Why health and wellness are core to the new breed of agency
One year ago, New York-based Known opened its doors, defining itself as a new breed of agency for the transforming marketing world. It established itself firmly on the belief that the best work comes from great employees collaborating in a supportive, forward-thinking culture with leaders & partners who care about—and invest in—the health and well-being of their teams and clients.
Then COVID-19 struck, bringing with it lockdowns, working from home, stress and isolation.
Yet today, the agency’s business is booming. It’s hiring a lot of new talent, and it’s building out its offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Austin and Seattle to accommodate this growth while creating a workplace that’s fun, lively and comfortable—in other words, a space employees will want to return to.
That emphasis on health and well-being, combined with a new business model, is a cornerstone to everything the agency does, Known Chairman and CEO Kern Schireson said at the recent Ad Age Next: Health & Wellness virtual event.
“The things that keep people showing up and being passionate about doing their best work every day—that comes from culture. It comes from connectivity to their fellow employees and the collaborative environment you create,” Schireson said. “And it comes from the sense that we can all bring our whole selves [to work].”
In fact, Known’s workforce grew nearly 60% in 2020 and is on track to grow another 35% in 2021. The agency has a client list that includes powerhouse brands such as Amazon, Disney, Beyond Meat, Unilever, Memorial Sloan Kettering and Microsoft, to name a few.
Adapting to rapid changes and unprecedented opportunities
Fueling the growth on the business side, Schireson said, is the agency’s focus on adapting to rapid changes in the marketing world and working with clients to find the right approach in this unusual time.
“We don't really even think of ourselves as an agency,” he said. “What we’ve built is a new operating system for modern marketing that addresses the unprecedented opportunities that face marketers today. There are more channels, more platforms, more touch points for brands.
“Consumers are increasingly educated,” Schireson added. “And there are these incredible tools that are there to be taken advantage of—sophisticated data science, deep end-to-end strategy in a connected environment—all of which enable us to take great creative ideas, deliver them beautifully and then never stop working to make them perform better for clients.”
One example is the effective work Known produced together with the world-renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). When COVID-19 struck, MSK saw a drop in patients seeking diagnosis and treatment for cancer; simply put, patients’ fears of the pandemic delayed critical care and screenings.
MSK—probably the most venerated institution in the cancer space in the country—saw the decline in patients seeking care for cancer and reached out to Known to quickly address it together. “That was dangerous ... because cancer doesn’t quarantine,” said Schireson.
Roxanne Taylor, chief marketing and communications officer of MSK, wiped away divisions between agency partners and internal teams to create a true, integrated partnership between agency and client. Together they created a compelling campaign using MSK staff— doctors, nurses and others—working across the hospital and research labs. Leveraging data-driven precision marketing to deliver the campaign to the right audiences was incredibly effective at engaging new patients for appointments and getting existing patients back for essential care.
“This is another thing that is sustaining for our teams,” Schireson said.
Fundamental drivers of well-being
But Known doesn’t base its efforts to humanize business purely on passion and rhetoric. In an effort to better understand its employees during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the agency commissioned an internal study, deputizing its teams of Ph.D. data scientists and researchers to dive deep into all the ways the pandemic was affecting people. It soon grew to a national study on the human condition that involved quantitative and qualitative research with thousands of Americans throughout 2020, and it continues to this day.
The study, called The Human Condition, found three fundamental areas driving people’s well-being: their immediate circle of friends and family and how connected they were; their sense of place, both at home and within the broader community; and their sense of purpose—whether they believed they were doing something that matters to themselves and to the world.
“Those were really the drivers of well-being through this, across age, gender demographic and financial considerations,” Schireson said. “Those were the things that consistently drove a sense of well-being.”
The results of the study had a much wider impact than the agency expected.
“We’ve used it to educate our clients,” Schireson said. “We presented it to the National Institutes of Health, and they're using it in their behavioral sciences and health sciences departments to train and educate some of the leading academics and practitioners in health and medicine in the country right now. We’re really proud of the impact that that’s had both for our clients, but also hopefully for the world at large.”
Investing in its future
As Known’s 300-plus employees—most of whom have never even been in the same room as one another—continue to work from home, the company is launching a new internal health and wellness program, based on the Alexander Technique, which helps participants optimize their workspaces and improve their health through posture and movement. Early adopters report promising results to their health and productivity already.
When they do return to their offices, in addition to standard safety protocols, they’ll find dynamic workspace innovations, as Known continues to explore and design new approaches, based on these insights, to promote the physical and mental health of its growing workforce.