Healthcare is a beacon for agencies in the pandemic

The world is redefining its relationship with healthcare, and agencies are riding the wave.

To say that health is top of mind for all of us is an understatement.

Our physical health is still threatened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while our mental health continues to suffer from isolation, lack of stimulation and work-school-life-from-home burnout. Working mothers in particular are feeling that last burden.

At the same time, the almost $4 trillion healthcare industry is transforming, giving patients more control and convenience over their health as the patient experience moves online.

New companies and solutions are cropping up to create the tools that will support this evolution. As they grow, they need help reaching their customers, growing awareness and creating digital, easy to use consumer-facing experiences for a new generation of patients.

All of that activity has led healthcare to become a bright spot for advertising and marketing agencies of all kinds during a dark time.

Over the past year, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis, Havas and WPP have called out healthcare clients and speciality businesses as a bright spot in their dark financials during the pandemic, particularly in North America.

In addition to good performance at long standing healthcare agencies within their networks, new agencies have invested in bolstered healthcare practices or divisions as the industry evolves.

R/GA, for example, stood up a healthcare practice early this year to accommodate a “new wave of health and therapeutics brands” in the med tech and digital therapy space, said Jacqueline Lovelock, who joined the agency in January to lead the new healthcare practice.

“There is an increase in transparency and consumerism in how people are interacting with health,” she said.

In addition to working with clients, R/GA’s healthcare practice is working with its venture arm to identify interesting startups in the med tech and digital therapies space — the latter poised to become a $56 billion market by 2025, Lovelock said.

One client is an app called Cove, for example, that’s fully dedicated to helping patients manage migraine conditions from end to end. Another client makes health data more transparent to patients using blockchain.

“We’re asking a physician to prescribe something differently, as well as a patient to incorporate that technology into their lives,” Lovelock said. “That requires experience management and behavioral support. How do we bring communications skills to that category?”

But it’s not just the digital disruption of healthcare that creates an opportunity for agencies. An increasing focus on racial justice over the past year has led to a massive push around health equity, creating new opportunities to target creative and messaging to underserved audiences.

It’s also led to a boom in inclusive healthcare platforms focused on these groups, from women’s health, to LGBTQ + health, to Black men’s health, said Fielding Jamieson, strategy director at R/GA ventures.

While healthcare becomes an increasingly interesting area for digital agencies, legacy healthcare networks still have their work cut out for them.

In addition to the regular flow of new drugs launching and ongoing research and development, messaging around the COVID-19 vaccine is not just a huge financial opportunity, but also a national imperative. And there’s no shortage of work to do around supporting an equitable vaccine rollout.

The U.S. healthcare industry has been in desperate need of change for a long time. But the pandemic has opened our eyes to just how ripe the system is for evolution — in both its policies, but also its experience, its approach to equity and its communications.

Smart agencies are getting in front of these systemic changes and riding the wave to what will hopefully be a better healthcare system for everyone.

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