The Top 75: Heartbeat Digital

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With several product and campaign launches during the first quarter of 2009, and several more in the works, Heartbeat Digital is exercising its cred as a digital shop ahead of the curve. Bill Drummy, chairman and CEO, says with confidence that Heartbeat's design-side offers “some of the strongest creative in the healthcare vertical,” with some “30 or 40 awards” to support the claim.

The agency launched online work for Schering-Plough's NuvaRing last February, and re-launched Xyzal, a Sanofi-Aventis and UCB allergy product in March, the latter featuring extensive video testimonials and expert advice on the website. Heartbeat is also gearing up for the launch of GlaxoSmithKline's HPV vaccine, Cervarix, following an award-winning cervical cancer awareness site (—and a longstanding relationship with the company. Drummy says the agency has won AOR roles with many new clients, as well as major projects with Amgen and new digital work with UCB and Sanofi, but is contractually obligated to bite his tongue on the specifics. 

Despite economic doom and gloom, Heartbeat Digital is “hiring constantly right now,” says Drummy, and has also made numerous promotions. Key new hires include Nadine Leonard, SVP, strategy, and David Hymson, SVP, account services, with promotions going to Jennifer Campanaro, now SVP and general manager, and James Talerico, to SVP, executive creative director. Total headcount at Heartbeat is roughly 120—mostly in the New York office—with other staff at European offices in Brussels. According to Drummy, Heartbeat may open an office in California to service its clients on the West Coast, as well as regional offices in different parts of the country. Agency revenue is up 20%.

Although Heartbeat Digital excels in web development, Drummy balks at being perceived as a strictly website-building agency. “Part of our company is a software company [Heatbeat Software], so we have a deep understanding of how to use technology strategically, so that's one of our core differentiators,” says Drummy.

In addition to pioneering online video and flash in the healthcare space (“way before it became popular,” notes Drummy), Heartbeat leverages a variety of proprietary software for its clients, including e-Landscape and Buzzscape. A competitive analysis product, e-Landscape gathers factual data annually about “how a client's competitors are doing in a particular environment, and then we can learn from that and position our clients more favorably against their competitors,” explains Drummy. Buzzscape is a social media monitoring software allowing clients to listen in on targeted consumers' dialogues, both patient and physician, in order to glean insights about how these groups are thinking about a product.

Economic pressures have made people very budget-conscious, and as a result, some clients have become increasingly conservative when it comes to new ideas, according to Drummy. Others are still willing to take the necessary risks and put resources and time behind good ideas. “You have to make your case very clearly, have good evidence to support it and you have to have a client that wants to try something new—it's hard work,” says Drummy. Just because a new media channel or tactic exists, however, doesn't make it the right way to reach consumers. “There are a lot of examples right now of people starting YouTube channels, and you have to ask, ‘Why?'” notes Drummy. “Is anyone going to go to your YouTube channel? Everyone is watching these Twitter pages for big corporations, but who's going to follow AstraZeneca on Twitter? No one wants to do that—someone in the press might—but not a consumer. A lot of that stuff is just not well thought out.”
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