Cyan Health had acquainted itself with the rhythms of virtual work long before COVID hit, with many of its people adhering to a three-days-in-office/two-days-at-home weekly schedule. But despite the company’s familiarity with the technological and communication nuances of the hybrid model, the transition to full-on virtual work didn’t come without its share of small frustrations.

Take a client that Cyan inked in February 2020 and has been working with on a day-in-day-out basis ever since. “We know him well, but we’ve never met the guy,” says SVP, client services Jamie Van Iderstine, with a hint of disbelief in her voice.

She notes that the company is based in Massachusetts, some 230 miles away from Cyan’s Montclair, New Jersey, stronghold, “So it’s not like we would’ve been sitting next to each other every week, anyway.” That said, the experience has informed the agency’s approach to forging stronger relationships with clients and colleagues alike.

“Giving people the space to be vulnerable or stressed has been super-important,” Van Iderstine says. Agency managing director Amber Gilbert agrees, adding, “We’ve been seeing people for who they are in all the roles of their lives — as a mom or dad, or as a teacher.” That heightened visibility into personal lives has led to much inadvertent humor, she notes: “People know when my ninth-grader has a math test, because I’m using my whisper voice.”

Cyan handled the challenges of pandemic-era work with aplomb. The agency grew revenue by 36% during 2020, from the previous year’s take of $5.5 million to $7.5 million. It added eight people to its employee rolls, reaching 29 full-timers by year’s end.

The agency distinguished itself on the work front as well, earning a reputation as one of the few payer marketing shops able to flex creative and analytical muscle in a realm that often doesn’t lend itself to such approaches. “I like to think we’ve been able to push what we do into new and much more creative, high-impact and digitally/analytically powered areas,” Gilbert says.

Cyan’s client mainstays, ranging from established global behemoths such as Otsuka and Sanofi Genzyme to up-and-coming biotechs such as Ascendis Pharma, have responded to that proposition — and, in doing so, helped Cyan change the conversation around payer marketing programs.

“Often payer marketers have erred on the side of being conservative, but it’s a new day,” Gilbert explains. “In the current environment, we need new approaches. We need to find clients willing to break new ground.”

Organizations willing to stick out their necks a bit should continue to reap the rewards, especially with payer marketing certain to maintain its must-have status in nearly every significant launch of the current value and outcomes era. “Our business model puts us at the intersection of market research and consulting and advertising. That’s unique, I think, in our field,” Van Iderstine says.

It’s one of the reasons Gilbert anticipates continued growth in 2021 and beyond. Another is that Cyan finds genuine joy in what it does and who it does it with. “I want to do good work and have good vibes,” she says. “We’re on the right path.”

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The idea I wish I had…

We were impressed by Lilly’s Serotonin Pathway Puzzle unbranded advertisement. The eye-catching visual tells a clear story that embodies the headline. While this campaign targets HCPs, it’s the type of work we are proud to develop for the payer space. Kudos to the creative team that made it happen. — Jamie Van Iderstine