Pharma, consumer-style? New McCann Health CCO aims to inject fresh attitude

It’s a groundbreaker for healthcare agencies. Matt Eastwood is the first global creative chief to move directly from a large consumer outfit, J. Walter Thompson, to a leading pharma and healthcare agency, McCann Health.

The move tracks with what’s happening in the pharma and healthcare industry, which is moving quickly to catch up to the digital and experiential transformation already running strong at consumer marketing companies like consumer packaged goods, automotive and financial services. Even drugmakers themselves are hiring more consumer marketing executives—in digital especially, but also in other areas.

“Pharma itself has woken up to the fact that it’s playing on a much bigger campus and it needs more diversified talent and capabilities,” said John Cahill, global CEO at McCann Health, adding, "They’re looking at ways they can reinvent themselves both as an industry—and that’s where patient-centricity and the consumerization of pharmaceuticals come in—but also with more effective business models.

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"You’re starting to see that in the most recent mergers and collaborations (such as) GSK and Pfizer in consumer health, and Celgene and BMS in oncology," he said.

Of course, that’s not to say pharma and healthcare will ever have anything resembling a soda brand war or multiple splashy Super Bowl ads. But driven by brands reaching out directly to consumers and by people taking control of their personal health data and care, the industry is moving more toward the consumer attitude.

McCann Health purposefully set out to hire a creative chief from the consumer world. The agency already has lots of healthcare expertise, and so it searched instead for “someone who demonstrated a multidisciplinary capability to drive the power of a great idea across different channels and across different disciplines," Cahill said.

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Eastwood fit the bill and, for his part, is keen to join the healthcare world. He joked in an interview after his first week that he’s “like a kid in a candy store.”

“I’m just looking around at all these incredible opportunities and the different slant that I think I can bring to them,” he said. He added, “My job is to find meaningful connections between a brand and a consumer, whether that be an HCP consumer or just a regular consumer.”

McCann Health hopes Eastwood will add to the creativity mission it has pressed on for several years now. Creativity is “our differentiator and our offer,” Cahill said, pointing to evidence such as Cannes Lions Health creativity festival wins several years running. McCann Health won network of the year in 2016 and 2017, as well as numerous awards for its individual agencies around the world over the past few years.

Eastwood stepped into the vacant McCann Health global chief creative officer role left open after the firing of Jeremy Perrott for a “code of conduct” violation in July. Perrott has since filed a lawsuit against McCann Worldgroup seeking $25 million in damages.