Roller coaster, incredible journey, “the best of times, the worst of times”: Razorfish Health president David Paragamian has no shortage of metaphors, descriptions or quotes to describe his agency’s up-and-down 2019. “My hair got white in the first half of the year,” he says. “And then it got even whiter in the second half.”

The headaches started early. Network consolidation at AstraZeneca cost Razorfish Health its biggest brand, the ovarian cancer treatment Lynparza, and left 42 people in its Philadelphia office with unexpected time on their hands. Paragamian now calls it the “most difficult period in the history of our agency” — but notes that in the end, only two people were let go.

The decision to maintain ties with the great majority of the former Lynparza team paid off in the year’s second half, when Razorfish Health won work for a different ovarian cancer drug: GlaxoSmithKline’s Zejula, claiming AOR assignments for both HCP and direct-to-patient. That win kickstarted what Paragamian characterizes as the agency’s “September to remember.” In short order, the agency added work from the Hospital Corporation of America and a second client.

At the end of the whirlwind year, revenue was up just a tad, to an MM&M-estimated $66 million from 2018’s estimated take of $65 million. “For myself and the other folks at Razorfish, it was a year that proved resilience, positivity and hanging together as a family really matters,” Paragamian says.

Staff size, in turn, grew from 300 to 347. Additions included EVP and managing partner, client services Kara Dugan (from Razorfish parent Publicis Groupe) and EVP, chief strategy officer Jill Kauffman (from Publicis sibling agency Digitas Health). The agency now employs three executive creative directors, one in each office — Michael Groff (Philadelphia) and TJ Cimfel (Chicago) were promoted from within, while Laura Mizrahi (New York) joined from Grey.

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Razorfish Health also imported Cello Health’s Rick Lang to fill the newly created role of SVP, innovation. In that post, Lang will serve as the client-facing translator for all things related to technology and user experience. Paragamian says that Lang will be the guy who tells clients, “Here’s why you need the app.” The two previously worked together at ApotheCom.

Paragamian reports that the agency’s September momentum has carried over into 2020, with business headed in the right direction and 20 vacancies to fill. The company has been able to weather the coronavirus crisis in large part owing to the fortitude and resourcefulness forged during the challenging months of 2019.

In March of this year, Razorfish Health won an additional Genentech brand via virtual pitch. On the home front, staffers have maintained morale via Zoom happy hours, biweekly town halls and virtual house tours (aka “Razorfish Cribs”).

While acknowledging that no organization could truly have prepared itself for a disruption like the COVID-19 pandemic, Paragamian says the crisis has strengthened Razorfish Health’s spirit of teamwork. “What I’ve told our people is, ‘Be generous with each other.’ And it’s going to help us be more successful.”

The best marketing we saw in 2019…

Vicks Touch of Care, a global campaign originally done in India for Vicks VapoRub. It’s proof that you can resuscitate even a 100-year-old brand and make it contemporary, relevant and powerful. — David Paragamian