Tucked away on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Benchworks has been chugging along dependably for 25 years. But in many ways CEO Thad Bench feels as if he is in a brand-new business.
Revenue at the agency portion of the company surged to $11 million in 2015, up from $7 million the prior year. And so far in 2016, Benchworks is on pace to finish between $13 million and $14 million.
“Because of that growth and the new direction of our business, it feels like a really young company,” Bench says. “It's as if we're getting in at the beginning of important new business.”
Cofounded by Bench, the Chestertown, Maryland–based agency got its start as a promotions company back in 1991. It specialized in advertising branded products until 2001, when Bench bought out his brother and expanded into nonpersonal promotion, especially direct mail.
“We were just a job shop,” Bench recalls. “We developed a reputation for reliability and efficiency. As that reputation grew, we gained more commercial velocity. And as we added higher-quality designers and writers, we branched out into more sophisticated strategic projects.”
Benchworks often found itself toiling alongside New York City healthcare marketing agencies. “We were a good ‘coupling' agency. The bigger firms owned the look and the feel of the campaign, and we'd be charged with activating those materials,” Bench says.
But about five years ago, that began to shift. Benchworks' reputation solidified to the extent that it started receiving invitations to pitch AOR assignments — and it started to win those pitches.
Bench says that one of his company's competitive advantages is that it can offer clients, including Shire, Pfizer, and Otsuka, a better deal. “The life-sciences industry is under pressure and compelled to look for more efficiencies,” he adds. “Because we're privately held, we aren't as concerned about quarter-to-quarter performance. We don't have legacy acquisition costs. So we provide a good value.”
As revenue has increased, Benchworks has expanded its footprint. Last year Bench opened a full-service creative agency — Agency LRB, after his dad's initials — in Philadelphia. In late 2014, it acquired Safe Chain Solutions, a wholesale drug distributor that supplies hospital pharmacies. The acquisition gives Benchworks the ability to produce patient starter kits as well as support Rx sampling programs.
Benchworks' total revenue was $30 million in 2015 and is expected to reach $50 million in 2016. The combined company employs about 67.
The healthcare-marketing side of the company has 36 employees. Among the recent additions at Benchworks was Thad Bench II, who has settled into a new business role. President Melissa Johnston adds that the agency is particularly proud of a scholarship program targeting students with ADHD that it helped coordinate for Shire.
“When it started, six years ago, we got it launched in three months, which is amazingly fast. Last year there were 10,000 applications for 50 scholarships and coaching awards,” she says.
As the firm grows, Johnston says the major challenge remains finding the best ways to connect with healthcare providers. “As doctors become part of these larger organizations, our clients face roadblocks,” she says. “With so many demands on their time, it's up to us to find ways to educate them that make the best use of their time.”