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The world’s second largest public relations agency, Weber Shandwick has been a force across EMEA since its formation 22 years ago, with healthcare becoming an increasingly important part of the business. In 2022, after a couple of fatiguing couple of years of pandemic focus, the EMEA health practice – led by Rachael Pay – was reinvigorated with senior strategic hires and increased integration and collaboration across The Weber Shandwick Collective agencies, as well as developing centres of health excellence in several markets: corporate health in Geneva, digital innovation in London, creative in Paris, and healthcare professional communications in Frankfurt. The practice also introduced a new focus on health equity and those who are underserved and underrepresented. The evolution of the healthcare team in the region is a reflection of the influence and leadership of new EMEA chief executive Michael Frohlich, who has bought a sense of cohesion, connection and collaboration to the wider agency, setting out a five-year plan for the business and driving forward a new proposition focusing on the power of earned communications to shape society and solve some of its grittiest problems – including public health crises – by working at the intersections of business, culture, media and policy, all underpinned with data.
Weber Shandwick has teams of healthcare communications professionals across the EMEA region, including in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, and the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENAT).
Weber Shandwick’s health practice across EMEA – with a team of around 300 people – had single-digit growth in 2022 with strong margins, retaining 100% of its top 20 health clients across the region. The agency introduced a ‘fewer, bigger, better’ approach to new business, which increased overall win value by 5% and led to 70% pitch conversation, including new briefs from Novartis Oncology, Abbott and Sanofi Olympics. There were also deeper partnerships across shared Weber Shandwick Collective clients such as Novartis, and the agency laid the groundwork for a new women’s health proposition for 2023.
Senior health hires included Kristen Dimmock as health of health strategy for the UK and EMEA, James Wetmore as head of health in Switzerland, Yvonne Moeller as head of international health in Germany, and Esin Cittone as executive creative director for health in London, as well as expanded roles for other leaders across the region. With new values in place – impact, curiosity, inclusion and courage – Weber Shandwick refreshed its approach to talent and its employee value proposition across EMEA in 2022, including a focus on DE&I, with a raft of new inclusive policies, the UK launch of inclusion and sustainability boards, and a region-wide celebration of National Inclusion Week. The agency introduced a new mobility programme, Access All Areas, and a new mental health programme, Open Minds, alongside a three-year partnership with mental health resource This Can Happen. Frohlich also set up an EMEA ‘side board’ allowing younger employees from across the region to bring the issues of the day to the main board.
Weber Shandwick’s healthcare work across the region was again outstanding, with a SABRE shortlisting for the ‘Last Mile’ campaign for the International Red Cross, on getting Covid vaccines to people in conflict zones around the world, and the #22WeekWait campaign to improve mental health care in Germany for Deutsche DepressionsLiga. Other notable work included pro bono work in Ukraine for Health Tech Without Borders, and the production of a book for Abbott, ‘The Next Chapter’, featuring women’s stories about menopause around the world. The digital team at Flipside also saw a huge growth in healthcare, pharma, wellness and life sciences work, from digital transformation to behaviour change, and has been ratified with ISO 9001 certification so it can develop and release medical apps and connected devices, such as Elvie’s smart pelvic floor trainer.
— Maja Pawinska Sims
Evoke Kyne has its origins in two legacy healthcare agencies: Kyne was set up 14 years ago by former H+K health leader David Kyne with a single-minded belief in the power of communications can improve and save lives, and was bought by the Evoke group of specialist healthcare agencies in 2019 (itself part of Huntsworth’s Inizio healthcare and life sciences network), combining with Evoke PR & Influence to create Evoke Kyne. Last year, the agency became female-led for the first time as Maureen Byrne was promoted to president as Kyne moved into an Evoke-level role. The 100% healthcare agency is well respected as a leader in global healthcare communications and in its dedication to bringing biotech and pharmaceutical companies, non-profits, foundations and other stakeholders together to address the world’s most pressing public health challenges, breaking down barriers to health and effecting meaningful change in areas from Covid to oncology. The agency, which operates across the healthcare communications spectrum from disease programming to patient advocacy, also expanded its capabilities in investor relations and policy strategy through three more specialty communications agencies joining Evoke: Evoke Incisive Health, Evoke Galliard and Evoke Canale.
Evoke Kyne’s team of nearly 200 communications professionals (more than 40 in Europe) are based out of five geographic hubs: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, London and Dublin. Through its ‘Work Where You Work Best’ policy, the agency has also expanded the team’s footprint, with people now based across Europe and North America.
Keeping pace with its strong double-digit revenue in recent years, in 2022 Evoke Kyne grew European revenue by 20% (11% globally). The agency has always had significant organic growth and again increased its work with some of the world’s biggest pharma companies, with long-term multi-channel briefs. It also carried out a third year of work for the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, and for the National Pandemic Action Network, which David Kyne co-founded in 2020 to advocate for policy changes and increased resources to ensure countries are prepared for future pandemics. The agency also stepped up its new business efforts, leading to a 65% win rate, and a substantial increase in creative storytelling and digital, social and influencer work.
Byrne’s elevation last year came at an inflection point for Evoke Kyne, which – after a couple of disconnected years for the team – refocused on its culture and bringing its people back together through regional in-person events. Under the leadership of its global diversity and inclusion team, the agency’s efforts included monthly webinars and newsletters on key issues around inclusivity, the launch of a mentorship program pairing executives are paired with individuals from underrepresented groups, and leadership participation in an Intercultural Development Inventory workshop series. In its latest annual survey, 91% of employees said Evoke Kyne was committed to DE&I and 89% said people of all cultures and backgrounds are respected. The agency continued to make mental health a priority and encouraged flexible working, as well as providing Calm membership and mental health and resiliency training. The agency also organized its first Community Action Week, partnering with five non-profits across its regions to advance health equity, from distributing meals among in-need LGBTQI+ individuals, to personal advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, to designing creative fundraising campaigns.
Much of Evoke Kyne’s client list and work is confidential, but it continued to reach and educate billions of people across Europe and beyond with innovative storytelling that led to behavioural change on behalf of many of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, foundations and governments. The agency’s impactful campaigns covered a wide range of areas, including health inequity, vaccine access, mental health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, cancer, flu and malaria.
— 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 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. The firm ended the year with just over 100 people across the region.
After seven years of double-digit growth in the region, 2022 saw a slightly slower pace of growth, although 6.7% was still respectable in a region still feeling the after-effects of the pandemic and struggling to deal with Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Half of that growth came from existing clients—a group that includes Astellas, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Biogen, Gilead, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals—while there was new business from some the most respected names in pharma including Ipsen and Abbvie in the UK, Pfizer in Belgium, and Apelis in Germany.
GCI claims to be “Inspired by People,” a mantra that the firm tries to implement through a culture that brings together employees with diverse experiences and perspectives and giving those individuals the respect and space they need to grow and drive the firm forward. It gives employees control over the kind of accounts they work on, how and where they choose to work, and the direction of their professional development. Kath Harrison continues to serve as president, Europe & Middle East, supported by Kim Walker and Hannah Morris, joint managing directors of the UK operation; Heather Grant, executive director, UK and EU and a driver of much of the firm’s public affairs work; and Katharina Tolkmitt, managing partner Germany. New hires last year included Ian West, who returned as finance director after 12 months focused on WPP sister agency BCW; James Barr, media strategist, who previously led the press office at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine through the Covid-19 pandemic; and Laurel Butterfield, senior director, Belgium.
GCI Health is guided by an approach that incorporates the needs and perspectives of every relevant stakeholder from patients, caregivers and healthcare providers to policy makers, journalists and payers, creating campaigns that deliver meaningful and measurable results. The firm has also been developing its digital, design and content offerings under The Content Collaborative banner. Among the highlights when it comes to client work, the firm built on its successful BVDD psoriasis patient campaign "Bitte berühren," representing patients and inviting them to tell their own stories through a magazine-style website. For ViiV Healthcare, meanwhile, the firm handled “HIV in View,” led out of the UK and supported positive action for HIV-affected communities in southern Africa.
— Paul Holmes
Founded a little more than two decades ago as WeissCom, a biotech-focused healthcare specialist, the firm was renamed W2OGroup in 2010, by which time it had established itself as an integrated healthcare communications group with multiple acquisitions spanning advertising, digital, data and analytics and more. Early in 2021, there was another evolution, to Real Chemistry, focusing on “the real chemistry between people and the brands born to change their lives.” The firm established its London office in 2008 and has grown organically and through acquisitions in digital, data and analytics and medical education. Not surprisingly, the growth story has been the dominant narrative around Real Chemistry with the firm’s diversification into non-traditional services also serving to set it apart from the competition. But Real Chemistry continues to be, at its core, a healthcare PR firm—the largest in the world.
While the bulk of Real Chemistry’s European operation is in London, the firm also has an office in Zurich, and an international network that includes offices in the US and Canada.
Real Chemistry’s growth from startup to one of the top 10 public relations agencies in the world over the course of two decades is unprecedented, and its UK success story is almost equally impressoive: It now has more than 250 people in EMEA, and while its final 2022 numbers are not published yet, the first half saw 21% growth. Globally, the firm works with all 30 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, 23 of them in EMEA where existing clients include AstraZeneca, UCB, Novo Nordisk, Astellas, Alexion, Daiichi-Sankyo, Angelini, Dexcom, Incyte, GSK, ISPE, Gilead, Seqirus, Novartis, Galderma, Merck and Pfizer.
The big people news at Real Chemistry last year involved the decision by founder Jim Weiss (he continues as chairman) to step aside from the CEO role and hand the reins over to Shankar Narayanan. In EMEA, meanwhile, the firm’s disruptive and innovative culture extends to its leadership team, a collaboration between the senior people from different disciplines within the firm: Lucie Harper, who leads the firm’s IComms practice (the structured approach to integrating data, digital, earned and paid media as well as corporate, consumer, med ed, and public affairs); Oli Burnham, EVP, client services, medcomms/med ed; Erica Henninger advertising practice leader; Joyce Higgins, managing director, media activation (which includes social media and activation); Eleanor Dickenson, managing director, integrated intelligence; and Christopher Silverwood, international head of media and engagement, as well as managing director of business development Bronwen Andrews. New in 2022 were Baker; senior group director, advocacy, Ayesha Ali; managing director, iComms Meg Morgan; and managing directo, med comms, Carolyn Hodgkin.
The iComms approach is made possible by the unique blend of traditional services (earned media, med ed, public affairs) with unrivalled data and analytics, digital capabilities, paid media expertise and more, further enhance by recent additions such as Starpower, the firm’s influencer arm, which opened in London in 2021, and conversational AI platform Conversation Health, acquired in 2022. With increased integration, there has been a very noticeable improvement in the quality of the firm’s creative work: a UK-based campaign to persuade reporters to cover the once-taboo topic of hormone replacement therapy; paid campaigns like “The Big Sneeze,” a child flu vaccine campaign that featured “sneezing” outdoor and cinema ads; a vast volume of med ed work (42 meetings, broadcasts, webinars and symposia, 22 congress booths); and campaigns in areas such as asthma (breaking over-reliance on inhalers) and MS (focusing on a form of the disease that damages the brain over time).
— Paul Holmes
Virgo Health, which become part of Golin a decade ago, has been one of the more successful PR agency acquisitions of recent years: not only has Virgo launched an impressive US operation to complement its strength in the UK, but it has working increasingly closely with Golin’s own branded healthcare practice to deliver creative solutions for clients—and two years ago it supplied Golin London with its new group managing director Ondine Whittington, whose leadership of both parts of the business led to even closer collaboration. The blend of Golin’s creative storytelling ability and Virgo’s regulatory and scientific communications expertise helped to solve big health challenges through integrated campaigns for pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare and not-for-profit clients. Together, the firms work on patient engagement, scientific communications, digital health, market access, brand communications, corporate communications, employee engagement and medical education.
Virgo is headquartered in London, with an office in New York, while Golin has additional EMEA offices in Brussels, Bucharest, Dubai, Hamburg, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris, Riga, Rome, and Stockholm—as well as an extensive global network.
Virgo grew by a very impressive 34% in the UK last year (on top of 31% growth the year before), while its US business also expanded significantly (from a small base). The firm now has a team of 80. Golin’s own growth in London was up 15%. Client retention was a formidable 92%. And the firm enjoyed strong new business performance too, including new assignments in high-profile areas such as n gene therapy, vaccines, and oncology—as well as SpecSavers, a huge win in the consumer health space.
Some of the most dramatic changes at both Virgo and Golin have been internal and cultural, with the firm adopting a conscious and caring approach to the return-to-office post-pandemic. There are a host of important initiatives: a “smart hybrid” approach that sees many people in the office just once a week; new gender-neutral family-friendly leave policies; expanded diversity and inclusion commitments; assistance with the cost-of-living crisis; and a renewed commitment to giving back: a new effort to encourage students from different socio-economic backgrounds to consider careers in PR, for example. With Whittington now leading the combined operation, Sarah Gordon serves as managing director of Virgo, with Jelena Lee as evp of medical education, Natasha Weeks as evp, consumer health; and Paul Andrews as evp, creative services.
The firm strengthened its strategic offer led by Amanda Moulson, a senior scientific strategist, leading to notably better measurement frameworks; built out its global design and production hub, Credible Creative; and expanded its broadcast media capabilities with the addition of former BBC and ITV journalists. In terms of client work, Virgo launched Moderna’s first-of-a-kind bivalent COVID-19 booster authorization in time for the NHS autumn booster roll-out; used voice assistant technology to deliver digital disease awareness information around CKD anaemia for Astellas; highlighted the “Gender Pain Gap” for Nurofen (a SABRE finalist); and helped Roche innovate its customer experience. The firm also established partnerships with Macmillan Cancer Support and The Royal Marsden Hospital to provide communications support.
— Paul Holmes
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