Syneos Health has hired well-regarded agency vet Andrew Schirmer to run GSW New York, one of the network’s flagship brands. Schirmer, previously co-president of Ogilvy Health, brings both creative chops and network experience to the role.
He inherits oversight of GSW NY from president, advertising, Syneos Health North America JD Cassidy, who had increasingly found himself stretched to balance agency leadership with his broader network responsibilities.
On one hand, Schirmer arrives with something of an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy. “This is an agency that’s doing just fine,” he stresses. “It’s not an agency in decline or an agency that hasn’t untapped its potential.”
At the same time, he has been assigned an ambitious task, even for a New York firm with 40 years of legacy and a hugely supportive network infrastructure behind it. “The brief I have is, literally, ‘Let’s get the New York agency twice as big,’” Schirmer said.
While he understands that it won’t happen overnight, Schirmer believes GSW NY is well positioned to get there – and more quickly than one might expect. “This is an anchor brand of a great company. You look at Syneos and you see research, development, deployment services, sales force optimization, consulting and more. We’re connected to so many players on the client side,” he said.
Schirmer is thankful for his time at Ogilvy, even after new network leadership eliminated his role and consolidated the health practice last October. “They made it clear that they appreciated what we did, which was move Ogilvy CommonHealth from a JV construct to something that was fully integrated in the larger global practice,” he said.
Following his departure, Schirmer wasn’t sure he’d return to the agency realm. He looked at a handful of health-oriented startups and even at the electric bicycle industry (Schirmer is a longtime cyclist who considers a three-hour ride a good warm-up). But when Syneos Health leader Tim Pantello reached out to him, Schirmer sensed a natural fit and an immediate kinship.
“It’s a different model and construct from the other big global networks,” he explained. “They’re predominantly in the advertising space, with healthcare as a category in the mix. Here, you have almost 25,000 people entirely focused in the health and wellness arena; the entire workforce is skilled and pedigreed in health. It’s the perfect place for me.”
As for his arrival during the waning months of the pandemic, Schirmer is of two minds. He misses “walking the halls” and looks forward to the day when he’ll meet the bulk of his colleagues in person. But unlike many others who have assumed new (and big) roles during the last 14 months, he noted that “I’m not finding it hard to start to build relationships with people.”
To that point, Schirmer has cleared half-hour chunks of his schedule and asked his assistant to randomly choose staffers for informal one-on-one meetings. “My intention is to meet everyone in the agency,” he said. “From every single person, I learn a little bit more… I want to make sure everyone feels they have an open pathway to me.”
That human touch should go a long way toward distinguishing GSW NY from its geographic rivals. “My mandate is that we need to be very hard on the work – but that doesn’t mean we need to be very hard on our people,” Schirmer stressed.
As for that goal of doubling in size, Schirmer sees multiple ways to achieve it. He believes GSW NY can unearth more collaboration opportunities within the broader Syneos network, pointing to medcomms specialist firm Cadent as a natural partner. He also thinks the agency can pursue “smart growth” without overextending itself.
“A lot of companies have this idea that any opportunity is an opportunity to run after,” he explained. “We’ll be smart in terms of what we devote our energy toward. We’ll make good bets.”
Not surprisingly, Schirmer expects that GSW NY’s personnel will lead the charge. “The talent we have now and the talent we will have soon – we’re going to sneak up on some people.”