When COVID-19 hit, BBDO Health’s planned shoot with tennis legend Serena Williams, for AbbVie’s migraine medicine Ubrelvy, seemed likely to be relegated to the scrap heap. But the agency’s quick pivot — which involved extensive precautions and a switch to a skeleton crew — evinced an agility that came to define the company’s overall approach in a year unlike any other.
The solution: to direct the shoot via Zoom and pull together all other components from afar. “We surprised ourselves at how we’re able to bounce back and keep the quality high,” says SVP, senior creative director, BBDO New York Joyce Pedretti.
The ability to roll with any and all punches are central to BBDO Health’s focus on problem-solving, notes EVP, senior director, BBDO New York Joanna Ruiz.
“We like solving complex problems — and healthcare especially is filled with complex problems,” she says. “We have a group of people here who are good at being deductive thinkers and taking the complex and simplifying it for patients and for consumers.”
BBDO Health saw its revenue nudge upward in 2020, from $33.5 million in 2019 to an MM+M-estimated $34 million. The firm added assignments from Gilead (on a treatment for a rare form of bone marrow disorders known as myelodysplastic syndromes), Calithera Biosciences, Allergan (on glaucoma drug Durysta and Botox Cosmetic), CSL Behring (on its CSL Plasma collection centers), Takeda (around Celiac disease) and AstraZeneca (on non-small cell lung cancer drug Tagrisso). The firm’s work on Takeda’s ulcerative colitis/Crohn’s disease drug Entyvio ended in the wake of client-side turnover.
Head count at BBDO Health increased from 50 at the end of 2019 to 60 a year later, with SVP, senior director, BBDO Worldwide Joel Beckerman arriving in November from Havas Health & You. The company also retired its former HealthWork name and branding, and leaned in on its connection to the BBDO mothership.
Other changes the agency implemented during the pandemic, from revamped shoots with a minimal crew presence to virtual community-building with new team members, are likely here to stay, Ruiz says, at least for a little while.
“This return to ‘normal’ is really not happening anytime soon, and I do think we need to keep a close eye on these variants and figure out the path forward,” Ruiz notes. “This isn’t about going back to the way things were, but I think we’re going to need to continue to work in a nimble way.”
The creative thinkers on the BBDO Health team are nonetheless looking forward to the day when they can return to in-person brainstorming sessions — and to what Pedretti characterizes as the magic of “hands-on workshopping” and tangible creativity.
BBDO New York SVP, group strategy director Mahima Santhanam adds, “There’s nothing that can be substituted for that hand-in-hand co-creation you get from in-person. We’ve done so much to pivot, but reinfusing that element of in-person creativity will help us bring our work to that next level.”
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The idea I wish I had…
In a year when global health issues were front and center, #wombstories still stood out. It involved untold stories about women’s health and bodies, including their pain, pleasure, torture and triumph. It was different because it was so grounded in truth and also supported by breathtaking animation. It was brilliant, raw, taboo-busting. — Joanna Ruiz
From the June 01, 2021 Issue of MM+M – Medical Marketing and Media