Williams-Labadie, now fully integrated into the Publicis Healthcare Communications Group, ended last year “slightly below 2005, but finished very strong,” according to CEO Peter Labadie.
Medical education sustained “significant losses,” but the agency side picked up the slack, which Labadie counts as one of last year’s greatest achievements.
Labadie enjoys being part of the network, noting it provides reciprocal opportunity. Organic growth came from “various accounts,” which Labadie thinks is the “easiest and smartest way to grow.”
The agency also won business from Abraxis, Medicis, deCODE (genetics), DaVita (dialysis), and PDL BioPharma, though this business declined when the product wasn’t approved.
“Sometimes you can only grow as fast as the industry,” Labadie says. “You keep trying to grow and keep finding new clients. We’re seeking to get invited to more pitches.…You adapt and stop complaining. So many companies are part of networks because it manages risks on our end.”
Indeed, pharma is a high-risk business that seems to be getting riskier every day.
“When the industry is in a new products dry spell, and the FDA has a stern high bar, it’s that much harder to launch, and you have to be much more successful when you do launch,” Labadie notes. “Clients are frantic to control costs.”
Increased launch difficulty stagnates development. “We’re seeing ascendancy of greater willpower and assertiveness on the part of the FDA,” Labadie says. “[There’s] a lot of hesitancy [on the part] of small companies whose whole existence depends on getting a product to market. Even [with a] favorable advisory board, the FDA may still not approve. It used to be the FDA found ways, such as accelerated approvals, or judged things in a more contextual way. Now, the pendulum has swung, and they feel it’s in their best interest to take a harder look day-to-day at filings.”
Assuming a product makes it to market, there are still no guarantees. “One day Avandia is a great product,” Labadie says. “The next minute, it’s in jeopardy of being pulled.…Vioxx was out for years. All prescriptions drugs have side effects. Do they outweigh potential benefits? Right now, the winds are turned and in the face of the industry a little more.”
Media criticism and sluggish new product development also make it more difficult to cast a positive light on the industry and to attract talent. Michael Moore’s new movie Sicko, which “lampooned everybody associated with the industry,” doesn’t help.
“The industry does have a good side—new product development,” Labadie says. “When that engine is slowed, it’s harder for companies to show exciting news in terms of attracting investment and careers in the industry. The stronger the new product pipeline, the more attractive the industry. The other way around, the industry looks like it’s stalled.”
Though the agency didn’t hire or let go of many people last year, Labadie says it’s a “constant challenge” to make the business attractive. But he is confident the industry will ultimately come out upright. “When it’s your turn to take it, you got to take it,” he says. “The industry will find its feet and benefit.”