Barely a week into the pandemic, Patients & Purpose’s social-listening efforts detected an alarming trend. People were experiencing symptoms of a heart attack — and even actual cardiac events — but fear of COVID-19 kept them from seeking treatment.

That had huge implications for client Brilinta, AstraZeneca’s blockbuster clot-busting medication. “Right away, we were able to go to our client and say, ‘We have to address this now,’” recalls P&P president Eliot Tyler. 

Chief creative officer Dina Peck adds that “our findings were both surprising and not surprising. You’d think people would be more worried about a heart attack, which could kill you quickly, than of being exposed to COVID-19. But the fear level was so high.” Within weeks, the agency’s Brilinta team had readied new creative, flagging the symptoms that warranted an immediate trip to the ER.

Patients & Purpose

That tight connection with what patient communities are thinking, feeling and saying is what Patients & Purpose leaders say distinguishes it from the competition. “You can go to a regular healthcare agency and they will be able to do campaigns aimed at patients,” Peck says. “But they can’t do it like we can.” 

CEO Deb Deaver believes the close attention paid to patient networks — and the agency’s development of proprietary research tools to monitor them — helped stabilize Patients & Purpose’s performance in 2020. To that end, revenue was flat at an MM+M-estimated $65 million in 2020.

“Looking back, it could very well have been down last year,” Deaver says. “Clients were, at times, a bit frozen and thinking about what they needed to do next. But because we were able to pivot quickly with new surveys and patient point-of-view research, we helped them keep the right pace of communications with their patients.”

The agency believes many pandemic-prompted changes are here to stay. “Learning how to create ads remotely was a steep learning curve,” Peck explains. “But we realize that, in some ways, we won’t ever go back. Our workshops are now so fast and nimble. We can do two hours here, four hours there via video, and get insights faster than we did before.”

Staff size shrank a bit, from 221 at the end of 2019 to 216 at the end of 2020. Client mainstays include AstraZeneca, ProventionBio, Eisai and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Patients & Purpose launched its own promotional campaign in 2020, No One Knows Patients Better. The idea: to affirm the agency’s singleness of purpose, with work aimed only at patients.

It also created — and then expanded — an Equal Health Group, designed to boost efforts to connect with patient groups most affected by health disparities. The specialty health equity unit “goes well beyond translation to focus on appropriate iteration and evolution, and create new campaigns that resonate with audiences that are underserved,” Deaver notes.

And while she is optimistic about how the industry will fare in the months ahead, Deaver warns that clinical trials will be prioritized differently in the wake of COVID-19. “We will continue to see some products held up and delayed in coming to market,” she continues. “There’s going to be a real shift in the true need and marketability of those products.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

Bodyform’s #wombstories video. This journey of womanhood employs a mixed-media approach to truly capture different aspects of a woman’s uterine story. Everything is on the table — from the monthly cycle to pregnancy, from miscarriage to birth. We love the truth-telling and that the creatives and clients captured both the physical and emotional heroism of women. As they state, “It’s never simple.” — Dina Peck