100 Agencies: Roska Healthcare Advertising

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Jay Bolling, David Zaritsky, Craig Little, Kurt Mueller
Jay Bolling, David Zaritsky, Craig Little, Kurt Mueller

Raising the stakes could be seen as one of the main items on Roska Healthcare's agenda over the past year. Aside from the usual ­business of seeking out new accounts and servicing existing ones, the Montgomery, PA-based agency has bitten off a major challenge for itself. That challenge is nothing less than the reinvention of healthcare marketing.

“The old models, whether it's the sales network on the professional side or the DTC model on the consumer side, are gone,” said Roska CEO Jay Bolling. “I don't know of one client who looks at that and says let's do what we were doing three years ago. We need a new approach.”

For several years now, Bolling and his team have been developing a new consumer model that is backed by some pretty big thinkers. They hope to roll out the new approach for Astellas Pharma's overactive-bladder drug Mirabegron once it wins FDA approval. It's an approach meant for the post-mass-advertising marketplace—a place where consumer action, not just awareness, is the goal.  But don't mistake it for simply going digital.

“The model is designed to customize the brand experience to the individual,” Bolling said. “It's got the relationship-marketing element you would more typically find in an opt-in environment and brought it into a DTC experience that is much more robust and engaging than a one-size-fits-all, I'm going to put out  my spot in as many places as I can and hope people see it and act on it.”


Bolling acknowledges that this strategy isn't easy to envision without being able to see the work, but he promises its principles aren't far from the agency's direct-marketing roots. The new approach is also based on the Roska Catalyst Brand Acceptance model, which was developed with a University of Pennsylvania expert on patient persistency and piloted last year for Johnson & Johnson. The research determined that acceptance isn't a one-time event but a continuum. As a result, communications needs to appeal to people of different mindsets.

“Catalyst was the spearhead, answering the question of how do we get someone to accept therapy. “Now how do we apply that to create a truly integrated multichannel experience?” That's the question the Mirabegron program would seek to answer.

The Mirabegron win led Roska to add about 15 staffers, bringing the agency headcount to 65.  The agency also grew its relationship with Bristol-Myers Squibb, adding Baraclude, but parted ways with Actelion Pharmaceuticals, where its main focus was on Tracleer. Bolling said revenue was up between 5%and 10% for  the year, and that the Mirabegron win will be reflected in 2012 performance.

In addition to the consumer marketing reinvention, Roska is looking at how professional marketing can be improved in a world where pharma companies have to rely on smaller sales forces to reach physicians. Working with consultants Doug Hubbard, author of How to Measure Anything, and Mark Jaster, of Crossover Technologies, Roska is developing a professional marketing approach that is based on applied information economic thinking. This type of strategy is popular at Hollywood studios, where it is used to make decisions on what properties they should back. Closer to home, the approach  is used by pharmaceutical product development departments as they determine which compounds they should focus their research on.

It's designed to minimize the risk as well as take the guesswork out of professional marketing campaigns. Or, as Bolling put it, “How can we predict outcomes in the absence of large datasets by modeling expert analysis?”

According to Bolling, Roska is on the verge of signing up a client or two to pilot the program.
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