Vox Medica operated as a holding company with four subsidiary companies until 2003, when the subsidiaries were consolidated into Vox Medica and the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education. Donald J. M. Phillips, Pharm.D., principal and CEO, says the agency is reaping the benefits of the transition.
“The last two years are some of the best the company has ever had,” Phillips says. “Continued growth on the top and bottom lines was important. The moves we made seem to have been the right ones.”
Though Phillips declines to report revenue, he says both gross and margins increased in 2005. (In 2004, Vox reported $15.4 million in revenues.) He adds that AOR is growing and says that agency-of-record (AOR) appointments “always make you feel good.”
The public relations group had AOR wins for Janssen and Baxter Medication Delivery. The agency also pulled in what Phillips calls a “huge piece” from AstraZeneca for Medicare Part D education outreach to senior citizens.
“Any time it's tough for our clients, it's tough for us,” he says. “There wasn't a whole plethora of new approvals. The promotional spend was flat. There wasn't a lot of money being spent in independent educational programs. And, the industry has become a political lightning rod. We're thrilled to continue to grow in spite of all of that.”
Phillips sees a continued switch from direct-to-consumer product advertising to corporate and disease awareness advertising and messaging, with technology playing an increasingly important role in reaching audiences.
“There's a much greater emphasis on patient education,” he says. “Electronic technology is inexpensive and very user-friendly. We need to get to patients and caregivers, and that's a very potent way. The use of electronic technology will increase logarithmically. The whole industry will become more and more patient-focused and patient-centric, and it's a cost-effective way of getting to patients.”
Phillips believes there is a model emerging where the risk of discovery is being shifted away from big pharma to smaller companies. “We continue to see the big pharma guys become more development and less research,” he says. “More and more, the onus for discovery is being placed on smaller biotech and pharma companies. The big companies [are doing the] developing and marketing.”
The agency is working on a four-year strategic plan with consultants, and Phillips plans on aggressive growth. Unlike many of his colleagues, Phillips has not had a hard time finding talent.
“There seems to be some very good talent out there,” he says. “I don't know why. We've been able to get good talent recently. Philadelphia's getting nicer—it's the next great American city.”
New talent additions include Belle Gauvry in the PR group, Steve Martino in the creative group, and Dyan Bryson in the Institute for Continuing Healthcare Education. This year the agency moved to a new building, which is more efficient because it allows everybody to be on the same floor.
“We built a culture of collaboration when we went through the transition,” Phillips says. “When you're stacked on five floors it's hard. We [now] have common space, and everybody sees everybody. It really helps the collaborative atmosphere.”
Phillips believes that the overriding challenge in the coming years is the same for agencies as it is for the pharmaceutical industry. “How do we establish the true value we bring to our clients, and how do our clients define and establish the value they bring to their patients?” Phillips says.
“We have not done a good job as a communications industry,” he continues, “and our clients have not done a good job defining the value they bring to society.”