Five Minutes with Orchard: A healthy niche

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 2 February 2018

This is a free excerpt from AdNews print magazine August 2017 edition. You can download a digital version of AdNews and subscribe to the premium print edition here.

The healthcare advertising sector is worth about three quarters of a billion dollars - and it’s growing fast. Orchard is eleven years old, and it’s one of the most established indie shops specialising in the space.

Health and wellness is one of the fastest growing categories and consumer trends around healthy eating and lifestyle all point to even more growth over the next few years.

Lucky for Sydney-based independent, Orchard, it gained expertise in the sector early on. While it’s not exclusively a healthcare or medical agency, a large proportion of its work is in the space. The agency has been going 11 years, and its founders say it “stumbled” upon healthcare and pharma marketing in the early days and has worked to turn it into a specialism.

“We were a bit of a revelation to the likes of Pfizer,” says Wai Kwok, one of the four managing partners.

“We stumbled across healthcare and we had to take advantage of that by producing the best agency for health and wellness that we could,” he says.

Kwok, alongside Andrew Antoniou, Sarah Galletly and Martin Stafford, left Grey in 2006 to go it alone, and all four founders are still on the leadership team.

“We very quickly got very good at how to solve certain medical marketing problems. Now fast-forward, pharma is trying to to become much more digital, healthcare professionals are becoming more digital and consumers are much more digital, says Antoniou.

“Everyone is getting into this vertical now, but it’s a lot more difficult for a lifestyle agency to move into the hardcore medical side of things because it’s very niche and regulated.”

It’s an area where competition is heating up and while some sectors slowdown, healthcare promises healthy growth, according to SMI data on spend. Globally, WPP launched WPP Health and Wellness in February, a new sub-holding company to bring its capabilities together, and in June merged Greyhealth Group and Sudler & Hennessey to become Sudler Sydney.

There are a number of specialist agencies in the space, but Orchard has built up a raft of experience and a roster that spans most major pharma and medical brands. It has a full time medical copywriter and behaviour therapist on deck.

In a sector that is so regulated it can be hard to push the creative boundaries with major consumer campaigns, but where Orchard does a lot of its most innovative delivery is in backend platforms.

Antoniou says infrastructure platforms where organisations need UX and UI designed to simplify people’s lives or speed up processes to respond to disruption and the need for transformation across the sector, are a big part of what it delivers for clients. It’s also exploring how FMCG and healthcare brands can dabble in ecommerce, as well as how virtual and augmented reality can play out in healthcare.

“They're big, interesting projects, but they're not creative campaigns that are going to win at Cannes. FMCG campaign work may get that, but I'm not sure there’s any money to be made in that kind of work anymore,” he says.

Orchard began as a digital agency, focusing on the skills ‘traditional’ agencies didn't have and doing a lot of white label work for their bigger counterparts. But now, it's gone full circle and offers full service capabilities.

“As digital grew as a percentage of overall spend, we found ourselves being the lead agency doing through the line work, so we had to learn how to do print and point of sale and everything in between.” says Antoniou.

“With technology, the health space has exploded in the last three or four years and everyone has become a lot more aware of their own health and wellness,” says Kwok, which offers massive opportunities to match the expertise it has with a growingconsumer trend.

It had one its best ever years financially last year but as a mature, independent agency, the 70-strong shop is no stranger to how tough it can be up against the major holding companies, and now the consultancies.

“As an independent, it's definitely becoming harder to compete. If [the holding companies] can remove their silos and actually get collaboration throughout their businesses, they will become pretty strong. Some really strong independents like The Monkeys have gone recently. We’ll keep monitoring it all,” says Antoniou.

And while it values the expertise it has in the medical space, the agency is expanding more broadly into health and wellness and eyeing potential overseas expansion. It has had an outpost in New York for three years which now accounts for 10% of its revenue, and is looking at opportunities in Asia and London. Like any good healthcare practitioner, Orchard will keep monitoring all the vital signs.

This is a free excerpt from AdNews print magazine August 2017 edition. You can download a digital version of AdNews and subscribe to the premium print edition here.

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