WPP’s Grey sees a future in healthcare marketing that isn’t specifically limited to clients, or agencies, focused on that sector.
Last month, CEO Michael Houston announced the launch of a new Grey Health & Wellness practice designed to unify all of the network’s related capabilities. Its ultimate goal, according to Houston’s internal memo, is to both consolidate work on major pharmaceutical and OTC clients and to “help brands that currently do not have an obvious path into the health and wellness space devise strategies to leverage this important cultural driver and turn it into a growth opportunity for their businesses.”
Jason Kahner, who serves as global managing director of the GlaxoSmithKline business, will lead the new practice as president across both Grey and Tank, the Canadian healthcare-focused shop it acquired in 2016.
“What we are doing now is not creating an agency within an agency,” Kahner told Adweek. “This is truly a practice: There are no walls.”
The hope is that Grey can transcend advertising’s history of parallel standalone healthcare agencies by drawing on all of its creative assets. Regarding the traditional way of doing things, Kahner said that “expertise became a discipline, which became a silo, which became an artificial subcategory of our industry.”
According to Houston’s memo, the WPP network is “breaking the mold” while also clearing up the confusion caused by organizations like Grey Healthcare Group, which was separated from the larger network following its 2004 acquisition by WPP and placed under WPP Health but now counts itself as a part of Wunderman.
Here’s how a recent sponsored tweet from a staffing service characterized the change.
So how will the new practice work—and how does Grey believe it will benefit both agency and clients?
“Health and wellness is no longer a distinct, separate part of life,” said Kahner. “It’s not about taking a pill and forgetting about it until the next ailment arrives.” In other words, nearly all brands now see the potential to leverage trends in the “global health and wellness economy [that] accounts for $4.2 billion in spending each year,” as Houston wrote in his memo.
Kahner added that the current “explosion” in that economy includes such disparate trends as “beauty, wellness tourism, wellness real estate, the spa economy, healthy eating and nutrition.” He cited brands that provide spa getaways and companies that organize events to help employees escape “being chained to their mobile devices and allow them to be human again.” He also mentioned a planned living community in Florida centered around smart homes and even suggested that a brand like Delta Airlines might soon launch “wellness flights with more humidity, so you can handle jet lag better.”
At the same time, three of Grey’s largest global clients, GSK, Pfizer and Eli Lilly and Company, fall squarely into the healthcare category. And Kahner said the agency will continue retaining “highly specialized talent to work on medical products.”
As an example of the sort of work to expect from this new practice, Grey presented recent campaigns for Gillette and Fitbit, which are not the sort of clients one would expect to be represented by a “traditional” healthcare agency.
“When we get invited into healthcare RFPs, we’re hearing more than ever that they are searching for agencies with this broader purview,” Kahner said, noting that Grey has received more such invitations since Wunderman absorbed Grey Healthcare Group and eliminated confusion among potential clients.
An agency spokesperson said Grey has already won one such review which involved a product developed by two of its largest healthcare clients. As to whether this approach will ultimately deliver as planned for the agency, only time—and health-conscious consumers—will tell.