According to Centron president Celine Vita, the agency’s recipe for success is an easy one: simplicity.

It’s a philosophy Vita has embraced since she assumed leadership of Centron at the end of 2017 and, soon thereafter, relaunched the brand. As part of that assignment, Vita consolidated four separate divisions, rebuilt the executive team and narrowed the agency’s therapeutic focus to oncology and rare disease.

“We committed to bringing simplicity to what we do,” says Vita. “We encourage our teams to lead with simplicity and find clear and purposeful solutions — even if it means less volume of, but more meaningful, work.” 

The approach is resonating with clients such as Apellis Pharmaceuticals (on C3 therapy pegcetacoplan), Partner Therapeutics (bone therapy stimulant Leukine) and Bristol Myers Squibb (anti-rejection drug Nulojix). While Centron declined to re-pitch for its work on Karyopharm Therapeutics’ multiple myeloma drug Xpovio, the agency added new pipeline work from Ovid Therapeutics in September.    

Vita believes Centron’s client sweet spot is smaller biotech companies; early commercialization is where it thrives. “We’re deeply strategic and we love to start things,” she says. 

While head count remained flat at 45 full-time staffers in 2020, revenue reached $14.9 million, a 24% bump over 2019’s $12 million. COVID-19 might not have hurt the company’s business, but Vita says it changed the makeup of where money was coming from.

“Ideas that were considered riskier in the past, like social, are becoming an important part of the channel mix in reaching customers,” she explains. “Our agency work has shifted to an 80/20 digital/print mix and our clients are comfortable optimizing spend accordingly.” To that end, the agency hired channel strategist Lisa Feher and a tech director, Megan Burleyson, during the year. 

Vita credits Centron’s recent success in part to its selectiveness. That said, as biotechs continue to be acquired by larger pharma companies and the two worlds converge, the agency hopes to widen its net. In the months and years ahead, look for Centron to devise better ways to serve the specialty sub-practices Vita sees developing within larger pharma companies. 

As for the work itself, chief creative officer Carolyn O’Neill believes that constraints imposed by the pandemic have been a blessing in disguise. “There was a real openness among
clients to trying new things in different ways,” she notes. “Nothing can be done the same way as before.”  

By way of example, O’Neill points to a project that was set to begin production in March 2020. The team had planned a full photoshoot, but lockdown forced the agency to rethink its approach. The result: a partnership with a media company skilled in human CGI that helped the team reconstruct its vision — and deliver on time. 

“I didn’t anticipate that we’d look back and think, ‘Wow, this was an incredibly creatively fulfilling year,’” O’Neill says. “But that’s exactly what it was.” 

As for the rest of 2021, Vita says Centron plans no major adjustments to its approach. “This year is not going to be a radical change year for us,” she says. “We’ve found a philosophical way of working and recipe that works. We’re going to stay the course.”

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The idea I wish I had…

We loved the Ella the Jellyfish Amazon Alexa skill for families living with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy (done by Patients+Purpose and Eisai). Recognizing that complex play can be challenging for children with LGS, Ella the Jellyfish provides entertainment and guided meditations tailored for the LGS community.  — Celine Vita