Like other agencies, Imre Health wrestled with any number of frustrations during the pandemic-scarred 2020. But the one that hit hardest was an inability to fully indoctrinate newcomers in what the agency calls “The Imre Way.”

“I tell people, ‘This is not like any other place you’ve worked. It’ll take a full year before you understand,’” says agency president Jeff Smokler. “People laugh at me, but it’s true: We tick differently.”

By way of evidence, he points to the regular “Ask Me Anything” sessions that Imre Health installed to help fill the virtual void. Yes, the sessions included agency leaders — but they also showcased staffers with unusual skills and talents, such as one who wrote a taxidermy book.

Imre Health

“I don’t say this derogatorily, but most agencies don’t have a culture. They try their best, but they don’t,” Smokler says. “Here, we don’t believe we can do our jobs well unless our values are permeated throughout the culture.”

Culture and business aligned neatly for Imre Health in 2020. The agency expanded its relationship with AstraZeneca to include work on roxadustat, anifrolumab and tezepelumab, bringing the number of assignments it handles for the drugmaker to 11. It added ViiV Healthcare and BioCryst Pharmaceuticals to a client roster that already included Pfizer (for fibromyalgia blockbuster Lyrica, among other brands), GlaxoSmithKline (for multiple myeloma drug Blenrep) and Zoetis Animal Health.

“Our current book of business better reflects our capabilities than it ever has before,” Smokler says. “We used to be a bit of an unknown entity, and as a result we were put in a box. We’ve broken out of it.”

As Smokler notes, in years past Imre Health might not have been considered for those kinds of assignments. As a result, it had to devote considerable effort to, in Smokler’s words, “showing social isn’t all we do” and then “showing that our digital offering doesn’t live on an island.”

Imre Health broke through in 2020, with revenue surging just under 15%, from $20.9 million in 2019 to $24 million. Staff size increased from 100 at the beginning of 2020 to 118 at the end of it.

“We’ve been able to win pre-launch work and market-shaping activities for a few clients,” Smokler says. 

Meanwhile, one of Imre Health’s 2020 losses managed to find its way back into the win category before the year was out. When Amag Pharmaceuticals sold hypoactive sexual desire disorder drug Vyleesi to Palatin Technologies, the agency found itself on the outside looking in … until a few months later, when Palatin rehired Imre Health to handle the assignment.

Smokler heads into the second half of 2021 expecting Imre Health’s growth spurt to continue. Expect the company to pursue acquisitions, perhaps of the two agencies (a brand strategy shop and a small analytics firm) with which it has recently partnered.

“If that’s what we’re capable of doing in the darkest of times, I can’t wait to see what we can do in better ones.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

Can I be honest? It was Krispy Kreme. As an agency that has built its business being led by consumer culture while extending into compliance-required life sciences, we think it’s admirable to see a brand with a robust retail footprint transcending party lines to entice people to contribute to public health. — Jeff Smokler