ZMI ALPHA:Why health and wellness are core to the new breed of agency

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ZMI ALPHA:Why health and wellness are core to the new breed of agency

Kern Schireson

“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 here.”

In fact, Known’s workforce grew more than 59% 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 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 helping clients 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 of the effective work Known produces is its campaign for the world-renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. When COVID-19 struck, the center saw a drop in patients seeking diagnosis and treatment; simply put, their fears of the pandemic delayed critical care and screenings.


“MSK Cancer Center—probably the most venerated institution in that [cancer] space in the country—was watching their patient rates just drop off,” Schireson said. “That was dangerous for the center, and even more so for the health and well-being of tens of thousands of individuals … because cancer doesn’t quarantine.”


First, Known created a compelling campaign using real doctors, nurses and staffers working in the hospital. They then brought those visuals to life through continuous optimization. The result was incredibly effective in getting the medical center back to pre-COVID levels of appointments.


“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. 

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