Tim Pantello joined Syneos Health Communications as president a year and a half ago. But to hear him tell it, he’s no less impressed by the company’s capabilities than he was on the day he started.

In the wake of a year when many health networks faced connectivity challenges, Pantello is particularly enamored with Syneos’ infrastructure and its exclusive focus on the expansive world of biopharma, with an extensive field force and substantial depth in the realm of medical science liaisons.

“No one touches the customer physically more than us,” Pantello says. “Certainly the ‘not’-works don’t. Even the holding companies don’t have the same reach.”

Syneos Health Communications

In addition to the organic feedback that Syneos’ reach generates, Pantello is quick to tout the company’s AnswerSuite solution, which has been collecting market data from physicians for 30 years. The company hears from some 4,000 physicians per month through its online survey tool, while field teams garner customized feedback.

Early in the pandemic, Pantello says, AnswerSuite proved its value once anew. At a time of confusion, it was able to provide comprehensive analysis of promotional spending and a comparison of the effectiveness of in-person versus remote detailing — which was coveted intel, indeed. The firm is currently prepping AnswerSuite 2.0 for a July launch.

In 2020, Syneos also formally branded its omnichannel customer engagement capability. Now known as Kinetic, the platform is informed by the company’s network of data scientists, channel strategists and behavioral health experts. It utilizes advanced targeting and analytics to address challenges with customer engagement and suggest solutions for clients.

Other new offerings during the year of social distancing included RepConnect, a platform that allows sales reps to “beam” content to the mobile devices of HCPs and nurse practitioners, and VIPro, an interactive tool that helps speed up clinical trials by equipping stakeholders with access to resources that help them understand and navigate protocols.

“Necessity is the mother of invention, and we had three really amazing responses to these times,” Pantello says. “We knew what, when, how and where customers were expecting. No one else has the ability to do that the way we do. We’re a healthcare company, not a holding company.”

That echoes what Pantello, whose previous stops include PwC’s healthcare arm, Digitas Health and Tribal DDB Health, told MM+M last year: “Holding companies — ‘hold’ is interesting to me…. I’ve lived in those models and they’re wonderful companies trying to change, but they’re not dedicated exclusively to an industry the way we are.”

In a year as disruptive as 2020, it’s not hard to understand Pantello’s affinity for Syneos’ ability to tap into an extensive network of clinicians for real-time feedback. But that isn’t to suggest Pantello hasn’t made his mark. In the second half of last year, he oversaw a transformation of the company’s leadership team via a wave of A-list hires.

Syneos Health Communications

Newcomers included former Nairrod Consulting exec Ian Dorrian, tapped as president, Europe; former Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness president JD Cassidy as president of advertising, a role in which he’ll oversee North American advertising, former Ogilvy Health co-president Andrew Schirmer to run the agency GSW NY; former Department of Health and Human Services staffer Laura Keehner Rigas as senior reputation strategist, public affairs and value access; and former DDB director of strategy Maria Tender, as head of strategy. The company also added Orrin Pollard as European head of creative expression; Mark Sudwell to head value, access and reputation communications in Europe; and Leigh Ann Bruhn as value and market access lead.

Tender’s role, which includes oversight of the company’s burgeoning innovation and insights group, is a new one at Syneos. It was borne from what Pantello describes as a “total reimagining of our strategy process” with the goal of marrying the objective data gathered by offerings such as AnswerSuite with subjective insights and behavioral science.

Syneos has dubbed the process “Motivational Edge” and the approach garnered six wins in eight pitches, Pantello reports. “That’s been a huge theme for us: building our own data science capabilities, using technology to deliver unique and necessary ways to engage in response to COVID-19 and then surveying our reps to understand access and clients’ expectations.”

Overall, the Syneos network added 150 accounts across its brands, bringing the total client roster to a neat 300 by the end of 2020. Half of those accounts are AOR engagements and 70% of the network’s growth came from existing clients.

Pantello touts the performance of Cadent, the company’s med-comms business, which enjoyed double-digit growth for the third year in a row. He also singles out the network’s payer marketing business and its robust PR operation (featuring longstanding agency brands Chandler Chicco Agency, Allidura Consumer, Biosector 2 and Chamberlain Healthcare Public Relations) as growth drivers. Meanwhile, the venerable traditional ad agency GSW Worldwide finished the year with six more clients and 15 more brands than it started with, which prompted the hiring of about 20 new staffers.

Revenue ticked up slightly, from an MM+M-estimated $255 million in 2019 to an estimated $260 million in 2020. Staff size decreased from 1,052 at the start of the year to 1,043 at the end of it.

There was heartbreak on a different and unexpected front when well-respected longtime Syneos leader Lisa Stockman was diagnosed with a genetic form of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). When Stockman pleaded with Biogen for early access to experimental drug tofersen, currently being studied as a treatment for her condition, the company first turned down the request due to its timing. Even access under compassionate use, which Biogen later agreed to, is likely to come too late for her, she said. 

As for the road ahead, Syneos is paying heightened attention to issues around diversity, equity and inclusion. To address it within the company’s ranks, the firm launched a formal council comprising 17 members from all parts of the organization to develop and oversee more potent DE&I initiatives. This March, Syneos and Science 37 announced a strategic partnership designed to increase clinical trial diversity by bringing trials closer to the patient.

“Our business and our industry has never been more relevant, nor had more purpose, than it does right now,” Pantello says. “If this year has proven anything, it’s that what we do matters.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

Uber’s Vaccinate the Block campaign. Uber took on a major public health challenge — according to the company, 45% of Americans lack access to public transportation — and created a customer-centric solution to change outcomes. Partnering with PayPal, Walgreens, Spike Lee and Tyler Mitchell, among others, Uber committed to donating 10 million rides to vaccination appointments. The campaign was big, bold and measureable — and urgently needed. — Tim Pantello