The Top 50: Vox Medica

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Unlike some other agency executives, Vox Medica principal and CEO Donald J.M. Phillips, PharmD, is willing to admit that—gasp—not everything went 100% right during the last 12 months.

“2006 was a flat year for us,” he says. “Our clients were buffeted by a wide variety of different market forces. And when clients get buffeted, we get buffeted.”

Phillips points to two disappointments in particular. The first came when a major planned oncology launch, for which Vox Medica held agency of record status, didn’t pass regulatory muster. The second occurred at almost the same time, when the firm’s second-largest client suspended a great deal of its activity, marketing and otherwise. As a result, what Phillips says would have been a 50% growth year became a treading-water, though still profitable, one.

Nonetheless, Vox Medica enjoyed more than its share of triumphs. The firm bulked up personnel-wise, adding Jeffrey Lenow as medical director and strengthening its CME division with an outcomes experts and a business-development exec. And it revved up a new Strategic Solutions unit, which has already made its numbers for 2007. The overall head count sits around 110 or so, roughly where it was at this time last year.

Additionally, of all the mid-sized independents out there, Vox Medica is generally regarded as one of the most desirable acquisition targets. The firm has earned a reputation for its smarts and, almost as importantly, its stability. It’s also said to have expertise, especially in health policy, that many larger firms lack.

While Phillips isn’t interested in pursuing these opportunities, he doesn’t slam the door on them, either. “How can I say this in a way so I won’t regret it later,” he asks, before answering his own question.

“Yeah, we get approached fairly regularly by prospective buyers. We’ll evaluate each one on its
merits. There’s a lot of money out there. But let me be really clear on this: We would not engage in any M&A activity that’s not in the total best interest of our staff and our clients.”

Beyond the aforementioned issues, Vox Medica exonerated itself on the client front. It grew its Genentech strategic/promotional business and added work from Roche and Janssen. The firm continued to distinguish itself via its efforts on behalf of organizations like the Multiple Myeloma Foundation and the Centers For Disease Control.

For the former, Vox Medica handled an outreach program, educating primary care providers on early diagnosis of hematologic tumors. For the CDC, the agency engineered a similar effort revolving around diagnosis of HIV, alcohol dependence and viral hepatitis. Both efforts are non-brand-specific.

“Physicians go to their meetings and hear about asthma and hypertension and diabetes, but nobody really talks to them, or has tried to talk to them, about some of these other conditions. Nobody has talked to them about how they can recognize when a patient’s dependent on alcohol and how they can intervene in a way that’s appropriate and meaningful,” Phillips explains. “It’s almost a public health effort, when you think about it.”
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