Five staff buy Outpost379 from founder Paul Hickey

Peterborough, Ont.-based health and wellness agency Outpost379 has announced new leadership following founder Paul Hickey’s sale of the 30-person agency to a group of five senior employees.

From left: Zac Durisko, Diana Freeman, Ben Steele, Val Smith, Sacha Lai-Svirk.

Hickey (left in top photo) remains with the agency as chair, with longtime employee Val Smith (right) taking over as president. Smith has been with Outpost379 for 17 years, joining the agency’s leadership team in 2016.

She has spent the past five years as VP of client services, overseeing teams working on the agency’s roster of pharma, med-tech, government, and NGO clients.

“Val has been at the heart of our best work for our biggest clients for years, and she knows our people and our business like no other,” said Hickey. “I am looking forward to watching her and her team evolve the agency in exciting new ways.”

Smith’s appointment is accompanied by a series of other changes, with 15-year Outpost veteran Sacha Lai-Svirk adding the title of VP to her existing role as partner and head of people and tech.

The rest of the new ownership group includes ECD Ben Steele, who joined the agency in 2022 after spending the previous 11 years with Grip Ltd, where he worked on clients including Honda Canada, the NHL, and RBC.

His work with Outpost379 has included the launch of the “Shine On” platform for the YMCA of Greater Toronto, as well as campaigns for brands including Novo Nordisk and Johnson & Johnson.

The group is rounded out by VP of client services Diana Freeman, whose work with key clients Biogen, Lilly, Alexion (AstraZeneca Rare Disease) and Insulet have been integral to the agency’s organic growth, and VP of medical strategy Zac Durisko, who joined from Klick Health in 2021 and has held writing on strategy roles on several prominent US pharmaceutical brands. He has helped built out the agency’s medical writing, editing and content department.

While some of the Outpost staff work remotely from Toronto, most of the team is based in or around Peterborough, about a 90-minute drive northeast of the city.

Outpost is the second agency that Hickey has founded and sold over his career, having previously sold a previous healthcare agency, MarketForce, to WPP in 2003. “This one is special and worth celebrating as it’s a sale to our leadership team and keeps the independent soul of our agency intact,” he said.

Chris Powell