When asked to explain the big idea behind Relevate Health Group’s approach to marketing, agency CEO Jeff Spanbauer references one of the blockbusters of years past: Lipitor.

“It had 40% market share in Boston, 20% share in Cincinnati and a 10% market share in Nashville,” he explains. “If you are the brand manager, it’s really hard to develop a plan that will work across the U.S. If you develop an average plan, it will work great in Cincinnati, but not so great in Boston or Nashville.”

Relevate’s approach, on the other hand, focuses on local data and insights, engagement with healthcare professionals and scalable solutions. At a time when niche is king, it appears to be resonating with clients: On the back of new work from ViiV Healthcare, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi Pasteur, AstraZeneca, Akcea Therapeutics and Insmed, Relevate saw its revenue jump from $14.9 million in 2018 to $18.3 million in 2019, an increase of just under 23%.

Work that ended during 2019 included assignments from Alexion and Teva. The firm counts Merck, Janssen, Genentech and Pfizer among its roster mainstays.

In the wake of the growth, Relevate grew its staff size from 72 to 80, with VP, product management Russell Dumas ranking among the most noteworthy new hires. “Russell is key for us as we face one of the big challenges in marketing right now, which is that it is changing quickly and becoming more tech-enabled and more digital,” Spanbauer explains.

Joie de Vivre - relevate health

He also points to a handful of Relevate programs — among them PracticeShare, which taps local KOLs to educate doctors in their regions — as having fueled the recent growth. “Our experience is that doctors only want to hear from other doctors. Everything is becoming more personalized, and we are able to do that for our clients through technology, software and data,” Spanbauer adds.

That combination is an appealing one to clients amid the coronavirus crisis, according to group VP, client partnership Chris Cushman. He sees the COVID-19 pandemic as an event that will speed up changes that were already taking place in the world of healthcare marketing.

“What is happening today is a forced acceleration of innovation,” he explains. “I don’t see the conference going away; instead, virtual conferences will continue. We still need to get our clients’ messages out and we still need to continue discussions of regional variations.”

Spanbauer agrees, adding that COVID-19 illustrates the wisdom of a strategy that eschews big national pushes in favor of smaller regionalized ones. “Healthcare is local,” he stresses again. “If you were to roll out a program and you deployed the same resources to all geographies, places like New York would be underserved while parts of Ohio would have too many resources.”

Expect Relevate to continue with programs that tap into “a differential deployment mindset,” as Spanbauer puts it. “We help brands think about how they tailor messaging and resourcing to work effectively based on local market needs, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”


The best marketing we saw in 2019…

The Chantix Slow Turkey campaign communicates the idea that you can change your lifestyle and your behavior over time, and medications like Chantix can be part of that solution. The campaign visualizes that in an interesting and silly way. — Chris Cushman