and the benefits that can come from advances in data and analytics have the power to drastically impact the understanding of the entire health and wellness spectrum, enhance advances in patient care, disease diagnosis and treatment and optimize business efficiency for any company that touches the human experience.

Our commitment and belief in data and analytics is such that we launched a joint venture with one of the most capable and secure data analysis companies in the world a few years ago. This company, HVH, has the ability to create an understanding of human health that is far beyond any capabilities that we’ve seen in the past, including diagnosing diseases 3-5 years in advance of conventional medicine, among other incredible things. Our belief is that the power of predictive big analytics along with human knowledge, expertise, innovation and creativity is the future of our business and will lead to better outcomes, which is always our core and most central focus.

Alexandra von Plato, Publicis Health

Answer: HIPAA-certified is a misnomer, as there is no official or legally recognized process to be “certified” as HIPAA compliant. HIPAA compliance is an ongoing process, so claims of certification can be misleading. That said, being HIPAA compliant is only as good as the device, product or service that’s behind it. For example, a car can be built to be compliant or “certified” to be on the road, but only a licensed driver can safely drive it.

Amazon has successfully met the needs of consumers in large part because of its smart, data-driven approach. Amazon customers have decided that giving up personal data about their consuming habits in exchange for radically relevant products and services from Amazon is worth it.

It will be interesting to see how helpful Amazon’s Alexa could evolve to be as a “personal health assistant.” Leveraging data to provide consumer-patient benefits around adherence or other health management skills could be a game changer. However, if the data is used primarily to surface adjacent products in order to encourage purchases on Amazon platforms, consumers will quickly lose patience.

As with anything related to data collection, data privacy continues to be a top concern: as the volume of personal health data on platforms such as Amazon continues to grow exponentially, the associated risks of hacks or data breaches increase as well.

Ed Wise, Omnicom

Answer: Ongoing concern and vigilance are necessary. Becoming compliant one year does not guarantee ongoing compliance. We have seen the consequences of data breaches and it makes clear that vulnerabilities need to be continuously assessed and addressed. But overall, we can only be energized when new and powerful data tools intersect with our world. If these new tools allow us to deliver content and information in ways that are more targeted and effective, within the context of the highest security and privacy practices, it will only advance the good things we are working to do.

Helene Yan, IPG

Answer: There is a huge opportunity to usher in a new level of access to healthcare for people. Even then, data will only be one piece of the puzzle. Building a complete, holistic view of HCPs and consumers is difficult for any single company. Creating a foundation for insight that is ethical, compliant and connects data from multiple trusted sources is essential. It’s a major reason having a trusted partner such as Acxiom, known for its ethical management of data and its Unified Data Layer framework, is so beneficial for clients and agencies.

Q2. A 2018 survey showed that 80% of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) membership (which includes companies from all of the major healthcare industry stakeholders) has some form of in-house agency. Media planning/buying for digital media is one area where client-side pharma marketers are known to be taking services in-house, but creative strategy and data/marketing analytics are also growing. How are you responding to this reality?

Mike Hudnall, WPP

Answer: We’re responding to this reality by embracing it and reinventing ourselves. WPP is a creative transformation company. Our offer focuses on creating transformative ideas and outcomes for our clients through an integrated offer of communications, experience, commerce and technology. We’re also committed to maximizing the value of our clients’ marketing dollars through scalable, low-cost executional models.

Our distinct value is our brilliant and diverse people that work at our agencies and our ability to mobilize them to solve our clients’ most important challenges. We are reinventing health at WPP by creating simpler and more powerfully integrated agencies and applying them in more agile ways to build better futures for our clients. 

Donna Murphy, Havas

Answer: The collapse of the ad agency has been predicted as long as I’ve been in the agency business, which is over 30 years. In-housing is one of the latest discussion points. There are certain skills that are valuable to have in house for certain businesses, without question.

What we need to remember is that this discussion is not client vs. agency, but quite the opposite. In-house agencies can often allow for the most suitable skills to be in the most suitable places, allowing each to soar at what they’re best at. In-house services can offer nimble, embedded skills that work very well within the business, but the value of having an external, objective, strategic force at scale will never be lost.

Our job as a strategic partner is to constantly reassess our value, upskill our staff and add talent that can be relied upon to fill gaps that could never exist inside the client’s organization, including data, analytics, mass media, strategy, etc. This is a challenge that excites and motivates us every day. 

Alexandra von Plato, Publicis Health

Answer: The rise of in-house capabilities is a reality that agency businesses have dealt with for a long time. Most of our clients have in-house capabilities that we engage and collaborate with. What we’re seeing is a shift in the quality of the in-house capability rather than the quantity. In that sense, we are more likely to engage with a single SME or a small, high-level in-house client team in the area of rapid change and continuous innovation — media, content, social, mobile, data enablement, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, where efficiencies such as buying power and economies of scale are important, we also see our clients opt for an SME or small, highly qualified team — media buying, production, analytics, etc.

Ultimately, successful client-agency partnerships are determined by the speed at which we can collaborate to bring innovative ideas and work to market. The role of a winning agency is to lead clients and push them outside of their usual comfort zones, while continuing to consult with them to help accelerate their in-house roadmaps.

In many cases, agencies are the glue that holds together different client-side teams. Bringing capabilities in-house requires a significant amount of change management, despite any potential upsides to that kind of approach. How successful a client can be at managing change will shed light on how quickly and successfully in-house services can be executed.

Ed Wise, Omnicom

Answer: We’re happy to partner with clients to support any of these initiatives, and we believe that support will continue to be necessary. Our world is evolving constantly and needs new talent specialists — and diversity of talent — to ideate, experiment, dig through data, play with channels, experiment with content, dive deep into complex science and deeply understand human engagement in order to create a competitive edge for brands. For now, agencies are in a unique position to provide a cultural hive for talent, and we work hard to make our agencies best-in-class magnets for talent.

When it comes to media in particular, there is huge scale value to what we do. Our ability to leverage our media volume and data is a powerful differentiator. Client organizations may also have limited purview to industry cost benchmarks, and they can’t look at anonymized historical media performance data across hundreds of brands with similar business challenges to understand and predict outcomes.

We believe in interoperability and not owning or getting constrained by “walled gardens.” Like us, clients really need the freedom to be able to pivot when technology changes, rather than being locked into stacks that become outdated or irrelevant.

Helene Yan, IPG

Answer: Within pharma, the in-house creative agencies have been around for a long time, but the pendulum can swing back: In some cases, work that went in-house is now being outsourced again. In-housing is not a new trend, but what we are seeing more of is the decoupling of production from creative strategy and ideation. We’re prepared in two ways: First, we enhanced our strategic consulting, marketing analytics and technology practice areas with new capabilities such as with Acxiom, Solve(d), FCB’s Next, McCann Health’s consulting group and Hill Holliday Health’s brand consulting. Second, we provide end-to-end solutions via our production offerings at Studio Rx and Craft Health.

Q3. Talent acquisition and retention is a perennial challenge for all agencies. What is/are the biggest reason(s) the industry continues to grapple with finding and keeping the right people: demographics, competition from new players, inadequate steps to grow the talent pool, etc.? And what would you tell a 25-year-old contemplating a marketing or advertising job in the healthcare space?

Mike Hudnall, WPP

Answer: Talent is the single most important resource you have at your agency. And creating a great culture is the most important thing to attract and retain the brilliant and diverse people at WPP. Providing meaning and purpose, opportunities for personal and professional development and a positive employee experience are not “perks” — they are our starting point. At a time when it’s easier than ever to find a new opportunity, creating and maintaining a great culture beats strategy any day and should be a business imperative if it isn’t already.

What I would tell any 25-year-old is that there’s never been a more exciting time to work in health marketing and advertising at WPP. We’re bringing data, strategy, research and creativity together as a disruptive force with a global impact in health, and we get to work with clients who do an enormous amount of good in the world. Come join us.

Donna Murphy, Havas

Answer: All businesses are in the war for great talent right now. Creatives, strategists, project managers, content creators, data analysts and other skills have more options than they used to have. Much like in the new media environment, it’s the content that matters. We have to create programs that keep talent excited, we have to build offices where they want to live, we have to take a very active role in attracting the kind of staff that we’re after and then focus on retention with our current talent.

Havas has numbers of ways that we do this – leadership programs, exchanges to other global offices, intern engagement programs – and we work hard to create collaboration and foster diversity and inclusion. Our talent strategy is constantly top of mind.

I would tell a 25-year-old that the health and wellness marketing space right now will be brilliant for you if you’re excited by change, ready to innovate to make impact and you like fast-moving environments that face new challenges every day.

Alexandra von Plato, Publicis Health

Answer: The arms race for finding and keeping the best talent has long been and always will be one of the primary drivers that keep marketing leaders awake at night. Nurturing a robust talent pipeline continues to be mission-critical for me and for Publicis Health. Fortunately, as healthcare marketers we have the advantage of attracting exceptional young talent because many young people aren’t simply looking for jobs, they are seeking careers with purpose.

As an industry, healthcare is appealing and inspiring for a lot of people, whether they are at the beginning, middle or end of their careers. One of the challenges of retention is that young employees often don’t know where they will be living in the next two years, let alone the job they’ll have or the company they’ll be working for.

Being static and unwilling to invite more young people into building the future of the company and giving them a sense of ownership early on is the reason many companies grapple with keeping young talent. Great employees want to participate, to be heard, to make a difference, then to be rewarded. They do not want to be on a “job track.”

I would tell any 25-year-old that she can really make a difference working in healthcare communications — simply listen to the stories of the patients and doctors who have benefited from our work and you’d know healthcare marketing was the right career choice.

Ed Wise, Omnicom

Answer: We would advise that 25-year-old that there has never been a better time to join our business. Today, the challenges in talent acquisition and retention are largely tied to the incredible opportunity for new talent within our industry. We have seen a surge in growth from our clients, specifically in the oncology and specialty/rare disease spaces. So not only is the work more rewarding and meaningful, the opportunities are boundless.

As industry leaders we feel it is not only necessary, but also our obligation to bring new talent into the business and to give them the experience, learning and development to launch successful careers. We have doubled down on training and development through our world-class Omnicom Health Group University. And we are determined to retain these individuals by opening opportunities across agencies. In 2018, over 100 of our people moved between agencies as a way to find new opportunity within our network.

Helene Yan, IPG

Answer: Our people are our most important asset, no question, and we constantly look at ways to make sure our people know that we value them. It’s also one of the reasons we invest behind our agency brands, unlike others in our space. Creative people want to develop their careers with strong creative agencies, not a holding company. Over the last two years, McCann Health, Weber Shandwick, FCB Health and Virgo Health have all been named Best Places to Work by both trade publications and mainstream media. IPG helps with creating an inclusive culture, which is why LinkedIn named IPG the top company to work for in our sector and The Human Rights Campaign named IPG a best place to work for LGBT equality.

At the same time, we know our biggest challenge is competition from the technology industry. But if you work at a big tech platform, you work on one brand. For someone who is contemplating a healthcare marketing job, our opportunity is incredibly rewarding: In a career with us, you bring together so many diverse skills, from creative to analytics and technology, across a variety of brands and products, all to increase the world’s understanding of, and access to, medicines that save lives.