The Top 40: LLNS

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When we checked in with LLNS at this time last year, the company's top execs were agog with excitement about Disruption, a proprietary creative-strategic process conceived by Omnicom Group sibling TBWA World Health. Many LLNS staffers had not yet been trained in its ways, so 2005 largely became about getting the entire company up to speed—not to mention selling staffers on its value.

“That could have been a serious speed bump for us,” admits LLNS chairman Al Nickel.

Ultimately, Disruption won over the masses and, execs say, played a large part in the company's work. “The problem you see so often is that everything gets brought down to the lowest common denominator of message and creativity,” adds Anne Devereux, LLNS' CEO. “What Disruption requires us to do is challenge preconceived notions and disrupt the current thinking.”

Might this process rub certain clients the wrong way? “I'm sure some are a little intimidated, and for strong brands headed in the right direction, clients aren't going to want to shake things up that much. But anybody who went to business school and is familiar with those ‘S' curves knows you can't stop challenging the status quo.”

Devereux's arrival—she joined LLNS in April from BBDO New York's DTC communications practice, which she founded—coincided with a handful of structural tweaks at the agency. Prior to her arrival, the firm elevated four vice presidents to client-service director, thus giving clients more access to executive-level muscle. The agency also recently revved up its 10-strong e@LLNS interactive marketing arm, to promote faster and more tech-savvy interaction with physicians.
On the new-business front, LLNS imported a gaggle of clients while only losing three, most notably a diabetes product from Bayer. “New management wanted to work with an agency of their choosing,” shrugs president Steven Wice. That work was quickly replaced with a project from Medtronics' diabetes division.

Other additions include a long-lasting analgesic from Purdue, an MS oral agent from Serono, Braintree's Axid OS, corporate and recruitment-communications assignments from PRA International, and Cardizem LA work from KOS Pharmaceuticals. LLNS' prexies are also proud of three new products from Pfizer Animal Health, each of which was scored via competitive pitch. “We did it the hard way,” Nickel cracks.

LLNS execs initially decline to identify a single piece of work that best represents the agency's efforts. “You love all your children the same, you know?” Wice says. Pressed, they point to their work on UCB Pharma's Keppra. “It was global and we developed the creative elements that carried through all aspects of the business,” Nickel notes. “Every country went along with the branding we developed here, which is pretty humbling.”

Execs are less hesitant to comment on the state of healthcare ad creative. They give a thumbs-up to the trend away from showy work. “The glitzy approach that many big pharma companies were taking—I'm not sure how well that worked,” says Nickel. “We're seeing more educational, more straightforward approaches.”

Adds Devereux: “I guess it all depends on your definition of creativity. Obviously there's plenty of room for it in our world, but the media is changing so much—and that's where the creative is developed for. There are so many ways to build brands nowadays and we're always keeping every option open.”

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