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Founded in 1983, WE Communications has become one of the world’s biggest, and most successful, independent PR firms, and from its technology roots has in recent years developed equal strengths in healthcare and corporate work across its fast-growing EMEA operation, with a growing focus on purposeful brands that change the world for the better. Across all its work, WE strives to tell powerful stories that move people to positive action. The past two years have really played to WE’s strengths, leading to impressive growth across the EMEA region in 2021. The agency launched a scientific engagement and medical education offering, led from London, in response to the rapid rise in pharmaceutical stakeholder engagement, and expanded its brand and reputation work in EMEA, hiring Kemi Akindele from Freuds to lead the offer.
In EMEA, the agency has offices in London, Frankfurt, Munich and Johannesburg. Headquartered in Seattle, WE has six other US offices and a substantial Asia-Pacific footprint across Australia, India, China and Singapore.
It was a huge year for WE in EMEA, where income rose 57.4%, compared to 15.8% globally. During 2021, the UK business grew by 55% to $8.7 million (40% of which is now from healthcare), Germany was up by 75% to $6.1m and and the tough South African market grew by 17.6% to $1.5 million. The agency now has a team of 105 across EMEA. There were 20 multi-market wins in EMEA last year, with new healthcare business including GSK, Biopharma, a world-leading pharmaceutical and healthcare company, and, in Germany, where healthcare now makes up two thirds of the business, Abbvie and vaccine work for BioNtech. WE’s client roster also includes Microsoft, HP, Cap Gemini, Vodafone and Nokia.
WE leaned into the challenges of the second year of the pandemic and has become a more flexible, diverse, creative and faster-growing agency over the past two years. It’s not a ‘cookie cutter’ network, so its approach to looking after its people in each market is different, but is underpinned by the same values, including a completely flexible working policy which allows people to work where they want. The agency further evolved its global WE Care programme, focused on wellbeing, people and planet, which covers everything from mindfulness and meditation, through sleep workshops and financial management, to volunteering days (including allowing time to support local communities, causes and public protests) DE&I initiatives such as an inclusion calendar, unconscious bias training, inclusive hiring, partnerships with universities, recruiters and mentoring schemes. And in South Africa, the team is sponsoring a young underprivileged Black woman through her education. CEO and founder Melissa Waggener Zorkin is still very much at the helm of the agency, supported by a senior EMEA team that includes global COO and international president Kass Sells, UK managing director Ruth Allchurch, Germany general manager Bianca Eichner and South Africa managing director Sarah Gooding.
Over the year, there was much notable work at the intersection of healthcare and tech, including for cochlear implant specialist Med-El and with global client Intel – for which WE looks after 11 countries in EMEA – on its innovative digital voice bank, I Will Always Be Me, which enables people with motor neurone disease record themselves reading a story before they lose the ability to speak, so they can continue to communicate in their own voice. In 2021, WE produced the fifth edition of its annual study, Brands In Motion, including a focus on healthcare, which found that the top three issues for health sector brands are unequal access to healthcare and health services, employee wellbeing and the ongoing mental health crisis, but audiences expect the sector to have the greatest impact on positive change in society.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Evoke Kyne has its origins in two legacy agencies. On one side, 13 years ago former H+K health leader David Kyne set up Kyne with a clear business and social purpose: the belief that communication can improve and save lives. The agency was snapped up by Huntsworth’s Evoke group of healthcare specialist agencies in 2019 and combined with Evoke PR & Influence, previously known as Tonic Life Communications, to create Evoke Kyne. The 100% healthcare agency is inspiring in its dedication to uniting biotech and pharmaceutical companies, non-profits, foundations and other stakeholders to address some of the world’s most pressing public health challenges, breaking down barriers to health and effecting meaningful change: all of which put it in prime position as the pandemic hit. Over the past year – given that science is having a bit of a moment – the agency’s sweet spot was blending its storytelling and creative capabilities with its science and medicine expertise; it doubled the size of its creative team and also increased its public health bench.
Headquartered in Dublin, the global team has bases in Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles and London, with key consultants also based in Canada, France and Portugal, as well as budding remote US teams in Washington, DC and Atlanta.
Keeping pace with its strong double-digit revenue over the past five years, in 2021 Evoke Kyne grew revenues by 26% to $38.9 million and expanded its global team from 139 people in 2020 to 175 in 2021, including new senior hires across creative, social strategy and social impact. The agency won more than 10 new clients and saw significant organic growth with long-term clients over the year, including more work for the Pandemic Action Network, which Kyne co-founded in 2020, working with more than 90 partners to advocate for policy changes and increased resources to ensure countries are prepared for future pandemics.
Evoke Kyne ramped up internal programs to support its staff through a changing world of work, including training, volunteering services, mentoring, events and celebrations, and wellness and mental health initiatives. The agency also created a ‘Work Where You Work Best’ model so team members can choose to be fully remote, in an office, or a hybrid of the two, to increase flexibility and equity, while maximizing team productivity and creativity. The program includes monthly stipends to equip employees with the tools they need to thrive, and an online hub with best practices and resources. The agency also further evolved the DE&I initiatives it began in 2018, starting with the appointment of its first head of DE&I and a survey to identify and establish new DE&I priorities, strategies and initiatives. This resulted in the launch of a global, professional development toolkit with a core competency matrix including SMART DE&I goals, trainings, job descriptions across all levels, annual review forms and guidance materials, all developed through a DE&I lens. The agency implemented a European Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic internship program, revamped the recruitment and interview process to help remove bias and barriers. In 2021, around 25% of new employees were from underrepresented groups. In 2021, Evoke Kyne had a 92% retention rate, more than 85% of employees said they were satisfied or highly satisfied in their roles, and 96% feel respected within the company.
Much of Evoke Kyne’s client list and work is confidential, but for the past two years, much of its work has focused on Covid vaccines and treatments – including reaching and educating a broad range of audiences – as well as continuing to work with many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies on campaigns and initiatives covering mental health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, cancer, flu and malaria. Its work with the Pandemic Action Network included the launch of the second #WorldMaskWeek to raise awareness about the importance of continued masking, reaching more than 170 countries and 165 million people.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Having cemented its position as a market leader among healthcare specialists in the US, GCI Health opened its first international office in London in 2013, and has rapidly established itself as one of the leading healthcare specialists in the UK. In 2019, it expanded its footprint through by absorbing German agency Hering Schuppener Healthcare, a unit of the leading German corporate and financial communications specialist. In 2021, it furthered its European presence opening an office in Brussels.
From its headquarters in London, GCI Health’s EMEA operations have expanded, adding offices in Hamburg and Düsseldorf through the Hering Schuppener acquisition, and has also added an office in Brussels to handle EU public affairs needs.
Last year was the seventh consecutive year of double-digit growth for GCI Health in the EMEA region, driven in equal parts by 100% client retention and three new anchor accounts. The firm now has 52 people in the UK, 42 in Germany, and four in Brussels. The client roster includes big names like Astellas, Bayer, Biogen, GSK, Sanofi, Vertex, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Medicago, Mitsubishi Tanabe, and Seagen, while major new business success in 2021 included assignments from Johnson&Johnson, Novo Nordisk and Merck spinoff Organon.
A strong EMEA leadership team includes Kath Harrison, president for Europe and the Middle East; Kim Walker, managing director and head of business operations; Hannah Morris, MD and head of client services; and —new in 2021—head of European policy and public affairs Heike Galbraith (formerly of Pfizer) and executive director and head of specialist offerings Heather Grant, a veteran of dna communications. Another significant addition was Tanya von Ahlefeldt, who joined as head of inclusion, equity, diversity and advocacy as the firm seeks to advance D&I goals internally and provide counsel to clients. The firm also has its own “People Pact,” created in consultation with employees and designed to deliver a consistent global employee experience.
Each of GCI’s European offices brings a different expertise that helps to create a comprehensive healthcare offering for the region: London is a broad-based integrated agency with impressive digital and creative capabilities; Germany has deep scientific expertise; Brussels focuses on policy and public affairs. One of the firm’s first external DE&I assignments came from Vertex, encompassing a “Speak Up” program and an emphasis on the business case for greater diversity. The firm is also shortlisted for two SABRE Awards, one for its “HIV in View” campaign for ViiV Healthcare.
— Paul Holmes
The gap between Golin’s healthcare team and specialist sister agency Virgo Health has become tissue-thin over the past two years since Virgo’s managing director, Ondine Whittington, also became the group MD of Golin London. The collaborative teams – a number of whom work between the two agencies – blend Golin’s creative storytelling nous and Virgo’s regulatory and scientific communications to solve big health challenges through integrated campaigns for pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare and not-for-profit clients. Their work on patient engagement, scientific communications, digital health, market access, brand communications, corporate communications, employee engagement and medical education has put the combined London healthcare team at the epicentre of global healthcare at Golin. Over the past year, IPG sister agency That Lot has also been brought in to work with the team, bringing a new level of social media creativity to traditional pharmaceutical comms.
Virgo Health and Golin are based in London, while Golin has 11 other offices across EMEA: Brussels, Bucharest, Dubai, Hamburg, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris, Riga and Stockholm.
The IPG agencies achieved strong business results in 2021, with combined overall healthcare growth of 35%, 60% of which was organic, while medical education alone grew by 133%. The healthcare teams had a 82% new business win rate over the year, from global pharma accounts to local market consumer work, building their portfolio in diabetes, neuroscience and rare diseases. The work also became much more international, from 75% being UK-only down to 25%. Golin now has 89 people and Virgo Health has doubled headcount over the past three years to 75.
Whittington and her senior team implemented a raft of measures over 2021 to support staff as the world of work evolved, listening and adapting wellbeing initiatives throughout the year depending on what the teams needed. The agencies invested in their first learning and development director, and a recruitment specialist, who found creative ways of attracting young talent for the agencies’ Ignite foundation programme for juniors: 80% of the cohort were promoted in their first year with the firm. Including line manager and mid-level training, the agency delivered more than 900 hours of learning in 2021, 200 of which was part of the Thrive DE&I programme, covering everything from neurodiversity to micro aggressions, disability to inclusive leadership principles. Around 15% of the agency is now ethnically diverse. Other initiatives included Go All Outside – the chance to win two extra days’ holiday and £500, every week for six months, to celebrate lockdown freedom and re-inspire curiosity after too long stuck at home. Virgo saw the highest staff retention rate for the past five years (72%) with 34% of the team promoted and a 33% increase in staff happiness.
Joint work over the year included the Estée Lauder Breast Cancer Campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which aimed to reach Black women, South Asian women and women under the age of 40, who are least likely to check their breasts. The agency team worked with breast cancer ambassadors from these ethnic backgrounds to highlight the importance of self-checking, followed by the biggest-ever live self-check event, which 3,822 women participated in. Notable work from Virgo also included developing scroll-stopping visuals showcasing not only the physical effects psoriatic disease on someone’s skin and joints, but also the emotional impact on their life, coupled with a global survey, a hero animation, social media and an online hub.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Last year, healthcare specialist W2O has rebranded as Real Chemistry to reflect its expanded capabilities as a “global health innovation company” after rapid growth and a string of acquisitions. As well as the healthcare marketing and communications firm Jim Weiss founded 20 years ago, the operation now includes multiple businesses acquired in recent years, with the support (since 2016) of a private investment fund and the goal of making the agency a leader in data and analytics and creative services. Essentially, the combined business is now a home for health experts to collaborate and innovate through data, proprietary technology and creativity. The agency offers integrated communications, data and analytics, medical education, marketing, tech development, clinical trial development, advertising, social and creative. The agency plans to add other services including policy and advocacy, performance marketing and market access.
The agency has had an office in London since 2010 and opened in Zurich in 2017. More recently it opened an office in Brussels to focus on health policy issues and another in Munich
The fact that Real Chemistry has built itself into one of the world’s 10 largest public relations firms in just a little over two decades is unprecedented. While acquisitions made a significant contribution to that growth, organic growth was better than 30% last year as the firm reached $475 million globally. Real Chemistry’s UK operations have grown rapidly over the past couple of years, beginning with the acquisition of ISO Health in 2019, driving a 37.5% increase in fee income last year, so that EMEA now generates more than £28.5 million. The growth last year came from clients such as AstraZeneca, Ipsen, Novartis, Sanofi, Incyte, Takeda, The Jo Cox Foundation (named for a British MP murdered in 2016 and dedicated to more civil public discourse), and the Vaccine Confidence Project.
Globally, the biggest news on the people front was the elevation of founder Jim Weiss to the chairman role and the appointment of management consulting veteran Shankar Narayanan as CEO—a clear signal about the future of the firm. In London, meanwhile, EMEA president Annalise Coady has been deepening the firm’s capabilities with new hires like Chris Bailey, MD of public affairs; executive planning director Charlotte Stone; MD of advocacy Abi Drabble; clinical solutions practice lead Alex Charge; and head of business development Bronwen Andrews. The firm also launched its DE&I strategy last year, delivering 900 hours of DE&I training across the region and leading to a 15% increase in diverse talent.
It’s not every public relations agency that has won a Health Lion (through its ad agency unit 21 Grams) and been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, but those two honors demonstrate how different Real Chemistry is from its peer set. Its ability to blend creativity and science (including data science) is the foundation of its thought leadership. As for the work, interesting assignments in 2021 ranged from supporting UCB as the company evolved its corporate brand to reflect its focus on high-need patients and severe conditions to helping Novo Nordisk introduce an over-the-counter medication, Gina, to forming a strategic partnership with the Vaccine Confidence Partnership to overcome disinformation and vaccine hesitancy.
— Paul Holmes
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