While the year for many agencies was very good, smaller shops saw some astonishing leaps in accounts and income.


By Christiane Truelove

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As the pipelines of their pharmaceutical and biotech clients continue to yield new drugs for patients, agencies are also seeing their business grow. In 2014 and so far in 2015, many agencies saw new assignments, new clients, and new projects, especially in the digital realm.

And it was not only the big dogs – those agencies in Category I – that saw growth. Many mid-tier agencies in Category II experienced a significant spurt, but some of the surprising bounds were made by agencies in Category III. Digital once more was a driver of growth for many agencies, as their clients’ multichannel marketing efforts wove digital throughout every campaign.

Additionally, activity has not only been just with accounts and clients. This year kicked off with several mergers among healthcare communications agencies. In the case of the agencies of the ICC Lowe network being integrated into the FCB Health family, parent network IPG orchestrated the move. The acquisition of Topin & Associates by HCB Health represents the formalization of the agencies’ existing partnership, executives say.

Small agencies, big splash

One of the growth winners of 2014 was Category 3 Agency of the Year finalist Natrel Communications. Executives say Natrel grew explosively in 2014, more than doubling in size within the last three quarters of the year and adding nine major new global and domestic accounts to its roster. According to the agency’s founder, David Nakamura, “We identified a pressing market need – differentiating brands within a regulatory environment that increasingly restricts bold claims – and we’re meeting that need with a highly focused strategy that offers clients a path to differentiation that extends beyond claims and messaging.”

Last year, Nakamura espoused his vision for doubling the agency’s size by 2017, by repositioning the agency to reflect its commitment to a unique, internally developed approach to brand differentiation. Natrel instituted a strategy called “Persona ID,” which agency leaders say ensures that client brands clearly stand out within their competitive space. Persona ID itself is part of another, larger strategy called “Bilateral Branding,” which targets the intellect and the emotions with equal levels of focus and discipline, marrying the rational selling proposition to the emotional “feeling” proposition. The strategies spurred the change in Natrel’s tagline, “Differentiating, differently.” According to agency leaders, this unique approach contributed to Natrel’s nine major account wins in 2014 – five global, four domestic. Global business represented more than one third of Natrel’s total revenue by year’s end, executives say.

Centron, another finalist for Category 3 Agency of the Year, saw growth in its client roster and internal infrastructure. Executives attribute the growth to the foundation of trust the agency has established with clients. Among its accomplishments in 2014, Centron helped Ipsen do a full integrated launch of somatuline into the U.S. oncology space. Client Actavis selected Centron to launch a DTC initiative for Saphris, for adults with manic symptoms of bipolar I disorder. And the agency expanded its management team with the addition of Jennifer Samuels, executive VP, managing director.

For Category 3 Agency of the Year Winner Concentric Health Experience, 2014 included a 40 percent increase in overall growth, 13 new account wins, 44 new hires, and an employee retention rate of 92 percent.

The agency’s headcount increased to an all-time high of 155 between its New York City-based U.S. headquarters and EMEA headquarters in London, and is expected to increase by an additional 20 percent in 2015. Additionally, Jennie Fischette, who joined the agency in 2012, was named managing partner in 2014.

Concentric also expanded its innovative research offering, Concentric Health Intelligence, which is currently being used by 95 percent of clients – a 100 percent growth rate in the offering from the previous year, according to agency leaders. Concentric Health Intelligence provides clients with a 360-degree immersion process that leverages a wide variety of traditional and nontraditional methodologies to mine insights from all stakeholder audiences, including patient, payer, and physician. Insights gleaned are then used as a foundation for integrated channel strategies that lead to more effective and more substantive engagement with desired audiences, executives say.

For Category 2 Agency of the Year winner Area 23, executives claimed there was 25 percent growth, fueled by an aggressive year of pitching new business, and winning 11 new AOR assignments. The agency brought in 61 new employees last year, bringing the combined number of staff and open positions right up to the 200 mark. At the beginning of the year, Area 23 announced the “Year of What If,” an initiative geared to increase the agency’s output of transformational creative ideas. Agency managers report that “What If” has transformed the way people do business, spurring the creative teams to new heights and changing the way the agency engages with clients.

Category 2 Agency of the Year nominee McCann Echo in 2014 celebrated 12 new wins and 11 percent growth, marking six consecutive years of double-digit increases. For the first time, McCann Echo also broke the $30 million mark. According to agency leaders, this success will push headcount close to 200, causing McCann Echo to expand its custom-designed space yet again.

The other Category 2 Agency of the Year nominee, JUICE Pharma Worldwide, again increased its client and brand roster, which has tripled over the past three years, executives say.

In Category 1, leaders at Agency of the Year finalist GSW say 2014 was a year of wins for GSW – 24 new brands and clients in total. Agency executives say GSW has historically and reliably grown year over year, but started 2014 behind forecast due to sequential agency consolidation losses. Ten months and 24 new brands and clients later, GSW has all but closed the gap.

Category 1 Agency of the Year finalist Intouch Solutions experienced explosive growth in clients and talent yet again in 2014, adding 100 people to bring the workforce to 570, landing 52 new account wins and powering seven major pharmaceutical product launches. The agency moved into a new, 90,000-square-foot state of the art space in Kansas City, built to support burgeoning growth as well as foster innovation, collaboration, and creativity.

The 52 account wins include enterprise- and brand-level work for two top 10 pharmas. “With all of the 2014 wins, we’re proud to be actively working with more than half of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies,” says Wendy Blackburn, executive VP. Work for existing clients also ballooned in 2014; major expansions with Teva, Bayer, Baxter, and Salix helped Intouch end the year strong.

And for Category 1 Agency of the Year winner FCB Health, 2014 was a record-breaking year, according to agency leaders, with new clients, new brands, new agencies, new team members, new resources, and new expertise. “Just how big a year was it? Let’s put it this way – if you annualize the revenue of just our 2014 new business wins, that revenue alone would qualify us as a Med Ad News category 1 agency,” leadership notes.

Among new business wins, FCB Health expanded its relationship with many current clients, including adding AOR assignments from Novartis (heart failure and basal cell carcinoma), Actavis (Alzheimer’s), Genentech (ophthalmics), Teva (migraine), and BMS (HIV). New clients include Astellas (OAB), Takeda (gout), and Galderma (facial aesthetics). Other new clients added to the roster include Keryx, Chimerix, and Onyx. “I think we won at least three pieces of new business every month throughout the year,” says Mike Guarino, executive VP, chief strategy officer. “We started strong and maintained that momentum throughout the entire year. And even though we’re just a few months into 2015, the momentum has not waned. In my 19 years at FCB Health, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Digital all over

When it came to digital work in 2014, it was found at every agency, for a variety of clients and in every therapeutic area.

JUICE has added the HCP/Digital AOR assignment for Afinitor in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors as well as Sandostatin LAR in carcinoid syndrome, both from Novartis Oncology; the HCP/Digital AOR assignment for Spiriva in COPD from Boehringer Ingelheim; the HCP/HCC/Digital AOR assignments for Xyntha Solofuse and BeneFIX in hemophilia, both from Pfizer; and the HCP/Digital AOR assignment for Brisdelle in menopausal symptoms from Noven.

At Flashpoint Medica, the agency produced responsive websites for several of its clients. Flashpoint was named AOR for the iron deficiency anemia agent Injectafer from American Regent and was assigned with developing responsive sites for both patients and HCPs. In addition to a responsive site for Sancuso (an antiemetic for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting from ProStrakan), the agency initiated an innovative geo-targeted email and paid search campaign to help leverage that brand’s share of voice online. Flashpoint also developed responsive websites for Afinitor and Aerospan, an inhaled corticosteroid from Meda Pharmaceuticals. An Afinitor learning tool was a Hubbie finalist for Best Use of Gamification, which honors digital innovation across all industries. An interactive journal ad for Ampyra, a therapy to improve walking ability in people with multiple sclerosis from Acorda Therapeutics, was also a finalist in the Rx Club Awards. The ad, running in iPad publications of Neurology and Neurology Today, asked physicians to solve an interactive puzzle to see the clinical improvement with Ampyra.

For Biolumina in 2014, its digital work across the Novo Nordisk Global Hemophilia franchise led to the agency’s selection by the company as a preferred partner for all of CQ5 digital experience work.

Digital strategy also played a key role in new assignments with other clients, including Novartis, where Biolumina was selected to lead the effort for an Afinitor pan-tumor website.

In 2014, Concentric’s digital footprint continued to expand, with approximately 65 percent of its portfolio concentrated in this area. “This is the world we all live in now, and as an early adopter of digital, it’s become not only a core component of our business, but a key differentiator in the marketplace,” says Partner Michael Sanzen. “Through our efforts supporting our client categories and communities, we have become a Top 10 influencer on Twitter across 20 healthcare hash tags, and we garnered over 600,000 social media impressions in the last six months of 2014. Our social engagement as an agency positions us to lend our expertise and experiences in the service of our clients, and it pays huge dividends for them.”

According to AbelsonTaylor executives, every year, less of the agency’s work involves the printed word. The agency completed more than 700 digital projects in 2014 and now 85 percent of its 60 brands use the agency for their digital programs. In fact, digital, social, and broadcast make up most of what AbelsonTaylor does for clients.

At GSW, about 45 percent of the work is through digital channels, including detailing apps, web and mobile sites, digital advertising and video and online content management. The balance is a largely B2B and consumer diet of integrating print advertising and collateral, video, guerilla, and tradeshow installations.

For FCB Health, winner of the Best Interactive Patient Campaign, its in-house usability testing practice exploded during 2014. “We find that testing assumptions early and often leads to better products,” executives say. “We go through low-fidelity testing that might involve employees in formal usability testing with recruits from the target audience. 2014 also saw the rise of service design at our agency, which maps all tactics back to the patient journey to offer a truly multichannel view. This unique tool ensures that the total brand experience for our clients’ customers is a delightful one and helps cement brand loyalty.” FCB Health added additional resources in digital strategy, engagement strategy, and health literacy.

Giant Creative Strategy now sees more than half of its revenue coming from digital work. Executives say Giant’s expertise in CLM and the iRep platform has resulted in new and expanded engagements at every point in the funnel from research and strategy to implementation, development, media, and analytics. Having implemented a record number of successful in-field deployments of iPad sales rep tools, Giant’s new technology IP has evolved and simplified the user experience for the field force and is resulting in more efficient and effective marketing programs for clients of all sizes.

2014 saw Giant become the RM agency of record for Novo Nordisk and the launch of the company’s new anti-obesity drug. Novo Nordisk also chose Giant as a partner to develop best-in-class digital selling tools and CLM strategy across the organization. For AstraZeneca, Giant established Veeva formulary foundation guidelines and is partnering with the company as a preferred Veeva provider at the enterprise level to create next generation Veeva iRep content. Additionally, Giant developed and implemented the first ever Veeva Helix execution for Depomed, and was named the digital AOR for Amgen’s GCS-F franchise. Giant also developed a dedicated technology innovation lab in 2014, called Beanstalk.

And for Vision Award winner Cadient, executives claim the agency delivered industry “firsts” in patient support programming, social marketing, convention and event experiences, as well as groundbreaking clinical trial collaboration solutions. In October 2014, the agency was acquired by the technology services organization Cognizant. Executives say the Cognizant acquisition took Cadient in “a bold, strategic departure from the pack.”

Executives say Cadient, as a Cognizant company, represents “a purposely non-traditional option for life sciences companies who seek a new partnership model.” According to Cadient managers, “The agency delivers a unique and powerful combination: crafting meaningful experiences across multiple channels, introducing content marketing as an alternative to campaign marketing, and expertly participating in the digital transformation of our customers’ business on an enterprise level.”