Calcium’s November infusion from PE firm NexPhase Capital gave it the firepower to hunt for firms possessing what agency founder and chairman Steven Michaelson termed “complementary expertise.” Five months later, it’s clear that Michaelson & Co. are intent on fulfilling that ambition.

“We have a letter of intent with two companies, a PR firm and a technology platform agency,” Michaelson reports. “Last night, [Calcium managing partner and president] Greg Lewis and I were entertaining a med-ed agency we want to bring into the fold as well. By the end of the year, you will see a lot of activity on the M&A front.”

Business development is one plank of the firm’s grow/build/buy strategy for 2022. Calcium’s revenue rose 38% to $46 million last year, from 2020’s take of $35.9 million. The growth came off a resurgent 2020, when agency billings soared by 71%. 

“Shocked” is the word Michaelson uses to describe the firm’s performance. “I was surprised, and I’ll tell you why: Because we grew 71% the year before. Usually you have a great year and then it falls off. I was preparing everybody for the worst.” 

The agency padded its roster with five new AOR accounts. They included its first engagement with Pfizer, for the drugmaker’s hospital hemostat surgical portfolio. Among the other additions were Avion Pharma (for newly launched Parkinson’s med Dhivy); Genentech (for lung cancer brands Alecensa and Rozlytrek and a third product in its lung portfolio, Gavreto, co-marketed with Blueprint); and Luminopia (for Luminopia One, a digital ophthalmological technology).

The NexPhase partnership prompted some managerial changes. Longtime managing partner/COO Judy Capano assumed the role of CEO from Michaelson, who moved to board chairman. Managing partner/CCO Steve Hamburg became chief strategy officer, with June Carnegie ascending to creative chief. Senior-level hires filled out the leadership ranks, ranging from Maha Elashri, EVP, chief client officer, who joined from IPG Health, to Elizabeth Gopaul, EVP, engagement and social, who arrived from FCBCure. 

In the first few months of 2022, Calcium rolled out an integrated strategy unit, headed by Hamburg, and formalized full-service med-ed unit Vitamin MD, led by Dr. Lauren Lazar, EVP, medical director, and Brad Quosig, VP, account director. It also doubled down on staff development, christening its education program Cal U.

Staff count nudged upward from 130 at the end of 2020 to 139 at the end of 2021. They include ShaVaughn Morris, hired in January from FCBCure as director of internal DEIBA training and communications. The recent opening of a Miami office, which brought the number of Calcium outposts to four, has helped the agency tap into the city’s multicultural talent pool.

Looking ahead, Michaelson says Calcium’s acquisition targets include a patient advocacy firm and a studio. The companies it brings on, whether acquired or built internally, will be divisions of Calcium, not distinct brands.

“We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, going to turn into a holding company,” he stresses.

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

I not only wish I’d come up with the Don’t Be Like Larry campaign for FTX, but that I’d been at the shoot, where richly staged moments of human progress collide hilariously with the trademark snark of Larry David. Even as we’re laughing, we’re getting the point: If you’re not on the right side of progress, you’re being left behind. Pretty, pretty good. — Steve Hamburg