It was a phenomenal year for four-year-old Surge Worldwide Healthcare Communications (part of Omnicom’s Corbett Accel Healthcare Group), as revenues increased 53%. President Carleen Kelly reports employees have “probably tripled” since 2004.
The agency’s business is 85% professional; 10% is managed care; and the remainder comes from partnerships with interactive group Kinect.
Project work for Valera Pharmaceuticals’ Vantas (prostate cancer) was last year’s only loss. Wins include six brands from Merck Vaccines, and a yet-to-be-launched HIV/AIDS product from Merck. It picked up work from Genentech, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Schering-Plough and managed care business from Daiichi Sankyo. Kelly notes the agency came into the vaccine business organically, which she considers to be a great compliment.
Hiring is now nearly complete, but staffing was a challenge. Kelly notes that recruiters are continuously calling her people. “The hardest thing was turning away very good candidates that had experienced title creep or inflated salaries,” she says. “I looked at some good people, and thought at some point they’re going to hit a ceiling. It was hard for me to see. We’re doing a disservice to younger people who are moving and getting $20,000 more. We’re not so eager to bring in people who don’t have depth. It’s easy to say from a chemistry standpoint you would be a good fit, but it’s not just about filling a body and burning hours. It’s about how we think they’re going to help client’s business and how we can help them grow. You can’t hurry experience.”
The agency recently conducted a development program wherein employees submitted goals. “People really want to feel they’re contributing to the agency,” she says. “As we grow, it’s important to continue to nurture our culture. We work very hard to build an agency of talent where people want to come to work.”
In the pharma landscape, Kelly sees decrease in blockbuster and mega brands. “There appears to be good pipeline of specialty products,” she notes. “We’re going have less promotional dollars per piece of business than we had on blockbusters and mega brands. Client teams will be smaller. Agencies are going to have to be more strategic and do more for brands with less money and less resources.”
She also sees networks continuing to pursue and consolidate business and an increase in procurement. “One client had one procurement person, who didn’t work across a lot of brands,” Kelly says. “Now clients are asking a person to make sure they understand the business, the jobs that are getting done, and to take out any inefficiencies with fees. When hiring and managing, you need high-level people on the business. You have to have good dialogue between procurement, the agency and the brand team. Many times procurement was trying to push us for as much as they could, but the more we involved the brand team, the more help we got.”
Kelly is excited about the use of tablet PCs, and she believes there are possibilities for the technology that transcends sales. “We could use tablet PCs for patient education perhaps,” she says.
As this year unfolds the agency is renovating and branding its office space. “We’re also continuing to grow managed care, and looking to get one new pharma manufacturer client on the roster.”