Andrew Schirmer, the new president at Syneos Health’s GSW-NY is the first to admit he’s been around the block at healthcare and pharma agencies.
In the past 30 years, he’s been an art director, creative director, executive creative, general manager, DTC pioneer, data and digital evangelist—and he’s overseen numerous agency launches.
Most recently, he was Ogilvy Health’s president, plus CEO of North America for Ogilvy CommonHealth. Immediately before that he was president of McCann Global Health and founded McCann’s direct-to-consumer offering, McCann HumanCare.
However, the executive duties that came with the big job—overseeing every aspect of an organization from managing the finance team to problem-solving for the nighttime cleaning crew—wasn’t really what Schirmer wanted to do.
When he was “cycled out” of Ogilvy last fall—as he put it—he decided to take a break and figure out his next move. Essentially, the plan was to consider his many different career options while spending time out snowshoeing and kicking back a bit.
But then Syneos Health came calling. Tim Pantello, global president at Syneos Health Communications, reached out to Schirmer to chat because they had mutual friends and colleagues. They first got to know each other and eventually started to talk about a role for Schirmer.
Now he’s found a new home at GSW, returning to his roots focusing on creative and strategy, but not leaving behind the big-desk lessons he’s learned.
One thing he’s loving about the new gig? Getting to meet literally everyone. An impossible task at a global conglomerate, but doable with a few hundred people. His goal is to have met everyone in the agency by the time GSW goes back in-office full-time, which is set for now as a staggered return in the fall.
“I’m a hall walker. Every job I’ve ever had I spend more time walking around talking to people than I do sitting down,” he said.
Now, he said, his “unbelievably dynamic executive assistant” is booking nonstop meetings every week—a series of one-on-one half-hour meetings, plus group meetings once a week with about half a dozen people.
“It’s been very personal as opposed to maybe a hallway drive-by when I’m going to a big meeting waving at a few people,” Schirmer said. “I’m getting an opportunity to really meet people and have deep, earnest conversations.”
On the creative side, Schirmer is looking forward to naming a new creative director for GSW-NY, which should be soon.
He’s set up two mandates for the agency. The first is that the work needs to be surprising—whether that’s the work itself or the timing of it or a unique media approach—and can’t just be more noise.
“In the day and age of limitless messaging and limited attention, you can’t communicate unless you engage,” he said.
His second directive is to make sure creativity comes from all parts of the agency, not just the so-called creative department. That means media, digital, data analytics, planning, buying and research should all be contributing to making GSW’s healthcare and pharma client communications stand out.
“Status quo is unacceptable in a world that’s changing as quickly as ours,” Schirmer said.