by MJ ONeill
August 29th, 2017

This is an abridged version of a larger feature from Campaign Asia‘s Robert Sawatzky. 

After growing revenues at a double-digit or mid-to-high single-digit clip globally for several years now, it’s getting progressively harder for Weber Shandwick to keep up those rates.

The outlook still looks good, particularly in Europe and Asia, CEO Andy Polansky told Campaign at a meeting earlier this summer in Cannes, but it’s not as robust as recent years.

Weber is hoping to make up for slower business in regions like the US and Latin America by stepping up opportunities in Asia. But no single market holds the key to Asian expansion. The opportunity that gets Polansky most excited is sectoral.

“I think we have an opportunity to really grow our healthcare business over the next couple of years… across the Asia-Pacific region,” said Polansky. “That’s a high priority for Weber Shandwick.”

At Cannes this year, Weber took home its second Lion (again a bronze) in as many years for GSK Consumer Healthcare in the health and wellness category for the painkiller Excedrin. Weber also took home two silver Lions in the glass and PR categories for its “Brutal Cut” campaign with ActionAid raising awareness about the stark health risks and dangers around female genital mutilation in Kenya.

On the business side in Asia, the healthcare practice enjoyed double-digit growth last year, helped by a solid mix of prescription pharma, food and nutrition, consumer healthcare, vaccines and medical devices.

Stephanie Yu, Weber’s Asia-Pacific SVP for healthcare says about 35 percent of the agency’s work regionally involves medical education and communications, while the remainder is divided up between corporate health (industry relations and reputation), health services (hospitals and semi-government agencies) and consumer/patient facing work.

Yu says Weber is moving beyond work as a PR vendor offering tactical support. Increasingly, its working on business solutions in more of a consultancy role on everything from growing client categories to building product awareness.

Healthcare firms haven’t been as active in digital media as they potentially could be, which may also be why there is more work to be done now. “The healthcare industry was probably a little behind in comparison to other industries when it came to deploying a digital and social approach in communications due to the regulations and non-branded aspect of communications that don’t always get buy-in by the marketing team in recognising ROI,” Yu said. “However the sector is catching up fast.”

Robert Broad and Windcy Chan, both healthcare SVPs at Weber Shandwick Hong Kong, say Korea is real opportunity for growth due to very specific regulatory compliance issues in such a mature market. While heavy regulation will always remain a factor when working in the healthcare space, it creates opportunities for agencies with expertise in helping pharma and consumer companies navigate the rules and requirements. But knowing the local rulebooks isn’t enough to win new business.

Broad and Chan say the regulations are fairly uniform across the region but cultural and local intelligence is just as crucial if not moreso.

“Local unmet needs, landscape and cultural nuances are equally important” agrees Yu.

Given Polansky’s priorities for Weber, one can bet that any unmet health opportunities across the region will soon be given a closer look.

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