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Inside the biggest health agency you’ve probably never heard of

Compared to their industry peers, healthcare agencies often find themselves far from the spotlight. The last year has changed that. And as pharmaceutical advertisers find themselves responsible for rekindling optimism worldwide, the role of their agencies has been put under the microscope. Can the sector take advantage of the spotlight?

Public health comms, pharmaceutical advertising and medical branding have never had such a rapt audience – or such intense scrutiny – as they have had during the pandemic.

And while the rest of the industry has suffered through the past 12 months, health agencies have had a very different year in business.

At Canadian agency Klick Health, chief executive officer Lori Grant says its work ”couldn’t be more important” in the year of coronavirus. ”We’re very fortunate and very honored to be at the epicenter of helping many clients battle and get to the other side of Covid,” she says. The agency can claim to be the biggest independent agency in the health sector and competes with network rivals including Publicis Health and WPP Health to ply its trade.

Grant and the rest of the agency’s leadership believe that with an unprecedented spotlight on the medical comms sector, now is the time to prove the depth of its capabilities and expand.

Klick’s staff shifted to working from home back in March 2020, in advance of much of the rest of the industry.

”We moved to work from home before any other company did,” says Grant. ”Our teams pivoted to help clients also adapt and be resilient. While our team was already highly attuned to working anywhere and everywhere, a lot of our clients were not necessarily in the same boat, so we’re really proud of how we ensured that we could help our clients do that same thing with different solutions and advice.”

The agency, co-founded 24 years ago by Leerom Segal, has enjoyed double-digit growth every year it has been trading. But not only is business booming, Klick itself is opening a new chapter within the organization as long-time managing directors Ari Schaefer and Greg Rice step up to become co-presidents.

Segal tells The Drum that the firm’s ’hacker mindset’ and a people-first culture has made it stand out in the life sciences sector. ”One of the things that always really set us apart is this ability to get energized. Nothing gives us more pleasure than cracking our knuckles and taking things apart, critically thinking and challenging conventions.

”What we learned in our previous life before starting Klick was that really great people in the wrong structure can arrive at some pretty bad decisions. So when we set out to start this journey 24 years ago, the question was the same: how do you build a center of gravity for brilliant people? We set out to prove that there is a better and smarter way to organize people toward creative and strategic output.”

Segal’s mantra is ”happy people make for happy clients” and it is backed up by newly installed co-presidents Rice and Schaefer, who have both been at the agency for more than a decade. ”We both started when the company was less than 200 people,” says Rice. ”In the ad business, it really starts and stops with talent and we’ve seen so much tremendous talent come and join Klick.”

Rice and Schaefer's promotion – announced last week – comes as the firm launches a new intelligence practice, Klick Intelligence, alongside an expansion of its dedicated scientific innovation practice through Klick Applied Sciences and Klick Labs. Over the past six months, the firm has made hundreds of new hires and, according to Grant, the company already has the largest medical team in the industry.

The expansion will enable Klick to capitalize on major trends in the health and life sciences sector, such as bespoke healthcare. ”What’s really interesting in healthcare today is that there’s a greater trend towards personalized medicine – in bringing therapies such as gene therapies specific to each individual to life,” says Grant. ”We do everything from helping clients with their key messaging, helping them to find patients, all the way through to bringing all of those solutions to life.”

Klick’s bread and butter is its work as a commercialization partner for pharmaceutical, biotech, life sciences, health insurance and hospital companies. ”It’s all in service of bringing great products and solutions to patients and ensuring that they need them or ensuring that they get what they need,” Grant explains.

The pandemic, though, has seen a greater emphasis on its policy and advocacy services, and on work boosting public confidence in vaccines. It has worked with teams at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital to launch a community symptom tracker – Covid Near You – across North America, and with Italic Press to provide bespoke intubation boxes (seen main image) to boost PPE efforts for physicians in the Greater Toronto Area and the northeastern US.

For Grant, the past year has been one of opportunity. ”It has also been one of tremendous pride. It’s almost as if for the last 23 years we’ve been conditioning for a year like 2020.”

Taking the long view and a people-first approach led to another innovation at the end of the year. Its annual celebration – a gathering that brings together the entire company in a town hall with its partners for a 3,000 person party – went online this year.

The celebration, hosted within a bespoke virtual environment, began all the way back in March, says Segal, and culminated with the announcement of Schaefer and Rice’s co-presidency. ”The virtual town hall was to celebrate everything we’ve been able to achieve this year as an organization, despite the pandemic, in support of the pandemic.

”The reaction to Ari and Greg’s announcement, thousands of positive comments and congratulations... it was one of the best and most touching professional experiences of our lives.”

Check out The Drum’s special Health hub, which examines how the key players – from health agencies to pharma firms to brands – are doing their part to return the world to normality.