MedErgy Marketing president and CEO Julia Ralston's quick state-of-the-agency address begins with a salvo of sorts. “We're seven years old now. That means we're in the stable phase, so to speak,” she pronounces. “Lots of firms never make it to that point, so that's a point of pride for us.”
Equally pleasing to Ralston and her MedErgy peers is that the agency has largely maintained its philosophy and positioning over that time. Where many firms tweak their branding and/or self-image, MedErgy has stuck to its guns, attempting to create marketing programs that are equal parts art and science. Ralston believes the mix works: the agency has grown revenues in every year of its existence, though the pace of growth in 2008 was “less dramatic” than in years past.
“A lot of it nowadays is really just staying the course,” she notes. “Clients aren't willing to pay more and sometimes you're being asked to charge less, even though you have to deliver more value. How do you do that? For us, it's about making sure we deliver that scientific value, which is the focus of the agency, on top of everything else.”
After moving into new space at the start of 2008, MedErgy has, true to Ralston's words, stayed the course. Its headcount remains around 45, while revenue sits slightly below $10 million. Unlike some of her peers, though, Ralston doesn't consider $10 million some kind of magical benchmark that announces the company has arrived. “Well, it's a nice, round number, I suppose,” she says with a laugh. “But that's not something we should take out of context or blow out of proportion. We're more interested in growing the company in a fashion that's consistent with what we set out to do strategically.”
Ralston downplays the challenges MedErgy faced over the last 12 months, saying that they're “not all that different” from what other firms are facing—see in dictionary under “financial pressures from clients, smothering.” At the same time, she's pleased that MedErgy was able to expand and diversify at a time when many companies were battening down the hatches. By way of example, she points to the firm's device/diagnostics portfolio and its increasing presence overseas. The latter has “allowed us to win some great business based in the US, even though it's effectively a global program with a pan-European focus,” she says.
As befitting its focus on organic growth, MedErgy added business over the last year from longtime clients Johnson & Johnson and Wyeth. Baxter tapped the firm for its “Why PD” campaign, while Ethicon's women's health and urology arm assigned it a fibroid-treatment program. Allergan hired MedErgy for a global communications effort to tout new indications for Botox and GlaxoSmithKline hired the agency to work on influenza drugs.
As for clients lost, MedErgy had the bad fortune to be working on a J&J product that was launched and then voluntarily withdrawn from the market. “It's never very nice when you have to pack up an account, but it was well beyond our control,” Ralston shrugs.
In the months ahead, look for MedErgy to continue with its science focus. To that end, the company hired Dr. Jeff Levy last year and tasked him with “really getting inside the principles of physician learning and their use of media,” Ralston says. “With everybody segregating medical and marketing activities, you have to be smart. People like [Dr. Levy] are what we need to keep our edge.”