The Top 75: Harrison & Star
Curran reports no account losses. There have been some budget pull-backs but, “That's throughout the whole industry,” he points out, adding that doing more with less has been his organization's biggest challenge. Likewise, when asked about his shop's greatest feat, Curran says it's been providing the right level of expertise to service clients.
“Working in the specialty arena really requires a more scientific and clinical understanding of the disease state, the data and the customer,” he explains. “It takes a special type of agency professional to work in this field. We are blessed at H&S and BioLumina to have such talented professionals.”
Helping them meet the test are a number of PhDs, medical writers and high-science staffers. “They play a significant role in the management of our brands,” says Curran, “as clients ask for more understanding of data and science.”
Overall headcount stands at 330 for H&S, and 100 for BioLumina—up about 10-20% over the past year—a growth curve Curran characterizes as “steady and hopefully rising.”
Another part of the two agencies' success in landing big specialty accounts has been the strength of their global offering. “A majority of our brands have a global component, and that has changed significantly in the past five years,” the CEO says. “Very rarely do we run into a client and it's a US assignment [only].”
Curran taps the Omnicom global network, partnering with UK-based Adelphi Group on a number of global assignments, including Bausch & Lomb, Roche and Novartis. This affords worldwide reach and coverage in everything from med ed and health outcomes to reimbursement, scientific communications and advertising.
How's business been in 2011? “We're off to a very fast start,” Curran says. So far, H&S has drawn on its ophthalmology experience to land some new eye care brands from B&L and a couple of other unnamed wins.
“We are 100% focused on our existing business,” Curran says. “Only by doing a great job on existing business will you be able to go after new business.”
He also cites an uptick in CRM work and is gearing up his troops to do more. “Obviously with reps not having access to doctors, you need to look to non-personal communications,” says Curran. As it turns out, leveraging CRM to get messages to pharma customers has proven to be a unique, innovative and profitable way.
“We have developed a couple of incredible case studies for clients to show the ROI you get with these campaigns,” he says.
The agency's CRM approach melds database marketing and digital with an analytics component to analyze communications effectiveness. Indeed, the back end is as important as the front. “I look at this as a way to increase the power of our messaging and the effectiveness of it, because the customer tells us what, by what channel and when they want to hear from us.”
Curran says digital expertise is now integrated into the teams at H&S and BioLumina. He sees an integrated, multi-channel approach as “a huge part of our growth in the future.”
As some other agencies try to position themselves as specialist shops, amid the loss of patent protection for many of the blockbuster primary care brands, Curran is thankful that his mentor, Star, set the agency on that course 10 years ago: “Every area has been hit, but this is one that maybe has not been hit as much as primary care.”
Still, he's a realist. “There's a global recession out there,” he observes. “Everyone has to adopt and reevaluate how we do business.”
Clients, of course, have responded by cutting their sales forces and scrutinizing promotional spending. Curran says he's been somewhat surprised by the number of network consolidations occurring throughout the industry.
He sees that trend continuing: “From an efficacy standpoint, to have one network providing all disciplines is the way to go. Clients are looking for a better offering and a more economical one, as well. It's a sign of the times.”
Of growth, he says, “It will be a challenge, no doubt about it—it's tough out there. But with the services we offer, our specialty focus and the quality of our people, this will position us very well for the future.”