Home Agencies Publicis Health Media Chief On Why Health Is The Next Big Thing

Publicis Health Media Chief On Why Health Is The Next Big Thing


Healthcare and advertising is a complex pairing because of a variety of regulations around consumer targeting.

While the sector has been slow to adopt programmatic, Publicis’ health arm, Publicis Health Media (PHM), is diving into automation with its programmatic platform AOD Health, released in October though a partnership with VivaKi, though the company declined to name its early clients.

PHM has north of 200 employees, and represents roughly the same number of health and wellness brands, which includes everything from lifestyle brands to over the counter medications and pharmaceuticals.

PHM identifies as a full service agency and does media planning and strategy, search engine marketing and organic search, and attribution modeling for digital, broadcast, TV and more. With most of its clients in the US, PHM has offices in Chicago, London, New York and Philadelphia, and the company also operates a satellite office in Paris that services clients abroad.

PHM’s president, Matt McNally, spoke to AdExchanger about navigating advertising restrictions, leveraging health data and where health advertising and programmatic opportunities intersect.

ADEXCHANGER: What data sources matter most in the health and pharmaceutical industries?

MATT MCNALLY: [There] are the two big buckets. Front-end data sources help us identify and target audiences and back-end sources help us prove performance and business impact.

A lot of the data that we’re looking for in the upfront is around identifying the appropriate audience to target. From a consumer perspective, a good share of our business is focused on healthcare professionals. Data sources can enable us to engage the right folks. More and more, pharmaceuticals that are being approved are for smaller and more niche audiences. Five or six years ago we found that allergies, heartburn or cholesterol applies to most Americans, and used that knowledge for better customer insights and targeting.

On the backend, data sources help us see true business performance. We need to see what types of communication plans are helping drive bottom lines for our clients.

Within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), there’s a privacy rule that makes it difficult to target advertising. How do advertisers deal with those types of barriers?

We look at things more in aggregate, from a non-personally identifiable way. We don’t go down to the exact patient level, but we’re able to use lookalike modeling and other analysis to make guestimates and competencies against different patient populations. We look at search behavior in aggregate, for instance.


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We can also look at certain content traversing behaviors. The type of digital or static content folks access helps us identify groups that have a certain interest in, say, an oncology context or an arthritis context. There are sources that help us do that, but we stay away from anything that goes down to the exact patient level because that’s where privacy and regulations come into play.

What’s a specific example of a restriction or regulation that affects advertisers in the health advertising vertical?

A lot of things vary due to a number of regulatory sources. You might have a set of overall guidelines that comes from the FDA or from HIPAA, but also, various pharmaceutical companies have different guidelines that are set forth by their medical and legal teams.

For example, for some of our clients, we’re allowed to do behavioral targeting and for others we aren’t. It’s not just the regulations the government sets forth that matter, individual pharmaceutical companies also dictate regulations for consumer advertising and position advertising. It’s really a mixed bag.

How does PHM manage the ‘mixed bag’ of regulations?

At PHM, we have a regulatory commission in-house. They help our team stay on top of the high-level regulations that are happening in the health environment. We then partner with individual pharmaceutical companies to help educate and identify what our processes should be.

We work with all of our clients on an individual basis to operate within their guidelines and to establish guidelines for the different media channels that crop up. As social becomes bigger and bigger [as well as] mobile and wearables, we like to say media’s changing faster than advertising. Broadcast and print haven’t changed in the past 20 years. But digital’s changing everyday. So part of the challenge is helping our clients stay on top of the different media channels.

How do health advertising and programmatic intersect?

There are a lot of programmatic options out that really aren’t relevant for the pharma space. A lot of programmatic offerings were built on the basis of driving more cost efficient advertising. We really want to look at programmatic for efficiency, but also for better data in making our plans smarter.

How so?

This year we launched Audience On Demand Health, or AOD Health, in partnership with VivaKi [read AdExchanger’s coverage of AOD Health]. We’re bringing programmatic to our clients in a new way as we go into 2015 through that offering. AOD Health gives us scale and helps us have chronic quality health and lifestyle inventory that we think is really relevant to this space.

Can you provide an example?

Just because a patient has breast cancer, that doesn’t mean she’ll buy a bunch of books on breast cancer. AOD Health helps us open our eyes to other factors, and it does help us buy more efficiently. We’re really excited because our planning and activation teams now have real-time insights into data, and can see what’s driving performance for our clients, what drives the most interest and where audience engagement is coming from. That makes the process a lot more automated and a lot more responsive.

What have been the traditional pain points?

Historically, there’s been a lag time for data in this sector. A lot of times we’d have to wait for the publisher to get back to us to see how things are performing. AOD Health is going to give our team almost like a real-time news desk, if you will, for insights into our campaigns.

We realized we needed to build our own programmatic offering, because what was out there wasn’t necessarily tailored to the sell side. Or, some of the health sites we work with that did launch programmatic capabilities did so only for their site. Our programmatic offering has insights into more inventory and more publishers than if we were only working with one site.

Are there any other programmatic platforms like AOD Health taking health data into account?

There are publishers like Everyday Health working programmatically, and they have an offering called Health Reach. We think Health Reach is great, and we work with them. But again, Health Reach only has visibility into the Everyday Health properties. Health Reach is very sophisticated, but it just doesn’t offer the scale that we could get from creating our own tech. Health Reach is a good example of another programmatic offering that’s out there, but it comes from the publisher side, not the agency side.

How are publishers navigating health-advertising offerings?

Health is becoming such a hot topic. Think of what CVS is doing, taking cigarettes out of their stores and rebranding the company as CVS Health. We’re seeing the fast food industry continuing to get into healthcare, and Apple’s getting into healthcare, too. We see health becoming that next super important thing, specifically in the United States. And we’re starting to see health transcend the more endemic health properties like WebMD, Health Line or Everyday Health.

Historically, a lot of health campaigns have focused on bulk buys. Companies looked to own all of the cholesterol inventory on top health site, for example. We’re seeing more and more players with technology and data start to develop ad offerings for healthcare clients. We’re seeing folks like AOL get into that space, and some of the larger networks. We do work with some networks, like NBC. The face of the health and pharma industry is starting to change, and it’s starting to get a lot more sophisticated than it’s been in the past. 

What are the opportunities for wearables and health advertising?

We look at the customers’ propensity to gather data versus the marketing opportunities. We’re excited to see that folks want to be more in control of their own healthcare, in terms of monitoring their activity. Wearables are still very new. Most of them are tracking heart rate and steps per day, which doesn’t tell us a lot. But we think the trend in wearables will, by 2015 and 2016, start to help things like telemedicine. We think wearables will be able to help patients track key stats, at home, and we think the next round of wearables will really help with elemental healthcare.

Do you think mobile users will share more personal data in exchange for the convenience of accessing health information or care via smartphones? 

We’re monitoring it, yes. I don’t know the stats, but if you look at the amount of wearables that have been purchased, and how many are actually used, it’s going to have to be ease of use for customers to want to share and monitor that information. It could happen more and more in chronic conditions, areas like juvenile diabetes, ADHS or any sort of depression. Mobile could play a huge role there. There are a lot of grand ideas out there, but it all hinges on changing human behavior.

We see the first step in mobile happening around mastering accessibility, and nurturing a one-on-one relationship with customers. We’re now closer than ever to our customers, we are in their pockets. We hope to use mobile for better patient ads, better content distribution and just better experiences. And by 2015 or 2016, I think we’ll see more tracking and sharing of data.

What will happen in health and advertising markets next year?

Programmatic is one, certainly. Another big trend we’re going to see is the uptake and redefinition of point of care marketing. Point of care marketing really used to be around doctor’s offices and a bit around pharmacies. That’s the closest our clients could get to making an impact on sales: in the office, through in-office or in-pharmacy advertising.

We’re seeing some really smart publishers leveraging mobile to do point of care more intelligently, and we’re seeing more of our clients funnel media dollars into point of care marketing. It’s happening for a lot of reasons.

What are those reasons?

One reason for that is that point of care is changing. A lot of people don’t even have a primary care doctor anymore. Also, the area around content development is evolving and those conversations are coming more and more from media companies. For example, if a patent suffers from diabetes, they want to know how to eat healthily. So we’re seeing clients start to entertain partnerships with companies like the Food Network. This gives brands traction on more networks.

You’ve got brand content developed by a brand agency, but you’re really seeing this new partnerships from media companies brokering these deals, and that’s a game changer.

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