As much as we try not to repeat ourselves in these profiles, sometimes it is unavoidable. And so it goes with Strikeforce Communications, which flourished in 2015 for much the same reason it flourished in 2014: a relationship with a little mom-and-pop operation known as Gilead Sciences that extended to DTC work on blockbuster hep.-C cure Harvoni.
Furthermore, we might lead with this same relationship in next year's Strikeforce profile. The agency has already been tapped for DTC work on Gilead's next hep.-C drug, about which founder and CEO Mike Rutstein says, “Believe it or not, it may be more effective than Harvoni.”
None of this is to suggest that Strikeforce is a one-trick pony — 2015 saw the firm claim AOR status for Amgen's Neulasta Onpro delivery device and work for regenerative-medicine market leader Amniox Medical — but it doesn't hurt to be deeply involved with the industry's hottest company and its best-selling drug.
“What feels good is that the work isn't just something we're proud of. It's been quantified as having a big effect on the bottom line,” Rutstein says. Furthermore, he believes there are still patients to reach: “Only about half of that hep.-C market has been tapped.”
Fueled in large part by the Gilead work, Strikeforce grew revenue to $13 million in 2015, up from around $10 million in 2014. It added 10 full-time staffers, increasing the total to 35. The agency's model remains freelancer-centric; Rutstein touts a “deep bench” of 600 to 700 specialists who can be activated on a moment's notice.
When asked why that model appears to be resonating with the Gileads and Amgens of the world, Rutstein pauses before answering. “It's probably a career-limiting thing to put in a story like this, but all these big agencies and holding companies keep on
realigning, renaming, restructuring — to what end?” he asks. “Where's the value? It's just a new coat of paint. A pig with lipstick is still a pig.”
At the same time, given its esteemed reputation within the business — Rutstein himself was inaugurated into the DTC Hall of Fame in April — Strikeforce isn't immune to the same pressures that companies 10 times its size are facing. Rutstein bemoans the increasingly quick-hit nature of the business.
“There is no time to do anything anymore. Everything is now, now, now. It used to be that you'd spend two months concepting a launch or a program. Today you get a few weeks. The world doesn't want to wait.”
And as much as Strikeforce attempts to stay above the pitch-derby fray, the agency has faced its share of headaches with the process during its 2013–2015 growth spurt.
“There's this endless series of requests for pitches and we were sucked into a couple of those scenarios. We were seduced,” Rutstein explains. “It's great that maybe some people are intrigued by Strikeforce, but we're not in the business of giving away ideas for free.”
At the same time, Rutstein is encouraged by what he's been hearing in meetings with would-be clients and at industry klatches.
“The pendulum is swinging back toward a willingness to do things differently,” he says. “A few years ago you had that move toward [agency] consolidation, but clients have come to recognize that saving money today usually ends up costing them money tomorrow. That plays right into our strengths.”