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As The Bloc’s president and CEO Jennifer Matthews was dropping off her daughter at college last fall, she received a call she’d been anticipating. It was from Regeneron’s head of procurement, who informed her the agency had won the account for REGN-COV2, the company’s experimental antibody cocktail treatment for COVID-19.

The biotech giant had been a client of The Bloc for eight years, but claiming that assignment felt particularly validating for Matthews. “It was incredible to be part of the solution,” she recalls.

The Regeneron win kicked off an end-of-year streak for The Bloc. In Q4, the agency landed work from Eli Lilly/Boehringer Ingelheim (on the blockbuster diabetes drug Jardiance) and got a foot in the door with Merck’s oncology group (for the launch of the B-cell malignancy treatment MK-1026).

The Bloc

“The client told us, ‘You’re a great agency, but now you’re really at this elite level with Merck,’” Matthews recalls. “Not a lot of independents are getting in there.”

It was an uplifting end to what Matthews describes as a “best-of-times, worst-of-times” kind of year. On the positive side of the ledger: 14 account wins that drove 11% revenue growth. It carried The Bloc past the $50 million milestone for the first time in its 20-year history — to $53.4 million, from 2019’s take of $48 million.

As for the worst-of-times part? “We were doing everything on a Zoom call. Normally we would be together, celebrating our community and feeling really positive. It was hard to fully appreciate it all,” Matthews reports.

Some 83% of the year’s growth came from existing clients. Matthews specifically touts the work of The Bloc’s Value Builders market access team, which expanded the firm’s relationships with Sanofi (on its CareAssist patient support program), Novartis (on Leqvio, a first-in-class small-interfering RNA cholesterol treatment) and Jazz Pharmaceuticals (on Zepzelca, which treats metastatic small cell lung cancer).

Thus, 2020 marked the second strong year in a row for The Bloc, which saw revenue leap 50% in 2019. That year, The Bloc upped its staffing by 20%, so it already had the workforce in place to handle 2020’s business surge. As a result, head count increased by just two full-timers in 2020, to 194.

However, the agency did shake up its leadership, bringing in Bernardo Romero to serve as associate partner, chief creative officer and Franklin Williams to fill the new role of SVP, director of digital experience. In April, former McCann Health exec Stuart Goldstein joined as chief operating officer, another newly created role and one in which he will help shape the agency’s post-pandemic operational model. Agency veteran Antoinette Bobbitt was promoted to EVP, strategy director, a role that encompasses engagement strategy, content strategy and account planning. 

Asked what sets the firm apart, Matthews points to The Bloc’s female ownership and the diversity throughout its ranks, up to and including the executive suite. “Leaning into the empathy and strength we have as a woman-led organization does make us different,” she says. “But frankly, I would also argue that  we are doing some of the best work on the planet.”

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The idea I wish I had…

#SaveRalph is a master class in storytelling and craft. It’s impossible not to care, not to connect with the character and not to take action. — Jennifer Matthews