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By The Drum, Editorial

November 16, 2023 | 6 min read

In this month’s edition of Convene. Challenge. Change. – an editorial partnership between The Drum and the 4A’s – we explore some of the challenges and opportunities that healthcare brand Haleon has faced since its launch in July 2022, as the world continues to reel from the financial impacts of Covid-19.

The pandemic, as we all know, affected just about every aspect of our modern lives; our world looks much different today than it did this time four years ago.

For many people, the daily commute to work has become a thing of the past; coughing in public without the protective barrier of a closed fist or a crooked elbow has become a serious social faux pas; the Zoom meeting has become a basic fixture of modern life; and so on.

From an economic standpoint, the pandemic was devastating. When a significant chunk of the entire population is stuck inside, spending money on little else aside from the basic necessities, the markets are going to struggle. Even now, well after the World Health Organization has officially declared the pandemic to be over, the global economy is still struggling to recoup from this period of widespread fear and stagnation.

Brands have been forced to adapt to the economic and cultural changes wrought by the pandemic or perish – and there’s certainly been no shortage of business doors that have been shuttered over the past four years. While that adaptive will necessarily look different for every brand, a recent conversation – the latest installment of The Drum’s Convene. Challenge. Change. partnership with the 4A’s – between healthcare company Haleon’s head of marketing Meredith Herman and media agency Zenith Media’s president of global solutions Stephen Farquhar suggests some potentially strong starting points.

Haleon was established in July of last year when it demerged from pharmaceutical giant GSK. The young company owns a litany of healthcare brands with household names, including Sensodyne, Theraflu and Centrum. Herman says that Haleon’s extensive brand portfolio, chock-full of familiar names, was an asset during the brand’s early days (which, even though they came after the worst of the lockdowns, were still filled with an ample amount of anxiety about Covid).

“We’re really based on brands you trust,” she says. “And during Covid, people were going back to those trusted brands, especially in the healthcare space.”

The fact is that a global pandemic was, in many respects, a commercial opportunity for some brands, including Haleon. But Herman says the brand made an effort during this period of societal turmoil to deepen its commitment to one of its core values – in her words: “to deliver better everyday health, with humanity.” To that end, the brand launched a Theraflu campaign called ‘The Right to Rest and recovery,’ which established a fund to compensate workers for wages lost during unpaid sick days.

Finding opportunity in hardship

Both during and after the pandemic, many of us have taken to discussing silver linings from the pandemic – lights glimpsed in the darkness which help to give meaning to a time of profound confusion and suffering.

For Farquhar, one of the silver linings of the last few years of economic instability has been a mindset shift and an optimization of operations that’s been forced upon many brands. “Economic hardship does force progress,” he says. “You have to think about things in a smarter way, you have to reprioritize, you have to focus on what audiences matter most, what budgets matter most … it almost begets innovation in a way.”

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Both Herman and Farquhar agree that while times of economic hardship might present certain opportunities for brands to become, in Farquhar’s words, “leaner and smarter,” the ability to realize those opportunities hinges largely on a synergistically healthy partnership between the brand and its marketing agency. When pontificating about the defining qualities of such a partnership, they almost sound like they’re describing a marriage. Herman says that “holding each other accountable” is key, as is transparent communication and “quality time.” (An analogy to marriage was explicitly invoked during last month’s Convene. Challenge. Change. conversation.)

And as in any marriage, Farquhar says that times haven’t always been easy, but Haleon and Zenith have continued to grow and improve together. (Zenith partnered with GSK for four years prior to the launch of Haleon.) “We’ve had loads of bumps,” he says, “and I think the [important] thing is how you resolve those things and how you use them to build, as opposed to ending the relationship quite quickly.”

Watch the full conversation in the video above.

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4A’s Brand Strategy Haleon

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