The Top 75: Interlink Healthcare Communications

After an 18-month period marked by regulatory setbacks on some roster brands and leadership shifts in its upper ranks, Interlink Healthcare Communications (IHC) may be getting its groove back.  During the last six months, the agency has increased organic growth by 20%, picked up new client Sciele Pharmaceuticals and this year hired serial turnaround agent Susan Flinn as its new GM. “We have our work cut out for us, but we're on a roll now and the future is looking pretty bright,” says Flinn. 

A medical-communications industry veteran, Flinn excels in orchestrating strategic turnarounds. (She presided over the LLNS-LyonHeart conversion, among others.)  “It's kind of my M.O.,” she explains.  “I come in and help people get through a tough period.”

Last year three of the agency's roster products failed to win approval by the FDA.  Two of the non-approvable letters came in June 2008 and a third in October for another unnamed product. Management reports no account losses. Nevertheless, the trio of bad news has had an effect. “I was hired to come in and right the ship,” Flinn says, adding that the agency needed to go “back to doing what we are good at doing.”

Lowe Healthcare Worldwide network chairman Sal Perreca tapped Flinn to lead the agency in January, and one of her first moves was to consolidate the firm and its brand.  All agency personnel were moved onto one floor from two, several non-billable support staff were let go and IHC units I-Link (interactive), IneXel (branded med ed) and Ingrafik (art and design) were folded in under the Interlink name.

Now all those disciplines, along with professional and DTC advertising and patient education, are accessible through IHC proper.  “To really strengthen our brand, we needed to simplify it,” Flinn notes. Other than that, “there wasn't too much that needed fixing.”

Regulatory woes haven't affected staffing. Headcount numbers 47, and the agency looks set to expand staff size by 20-25% this year.  Morale is also looking up: “There's a renewed enthusiasm and energy that hadn't been there,” the new GM observes.

The Sciele win is a tangible sign that things are turning around. Interlink will work on the PrandiMet combination diabetes product and Nitrolingual, a nitroglycerine pump spray, as well as other products in the diabetes and cardiology portfolios. It follows another new piece of business, last year's win of Meda Pharmaceuticals' candidate for breakthrough cancer pain, Onsolis, and organic growth from long-time customer Boehringer Ingelheim.  Pfizer has also made IHC a preferred agency for high-science products.

Flinn wants to aggressively pursue more new business this year—an arduous task considering that, with all the mergers of late, “the potential client field is decreasing every day, which is problematic because then you're dealing with big agency holding company systems and you're forced out at multiple levels.”

Her strategy involves targeting mid-sized clients like Sciele.  A self-promotion campaign is in the works. “Part of my job is to reintroduce Interlink to everybody out there,” she explains, “and remind people how good we are and the talent we have.”
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