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Upheaval in the pharmaceutical sector led to a difficult few years for healthcare PR specialists, but there are indications that the sector is bouncing back, led by a handful of firms that have expanded their client rosters to include non-pharma business and extended their offer to pharma companies to include more corporate reputation work and a more adventurous approach to digital and social media, integrating everything from online community building to paid media into traditional PR efforts.
GCI Health is in the forefront of those developments, working with clients in biotech (Biogen Idec, Genentech); medical technology (Medtronic, Bosch); the payer/provider community (Lenox Hill Hospital, the Hospital for Special Surgery); and associations (the TB Alliance, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners) joining big pharma names like Allergan, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi. As a result, the firm has tripled in size over the past five years and after 35 percent growth in 2014 now has fees comfortably in excess of $25 million.
The more integrated approach, encouraging clients to make use of digital and social channels, has been put into play for consumer brands like GSK’s Theraflu, but also for Bayer’s women’s health portfolio and its new IUD Skyla and building a community of 160,000 patients for Pfizer’s fibromyalgia business. The firm is also providing internal and external corporate communications support to clients, helping them deal with the change that continues to roil the sector and transform to meet the challenges of the future.
Just as impressive is GCI’s own thought leadership initiative, putting “Patients at the Center” of all its efforts, launched in October with a survey highlighting the gap between pharmaceutical companies’ intentions and their actual performance in this area, and a roundtable of leading patient advocacy groups.—PH
InVentiv Health (InVentiv Health)
With its Biosector 2, Chamberlain Communications, and Chandler Chicco Agency brands—all specialists in the healthcare sector—InVentiv Health is the largest global healthcare specialist, its $85 million in fee income ranking it among the top 25 public relations firms in the world.
And while all three firms are impressive in their expanding reach and capabilities, it is Chamberlain that delivered the most compelling narrative arc over the past year or so.
Chamberlain began 2014 in recovery mode, having lost the substantial Pfizer oncology business in a consolidation the previous year. But the inVentiv Health agency rose to the challenge with vigor, maintaining its ability to translate the most complex science into compelling stories while diversifying its portfolio considerably beyond the core pharma business into biotech and specialty pharma and even some more consumer-oriented business.
The firm added the Novartis oncology business, and serves as agency of record for Amgen’s cardiovascular portfolio, helping to introduce the first new heart failure drug in nearly a decade; but it has also helped Novartis introduce a new treatment for psoriasis, creating a film that documented the real-life problems the condition creates for its sufferers. The firm has also worked with other inVentiv Health businesses on contract commercialization issues, helping specialty pharma company Emisphere bring to market Eligen B12, the first prescription tablet proven to normalize B12 levels without the need for an injection and working Aprecia on its ZipDose technology, a drug delivery platform that utilizes 3D printing.
There was considerable growth in the digital arena too, working with Novartis on some industry-first tweet chats and handling social media at industry events. While growth was modest in 2014, the firm ended the year with 50 people across its New York and London offices, and is on track for 25 percent growth in 2015.—PH
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
TogoRun—a specialist healthcare consultancy that operates as part of Omnicom’s FleishmanHillard—takes its name from Togo, a husky known for his role in the 1925 “Great Race of Mercy” to save a village in Alaska from an outbreak of diphtheria. It mission, fittingly, discusses “fearlessly navigating uncharted territory,” and its values including commitment, courage, creativity and craftsmanship. Those things are all easy to talk about, but TogoRun has been delivering on them since its foundation in 2009 (evolving from predecessor firm CPR Worldwide) and has been rewarded with impressive growth, with fees up by 32% in 2014 as the firm ended the year with 60 people in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and London, led by former Cohn & Wolfe executive Gloria Janata.
Longtime clients include Eli Lilly oncology; Bristol-Myers Squibb virology; Philips; and Novo Nordisk. Its work spans pharmaceutical and biotech, health information, technology and medical devices, medical aesthetics and beauty, health provider, coalitions, professional groups and non-profits, and animal health, with a formalized digital practice added in 2014. Interesting work included the award-winning Lilly Oncology On Canvas: Expressions of a Cancer Journey, a competition and touring exhibit, and for BMS the SHE (Strong HIV positive Empowered Women) global program, as well as work supporting Novo Nordisk’s new obesity franchise.—PH
Virgo Health (IPG/Golin)
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
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