The Top 75: S&R Communications Group

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S&R Communications Group proves that a specialty focus can be advantageous during turbulent times. “We're surviving in a very tough environment,” reports Paul Dreyer, president and COO.  “We've picked up some new clients but, unfortunately, we've also had some client losses.”

An array of AOR accounts from smaller specialty firms—S&R's bread and butter—and project-based work for mid-sized and large clients has helped the full-service professional agency offset the losses.

The firm has expanded its pre-launch, branded medical education work during the year, landing Merz Pharmaceuticals' aesthetic dermatology line, Alimera Sciences' experimental ophthalmologic product Iluvien for diabetic macular edema and an oncology device from MDS Nordion. All three assignments involve prepping the market using publication work, as well as thought-leader and KOL development.

“Persuasive med ed has been an important part of our overall offering,” says Dreyer. That goes for the post-launch side, as well.  In-line, branded med-ed clients include GlaxoSmithKline's Treximet, Baxter's hemophelia franchise, Sciele's PrandiMet and Med-El, maker of a middle-ear implant. Add to that S&R's advertising work, peer-to-peer activities and a focus on devices, and it's obvious this shop has a robust specialty expertise. Its depth has helped dampen the impact from losses like Phospho Soda, an older OTC bowel-prep product which marketer Fleet Pharmaceuticals felt compelled to withdraw in the wake of new FDA restrictions across the brand's class. (S&R continues to do corporate and other work for Fleet.) Cornerstone Therapeutics' third-generation cephalosporin also briefly joined S&R's account roster only to bid adieu when new management came on board.

Setbacks like these have forced the agency to decrease headcount, “from 50 to the low 40s right now,” says Dreyer, who's set his sights on returning the agency to glory. “We had steady growth for five to six years and have to get back on that path.”

Customer satisfaction holds the key, and S&R has been working on ways to help existing AOR clients build their business. Following the 2007 launch of Inspire Pharmaceuticals' AzaSite ophthalmic solution, S&R's creative concept has helped the brand carve out a strong position among ophthalmologists. For Covidien's Tofranil-PM, a tricyclic antidepressant, Dreyer's crew has styled a new campaign that generated market-share gains for the mature product. 

Also notable was S&R's 2008 team-up with Ovation to launch Xenazine, the first drug approved for Huntington's chorea, an orphan disease. Orphan drug launches can be tricky due to the difficulty in locating patients and enabling access to a treatment that can be expensive. Nevertheless, “The client has been pleased with the uptake of the drug,” notes Dreyer. 

S&R has always been committed to understanding the prescriber, whether primary care provider or specialist.  The agency is trying to use digital channels to connect the two types of clinician through interactive peer-to-peer offerings. One idea involves building an online exchange enabling professionals to share product experiences in a therapeutic category.

“That kind of exchange is so critical for a product to be tried and adopted,” Dreyer says. While he's inspired by the health-related discussions occurring on Twitter, Facebook and Sermo, Dreyer says: “There are a lot of examples, but how do you get the biggest bang for the client and how does the agency monetize that?  That's the challenge.”
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