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Always considered one of the best healthcare PR firms in Europe, Virgo has a credible claim to be considered among the global elite after launching in the US following its acquisition by Golin in 2012. Two years since then, there is little sense that the acquisition has done anything but help the company, particularly when you look at the 17% growth it achieved in 2014, helping to reach £7.4m in UK fee income.
Those numbers are impressive enough, but what probably stands out more is how they were accomplished — via a transformation of Virgo's offer to help it keep pace with the fundamental changes in their clients' operating environments. That approach, which the firm has dubbed 'Being Human', recognises the ways in which pharma businesses now face increased scrutiny and reputational challenges, and require less in the way of pharma brand PR versus communicating innovative, high-value medicines to an increasingly savvy and cynical audience.
None of this counts as revolutionary thinking in the healthcare world, but Virgo's efforts to rethink its service offering around a more insight-focused 'human' positioning deserves recognition, particularly when it is set against the staid backdrop of much of the pharma world's current messaging. And the initiative — which includes new divisions; new proprietary processes and training; and, new services such as creative design, animation, videography and digital — appears to have paid off if the last 12 months is any guide.
The firm retained 97% of its clients, including Reckitt Benckiser, Takeda, Roche, Novartis EU, Leo Pharma, Celgene UK, Omega Pharma, Otsuka and GSK Bio, and also added new business from Abbott, Meda, Heel, Shionogi, Roche, Optegra and the PMCPA. There was also standout work for Novartis Oncology in Europe ('Here and Now' for advanced breast cancer sufferers); Durex (the Sexlection box); and, Roche (developing a global online solution for clinical investigator training). — AS
GCI Health (WPP)
The GCI Health brand is new in London, having launched in 2013, though it began life with two significant advantages: it is part of arguably the hottest healthcare firm in the US right now, and the London office essentially spun out of sister agency Cohn & Wolfe, itself an impressive force in healthcare. Under the leadership of Rikki Jones, the firm grew by 60% last year and now has a team of 15 consultants delivering impressive work in four categories: life sciences (mostly pharma), consumer health, market access, and—a real differentiator—strategic consulting.
The firm has delivered UK campaigns for Basilea, Gilead, Janssen; European work for biogen idec, Smith & Nephew, and Takeda; and contributed to global assignments for MSD, Novartis, and Taiho—and also established a pro bono partnership with Saving Lives, a public health group focused on HIV and sexual health. GCI is the firm that educated 50 million Muslims with diabetes about ways to stay healthy while fasting on behalf of MSD; and helped to steer four therapeutic innovations—including Biogen Idec’s Tecfidera and Plegridy for multiple sclerosis, Janssen’s Olysio for hepatitis C, and Gilead’s Zydelig for leukaemia—from pipeline to market.— PH
Just:: Health Communications (UK/Independent)
Launched by Jennie Talman and Emma Crozier in 2006, UK firm Just:: Health now ranks as one of the country's top independent healthcare players, employing 35 people and reporting fees of £3.2m in 2014. That steady growth was reflected in the hire of new managing director Kirsty Mearns in 2014, to oversee the firm's operations and clients and free up Talman and Crozier to focus on new products and campaign innovation, respectively.
Unusually, for a healthcare firm, Just's positioning revolves as much around creativity as it does around sector expertise. This has paid off via such campaigns as Beat It Now!, which helped secure a place for the meningitis B vaacine on the UK national immunization programme; Shire's ADHD 'experience maze', which improved understanding and empathy of a low-empathy area; and, 'HIV Today', which involved demonstrating the experiences of people leaving with HIV for the launch of ViiV Healthcare’s new HIV therapy, dolutegravir.
Like many independent firms, particularly in the healthcare space, Just's internal culture remains a competitive differentiator, with low employee turnover also helped by the addition of a new office in central London. The firm has a broad range of expertise across PR, media, advocacy, medical education, digital and public affairs, enabling a cross-disciplinary approach to strategic planning and, in 2014, it rolled out a new account management program that aims to improve client experiences.
Just's client roster includes several of the largest pharma players, including Shire, GSK, Roche, Sanofi and AbbVie. In the last 12 months, furthermore, the firm added a number of new clients: Danone Nutricia, Molecular Partners, Celgene, Novartis, and Jazz Pharmaceuticals – reflecting its diversification beyond traditional pharma. In addition, Just supports Lions Health – a subsidiary of Cannes Lions — to enhance the current global reach of the festival.— AS
Formed in 2009 by former Red Consultancy corporate head Paul Davies, Firstlight has grown to become one of the best of a new breed of UK corporate PR firms. And much of that is down to the firm's stellar healthcare capabilities, which are led by Pat Pearson, another ex-Red Consultancy executive.
In 2014, Firstlight grew to £1m in fee income from £600k in 2013, with healthcare accounting for around 40% of the firm's business. Key clients include Novartis Oncology (which consolidated its entire UK portfolio with Firstlight in 2014); NAPP (for which it handles biosimilars); Orthimo (for which Firstlight launched the first generic him implant, in the last big bastion of big branded medical devices); Sanofi; Vifor Pharma; and,
Unsurprisingly, given that list of clients, Firstlight's healthcare capabilities are broad, covering market access, media relations, regulatory and HTA approaches, disease awareness, patient advocacy and issues management. — AS
Over the course of 2014, Pegasus campaigns inspired over 8,000 people to seek help with smoking cessation; built a support community of 175,000 people to share the stories of their scars; written pharmacist training materials to improve the way they advise customers on migraines, driving a 31% sales increase; and challenged supermarket shoppers to incorporate health considerations into the way they shop, increasing sales of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. So when the firm talks about its mission to “Inspire Healthy Decisions,” it’s not just empty rhetoric.
And the focus on mission first and sector second has helped drive some pretty impressive growth in recent times, from £4.7m to £6.35m over the last three years. The firm has expertise in animal health, food and nutrition, healthy beauty, consumer health, and pharma, and a service offering that spans content creation (traditional design, brand development and animation), digital (consultancy, web and app build, SEO), social (community management, strategy and campaigns) and most recently film. Clients include Novartis, Buscopan, Witch Skincare, Collection Cosmetics, Soft & Gentle, British Skin Foundation, Lloyds Pharmacy, Thornton & Ross, Bayer, Bio-Oil, Nestle Purina, Danone, Pfizer and Pierre Fabre, with new business last year including the GSK Oral Health portfolio, Biogen Idec, website retainers across nine sites for Lornamad and Holland & Barrett’s social media work.— PH
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