Pharmaceuticals Healthcare Agencies

IPG hopes to solve gap in healthcare package with European expansion


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

January 5, 2023 | 6 min read

Interpublic Group plans to build up its healthcare ‘accelerator’ business in Europe this year. Executives at the nascent division explain how they plan to cross the Atlantic.

A pot of pills spilled over an orange surface

Solve(d) is expanding into Europe this year, as IPG invests in its healthcare practice / Unsplash

Healthcare has been one of the fastest-expanding business sectors for big agency groups in recent years. Interpublic Group (IPG), the company behind McCann and R/GA, gets a huge chunk of its net revenue from pharmaceutical and healthcare clients – 27% in 2021, more than any other single client category.

To keep growing its slice of that pie, the group is expanding its Solve(d) ‘growth accelerator’ business in the UK, Germany, France and Spain.

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Michael le Brocq, European executive vice-president and managing director of the agency, says the holding company is taking aim at the huge pharmaceutical firms based across the Atlantic.

“That’s where the center of gravity is,” he says. “That’s important for Solve(d) because some of the decisions that need to be made to embrace data-driven marketing and [our] offering need to take place at a very senior level, a C-suite level.”

Slow transformation

Le Brocq, who began his career at Pfizer and Novartis in the 90s, says the industry has been sluggish in adopting modern B2B marketing and sales techniques. But since the pandemic, Solve(d) and IPG’s other agencies have been pushing at an open door with pharma clients.

“It’s been slow to adopt new approaches in marketing and communications. It’s quite a conservative industry; it’s very highly regulated. The nature of what they’re doing – creating prescription medicines – requires a lot of caution in everything they do.”

In the US, Solve(d) has been shepherding clients from a traditional, salesperson-led approach to a digitized, scalable means of marketing to their chief customers. Following its initial success in the States, Le Brocq has established a team of 16, spread across Europe; he expects to fill positions “throughout 2023” as the satellite picks up clients.

“It doesn’t sound very big,” he says, but transferring over American IPG staff wouldn’t have cut it, given the plurality of the European pharmaceutical market.

“All of those countries have different medical congresses, media channels and publishers that we need to interact with. That’s why a lot of consumer agencies that try to make forays into pharmaceutical marketing, that put their toes in, get burned.

“Given what we’re working on, it’s quite a significant investment for us.”

Significant competition

Healthcare is big business for IPG, but it’s not the only holding company with a major interest in the area – and its largest competitors are already well established on the continent. WPP’s VMLY&R Health, Havas Health & You and Publicis Healthcare will each be competing for a similar clientele as Solve(d), while indie operators in the sector have been high-value merger and acquisition targets over the past year.

George Musi, who leads Solve(d) global operations, concedes that the space is “highly competitive, with a unique set of marketing challenges and opportunities” for any newcomer. But Le Brocq says the new launch will be nimble enough to hold its own.

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“What we’ve done essentially with Solve(d) is build a startup inside a holding company,” he explains. His shop can combine the rare subject-matter expertise needed to get in the door and bolt on data, media and adtech expertise from the wider IPG network as required.

“The reality is that are very few agencies that are genuinely delivering this digital transformation to pharmaceutical clients. I could count on the one hand, if I was still working in pharmaceuticals, the agencies that I bring in to support me with that, and I would definitely want one that has got the backup of a major holding company.”

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