From his guest-room-turned-office, Propeller founder and president Charlie Flax says that he can’t wait to go home. But by “home,” he doesn’t mean the three-story Tudor-style house from which he’s been working remotely since the COVID-19 shutdown. Rather, he’s referring to Propeller’s brand-new headquarters in downtown Summit, New Jersey.
The shiny 7,000-square-foot building, equipped with high ceilings and themed breakout rooms, was designed from scratch, with Flax’s wife in charge of the project. “There wasn’t even a stud on it,” says Flax.
Its completion in early February represented a triumphant moment for both him and the Propeller team. “Being able to bring all these people that I love to their new home, which was built with them in mind — it doesn’t get more victorious than that,” Flax adds.
Flax founded Propeller in 2006, parlaying his experience in digital HCP marketing and sales activation. “Not that long ago I was doing this with two employees in a basement office,” he recalls. “I had zero investors and partners, and just had to build and build until it snowballed.”
Snowball it did. Propeller ended 2019 with 39 full-time employees under its roof, up from 31 at the end of 2018. As part of the company’s intensified investment in the digital realm, it promoted two executives (Donna Wrotny Smith to VP of creative excellence design and Heather Hoy to senior director of strategic execution) and hired Kate Horvath away from Hearst Media Solutions to fill the new role of senior director of strategy and innovation. The agency also launched a new internal platform, Propeller Pulse, designed to keep employees up-to-date on healthcare marketing trends.
Propeller enjoyed a fine year on the client front as well. It generated just north of $7 million in revenue during 2019, up 17% over 2018’s take of $6 million.
Its client roster is balanced evenly between pharma and device companies, including Novartis (for respiratory and dermatology work), DePuy Synthes (sports medicine/animal health) and Ethicon (biosurgery/wound closure). Additions during 2019 included J&J Surgical Vision, Biosense Webster and med-tech firm Getinge.
The agency also succeeded in its efforts to expand deeper into animal health, adding J&J Animal Health to its roster. The thinking behind the expansion was pretty simple: “Our people are obsessed with their pets and I saw how the team responded,” Flax quips.
Indeed, Flax believes motivated employees are likely to stick around for a while. That’s one reason he takes pains to preserve what he characterizes as an “extremely authentic” culture, especially now with the remote-work challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.
“If someone doesn’t fit in, they just don’t fit and we know it from day one,” he explains, “But if they fit, they fit like a glove.”
He notes that several Propeller team members are approaching their 10th year with the agency, which is rarely seen at smaller organizations. “You can love us or you can hate us, but those who love us stick around,” Flax adds.
The best marketing we saw in 2019…
The Being Patient patient advocacy app from Takeda. The name itself reminds all of us that we need to take our time to do the right thing, make the right choices and be educated. I also like the look of the app itself — it tells a story-based narrative. A lot of apps can be overly complex for a patient, but this is simple, and it leverages the ability for people to take it with them everywhere. — Charlie Flax
From the June 01, 2020 Issue of MM+M - Medical Marketing and Media