In a year when the medical advertising industry has been under a lot of pressure, Sudler & Hennessey's co-chief says that her agency is weathering the storm just fine.
“Everybody is working very hard to stay on top of it, but we are having a good year,” says Louisa Holland, co-CEO, the Americas, Sudler & Hennessey.
Holland—who shares the CEO duties with Rob Rogers, who is also president of Sudler's Asia Pacific business—says that the company started the year knowing the economy was going to be difficult and that their current clients were preparing for a difficult time. “And not just the economy, but the political, regulatory and financial constraints were making their lives difficult,” she says.
Part of S&H's strategy in this current climate was to make sure that they were focusing all of their efforts on current clients and helping them in any way possible. That approach has been successful according to Holland, because clients have appreciated S&H's commitment to that policy and, in addition, she believes that it has also strengthened its relationships.
“It's kept us close to our client base and it's helped us ensure that we are trusted advisors in this difficult time, and that's something that our clients are looking for,” she explains.
Although Holland wouldn't discuss specific clients by name, she said the agency is doing very well within the high-science specialty markets. “I think that this is an era when high-science specialty medicine will have a renewed focus and some renewed energy. I think that has been good for us because it plays into one of our strengths.”
She also indicated that S&H's managed markets business was strong: “Now, more than ever, ensuring access is a critical component of any marketing plan, and staying informed about the implications of any impending healthcare reform proposals is vital to our clients.”
Among S&H's client roster: Centocor, Johnson & Johnson, Forest, Cephalon, Merck, Medtronic, Boehringer Ingelheim, Allergan, AstraZeneca and Bayer HealthCare.
In addition to advertising and promotion, the agency's network includes three full-service medical education companies (IntraMed Educational Group, Precept Medical Communications and Current Medical Directions) as well as a sales training division (HealthAnswers). S&H Digital provides digital programs (strategy, creative and technology development) for promotional and educational activities designed for both patients and professionals.
Holland notes that regulatory, political and financial pressures remain a challenge for the industry, in particular, the regulatory, which she said has had a big influence on many of their clients.
“One of the important factors in the external environment now is just the explosion of communications channels. We all know that there are many different ways to reach people, and that we have a lot of different people to reach.” Holland comments that it's not just about talking to professionals, but also to the allied health professionals, patients, their friends and family. Because of this, Sudler & Hennessey has committed considerable energy over the past year working on what it calls “mapping the health influence ecosystem.”
Holland says that the company has pursued this strategy because it believes that the things that influence a prescription—how an Rx is filled and how compliant patients are—vary over time. “You can't just assume that you understand the key influences, you have to think about it over the course of the entire disease continuum.”
Holland says if you have seemingly limitless channels, yet increasingly limited budgets, one of the important tasks is making sure that you understand what you're spending, where you spend and that your spend is justified. “So, we're putting a lot of effort into a process that can define the major influences at specific points in time, which helps determine which channels you use to reach those key influencers. By mapping the relative influence we can make sense out of the explosion of communication channels, figuring out which channel to use when.”
In response to the changing regulatory landscape, S&H has been focusing on helping clients with the aggregate spend issue and state reporting.
“We are spending a lot of time thinking about compliance with regulations, even those that are on the horizon, not just those that are here today but those that we anticipate in the near future,” says Holland, who added that she has had clients say that 2009 is the year of compliance. “That's how our clients are thinking, so we certainly need to be prepared to help them with that.”
On the staffing front, S&H is hiring and has been on the lookout for good talent over the past several months. Holland notes that despite the industry layoffs of the past year, “it is still a struggle to find good people.”
S&H's approach to finding the right fit is to invest time and thinking into how the company recruits. The agency actively trains staff on how to conduct an interview and identify good talent. Holland added that that the agency also spends a lot of effort to keep good talent because “reducing turnover is another way to improve our client relationships.”
According to Holland, the agency puts considerable effort into maintaining a corporate culture that makes S&H a company where people want to stay. “We train them, we support them and we have a lot of camaraderie and fun. We work hard but we try to be very supportive while we are doing it. We really do pay attention to the environment and the culture so we can keep the good people.”
One of S&H's major growth areas is in the global sector. “We grow offices organically so every office or service bureau that we build is staffed by people we've hired and trained, so that they are very much doing things the Sudler way,” says Holland.
According to Jed Beitler, worldwide CEO, S&H, “globally, things, while a bit slower to react than in the states, aren't all that far behind. Our once-proud ‘recession-proof' industry is feeling the pinch all over.” Beitler noted that clients have reduced the number of selling cycles all around the world; budgets are being trimmed; the client ranks are thinning out, both in sales and marketing; and there's a move by some clients to go back to a centralized model, in the hopes of saving more production dollars/Euros/etc.
For the remainder of 2009 and looking forward to 2010, S&H expects business to increase.
“Because we are laser-focused on client needs, and because we have such a very broad arsenal of offerings, we are in a good position to support our clients in any way possible,” notes Holland. “We anticipate that the digital business, the medical education business and professional promotion will all do well.”
She doesn't necessarily see the agency creating new divisions in the year ahead, but she does envision the company continuing to perfect the way in which all of its disciplines work together.
“We've made a lot of progress on that, and it's an essential part of ensuring that we are doing everything we can for our clients,” she says. “One important way in which we can help our clients is by bringing all the resources of such a large network to them in an efficient, well-integrated and nimble fashion.”