During an era when many agencies are slashing staff count down to subsistence level, AgencyRx spent the last year hiring: The firm employs somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 employees, up from 112 at the same time in 2007.
Yet when asked to explain the surge, three of AgencyRx's top execs—managing partner, creative director Ralph Skorge; managing partner, creative director Michael Schreiber; and managing partner, director of client services Laurence Richards—suggest simply that the firm has stuck to its guns.
“We challenge [clients]. We prod them. If you want an agency of yes men, the answer is no,” Schreiber quips.
While AgencyRx extols the virtues of its “fearless pharma” tagline, the firm's success seems more the result of good, old-fashioned hard work and insight.
Over the last year, the company grew its interactive abilities. “As the paper visual aid becomes more and more obsolete every day, film and video can present products in a way that dimensionalizes them for customers, whether a physician or a patient,” Skorge explains. The AgencyRx prexies admit that convincing conservative clients to adapt to new techniques has proven somewhat of a challenge. “Clients, if they're used to a print world, understandably are a little skeptical about change. But we've been forcing the issue,” Richards notes. “It's like with DTC advertising 15 years ago: everybody was afraid of it at first, and then all of a sudden everybody wanted to do a commercial.”
Along those lines, the agency continues to preach the single-message gospel to clients. “We try to validate for [clients] that one single message will ultimately create the most clarity and the most differentiation,” Schreiber says. “They want to say a lot, which is understandable, but it's our approach that it's best to make them commit to one single idea and direction for the brand.”
Clients were happy to accept AgencyRx's counsel, as witnessed by its in the new-business arena. Duramed Pharmaceuticals tapped the company for Seasonique and two additional products. From existing clients, AgencyRx was awarded additional work within Schering-Plough's Peg-Intron franchise and materials for Novartis Oncology's Femara. Alpharma handed the firm an assignment on Embeda.
Additionally, according to Skorge, several accounts awarded months ago finally “came to life” during 2007 and the first-half of 2008, including Novartis Pharmaceuticals' Galvus and Exelon Patch. As for client or account losses, AgencyRx points to a single Merck product that got pulled from development.
Looking forward, expect AgencyRx to go after clients in therapeutic areas where the company currently services few others. Cardiovascular is an obvious fit, as are HIV, sleep aids and allergy/respiratory. To accommodate current and future activity, AgencyRx will likely seek to expand “smartly.” Richards admits that, at times, the company's “bandwidth has been tested,” but notes success in bringing in the staff needed to ensure top-flight client service. “We're not intimidated by the realities of this business right now,” Schreiber says. “There are unique and creative ways to work within and around the shrinking sales forces and budgets. We're going to be fearless and we're going to be smart.”