While no one could have forecast the myriad disruptions of 2020, digital natives such as Closerlook have long been preparing for the all-digital-all-the-time transition ushered in by the pandemic.

“Those clients that were already working with us on digital, they went all in,” explains CEO David Ormesher. “Those who were still dancing around it realized they were behind, then they went all-in on digital transformation.”

Closerlook saw revenue surge in 2020 to an MM+M-estimated $35 million from 2019’s take of $24 million. Ormesher reports that second-half revenue doubled first-half revenue. While nearly 90% of the growth came from existing clients, the agency added work from Akebia Therapeutics, Novartis Gene Therapies and TerSera Therapeutics to its rolls.

Ormesher points to TerSera as an example of digital transformation. “Like most biopharma companies, TerSera had a successful rep-driven sales approach until COVID,” he says. “While we had had conversations about digital in the past, there is digital and there is digital. Everyone puts up a website, but making digital core to your strategy is a different beast.”

After what Ormesher characterizes as “candid conversations,” TerSera decided a bigger digital commitment was necessary and charged Closerlook with building a digital enterprise-level platform for the company’s entire portfolio. “When TerSera recognized that their sales reps were sitting at home and it was going to be a while before they would see doctors, they had to figure it out quickly,” Ormesher adds.

Looking back on the year, Ormesher is proud of the role Closerlook played in guiding clients through uncharted territory. “We helped them at a time when COVID closed access and they still needed to share critically valuable content,” he says. “They were craving advice, guidance and support, and we were talking to them, creating thought leadership and distilling recommendations. We helped them pivot.”

Whether it was holding the hands of panicked clients or responding to the ones who had a sudden epiphany regarding the importance of digital, Closerlook’s busy year required more staff. As a result, the firm’s head count jumped from 95 at the end of 2019 to 172 a year later. Ironically, the transition to remote work made it easier for the agency to address staffing challenges. 

“Before last year, 98% of our staff was from Chicago or the suburbs, except for a couple of people — one was in Detroit and one was in Portland, Oregon,” Ormesher says. “Now we have staff in 14 different states. Even as we move back into some kind of hybrid mode, we are always going to be working with people across the country.”

While he looks forward to a return to the office somewhere around July 4 (date highly subject to change), Ormesher believes some of the work-life evolutions set into motion by the pandemic are here to stay.

“You need to develop media that is short, crisp, entertaining and actionable, because that is how you will reach HCPs,” he says. “There will always be a role for sales reps, particularly around launches, but the ongoing relationship between brands and physicians will be largely digital.”

As MM+M went to press, Closerlook was acquired by Fishawack Health. Closerlook will remain as an autonomous brand within Fishawack and its management team, including CEO David Ormesher and COO and president Jon Sawyer, will remain in place.

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The idea I wish I had…

Dreidel Dreidel. It was for a Sanofi Genzyme treatment for Gaucher disease, a rare condition with a specific patient population: Ashkenazi Jews. The campaign used an omnichannel approach, creating Russian-language content in many cases, and then based it around a childhood game played in the Jewish community. It built awareness and asked, “Are you playing around with your health?”  — David Ormesher