When survivorship events went 100% virtual during the early months of the COVID-19 shutdown, Guidemark Health found itself with a challenge on its hands. The agency was set to support and promote LUNGevity Foundation’s International Lung Cancer Survivorship Conference, scheduled for August. Within days, Guidemark pivoted to a virtual format that, ultimately, allowed 1,300 attendees to participate over the course of three days.

That’s just one example of the sort of logistical leaps Guidemark regularly executed in 2020 to make health experiences more engaging. “It was a jack-in-the-box year,” says CEO Michael Parisi. “You’re turning the handle and hearing the music, but you’re not sure when something’s going to pop up and change.”

After narrowing its focus in 2019 to specialize in the realms of rare disease and oncology, 2020 offered Guidemark any number of opportunities to refine its offering. “The year 2019 was the beginning of our shift away from being a generalist agency, and 2020 really hyper-accelerated that work,” Parisi notes. “It allowed us to drill down and go fast and furious in the areas that we’re focused in.”

Guidemark Health

That meant saying goodbye to assignments from Seqirus and Zoetis. At the same time, Guidemark added work from Aveo Oncology (on kidney cancer drug Fotivda), the Cancer Research Institute (on its Virtual Immunotherapy Patient Summit Series) and Genmab (on diffuse large B-cell lymphoma drug epcoritamab). Revenue and head count both fell slightly, the former from $24.8 million in 2019 to $22.8 million in 2020 and the latter from 62 full-timers to 54.

“We were really in survival mode for most of the year,” Parisi says. “It wasn’t a time to expand things; it was a time to hunker down and remain exquisitely focused.”

Staff additions included Valarie Leishman, a nurse by training who was previously with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, as patient and professional stakeholder services lead; former Brother International UX/UI manager Skot Kremen as user experience/design guru; and former Evoke and Ogilvy Health exec Ken Jordan as client experience lead.

In addition to the LUNGevity Foundation survivorship event, Guidemark led social media engagement for the organization during 2020. The project ultimately proved especially important during the pandemic, according to Guidemark engagement lead Jackie Singley.

“Given the context of people living with lung disease and the fact that COVID-19 impacts the lungs, there was a lot of concern among members of that particular community,” she explains. “The community was looking to LUNGevity Foundation for accurate direction on how they should handle things — if they should continue their treatment or if they should delay their surgery. A lot of really important questions came in.”

Guidemark prides itself on driving this kind of community engagement, which often involves deep dives into patient communities to get a better sense of the issues they face.

“Helping to keep a community stitched together and informed and engaged is really important,” Parisi says. “We hope to expand that to other areas, because it’s really meaningful work.”

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The idea I wish I had…

A campaign for AstraZeneca’s Koselugo brought forward real stories and aspects of a young child’s journey with eurofibromatosis-1 (NF1), encouraging viewers to dig deeper. It’s visually uplifting, leveraging the use of color to capture a youthful playfulness that sheds a positive light on Cooper’s life and challenges he and his parents face, rather than making the disease the focal point. We love the use of the greater than/less than symbols as a visual device to frame Cooper and quickly capture the product benefits. — Jackie Singley