When Cambridge BioMarketing Group opened its doors in Boston's Kendall Square in 2001, the region wasn't exactly a pharmaceutical marketing hotbed. Though the Route 128 corridor was rife with biotech startups and established players alike, the companies weren't very eager to play ball.
“We caught biotech at a time when they were trying to go it alone without pharma,” recalls firm president Steve West. “We were the largest pharmaceutical agency in Cambridge; we were also probably the only pharmaceutical agency in Cambridge. It was sort of a boom-or-bust situation.”
The biotechs, however, have since changed their course. While they're still hesitant to hand over their compounds, West reports, they're more inclined to enter into partnerships. “There's more true collaboration going on. You see them having a more active role in the commercialization and sales/marketing of products. That's a good thing for everybody involved.”
Cambridge BMG has taken advantage of the evolving market dynamics. Billings jumped from $50.7 million in 2004 to $83.4 million in 2005; business is up 20% so far in 2006. Cambridge generated $8.33 million in income in 2005, up substantially from 2004's sum of $5.72 million. The agency grew its number of full-time staffers from 26 in 2004 to 37 at the end of 2005, and has added seven more since then. To accommodate this influx, the firm recently expanded its office space. “At this point, I'm not sure if we're a large small agency or a small midsize agency,” West cracks dryly.
From the outset, Cambridge BMG has attempted to position itself as a hybrid of sorts, nearly equal parts consumer and health/science experience—a rarity in a smaller firm. That said, West bemoans the difficulty in luring top talent. “The problem with being the only game in town is that there's nobody to poach from,” he notes. “It's hard to shake people loose, whether from the New York-New Jersey or San Francisco or wherever. And it doesn't help that we're a little bit picky.”
Hiring frustrations notwithstanding, Cambridge BMG added four accounts during 2004: Shire Pharmaceuticals' Elaprase, Auxilium/Oscient Pharmaceuticals' Testim testosterone gel, and education programs around Medicare Part D for Bristol-Myers Squibb and the New Industry Alliance. The firm did not lose any clients or resign any business.
One senses that West enjoys programs like the latter two. “Obviously we're pretty keen on helping those who need the help,” he says. “With the Together Rx Access program for uninsured patients, we were targeting people who were disenfranchised from a healthcare perspective. To get them to respond and sign up and lose their apathy, that was a real victory.” Cambridge BMG's work included, among other things, TV, out-of-home, print and direct-mail pitches.
West points to work done on behalf of Cubist Pharmaceuticals' IV antibiotic Cubicin. “I like to think our pre-launch effort worked really well. We launched against Pfizer with nowhere near the resources, and we pulled it off.”
However, he remains unimpressed with the overall state of healthcare ad creative. “Honestly? I went to the Rx Club and did the tour, and I wasn't all that impressed. All the DTC work out there—you can tell which ones were done by agencies that don't know healthcare. It's kind of sad, really.”