McCann Health has filled its long-vacant and much coveted role of president, North America by hiring Jim Joseph away from Burson Cohn & Wolfe. Joseph, formerly BCW’s global president, will be charged with oversight of all advertising and promotion agencies in the U.S. and Canada.
The addition was long in the making, given that the firm’s previous Americas head, Amar Urhekar, left McCann Health last October. At the same time, with highly regarded global chief operating officer Linda Szyper occupying the role on an interim basis, the agency had the luxury of time.
That, according to global CEO John Cahill, proved invaluable. “When we started looking, it was more about the kind of skill set that would broaden our leadership – someone who obviously had healthcare experience but also experience in other sectors,” he explained. “We steered a little away from digital, as we already had a program in place. PR and corporate communications started to look very interesting to us.”
Joseph, who served as managing director at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness prior to his BCW tenure and has led cardio, HIV and oncology campaigns, certainly checks those boxes. His reputation as a culture-attuned leader didn’t hurt his case, either.
“Jim is a clear-headed, hand-on-the-tiller type of leader. He builds great teams and consensus,” Cahill added.
Even amid the pandemic, the stars aligned neatly for Joseph’s arrival. Over the last two years, he had played a leading role in the merger of Cohn & Wolfe and Burson Marsteller. “Bringing teams and cultures together to create a new company and culture and go-to-market plan was a huge challenge, and so rewarding,” he recalled.
But with BCW over the merger hump, Joseph was open to new opportunities. “I was not actively looking, but I did feel like it would be okay for me to leave,” he said. “People were in good shape. A year prior, no way. I wouldn’t have left halfway through.”
In effect, he’s trading one good situation for another. According to MM&M estimates, McCann Health generated $227.5 million in North American revenue during 2019, up nearly 10% from the firm’s 2018 take of an estimated $207.5 million. It counts a majority of the top 10 pharma companies as clients, including GlaxoSmithKline, Gilead Sciences, AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer and Eli Lilly.
As it is for leaders of organizations of all sizes and stripes, Joseph’s first major COVID-era challenge at McCann Health is a cultural one. While Cahill noted that “we’ve pivoted very well into remote working structurally and operationally,” he questioned whether the status quo will hold indefinitely.
“I wonder how long a virtual or remote setting can last unless we reinvent some factors that are on the humanity side of who we are as an agency,” he explained. “I believe that agencies are habitats where people come to grow their futures, and it’s important that the habitat provides what they need in terms of stimulus, learning, advancement and compensation. We need to keep our eye on that.”
To hear Joseph tell it, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I take seriously that getting people in a comfortable space, literally and mentally, is going to be a big part of my job,” he said. “If folks are happy and comfortable and safe and feel like they can be themselves, they’re going to do good work. That would have been a huge priority for me anyway, but it’s even more of one now.”
McCann Health’s North American agency network includes Consulting at McCann Health, McCann Health Managed Markets, McCann Health Canada, McCann Health Echo, McCann Health New Jersey and McCann Health New York.
Joseph will not be replaced as BCW’s global president of brand solutions, according to a BCW spokesperson.