Every agency has a guiding ethos of some kind, but some live it more than others. Heartbeat, which has long championed challenger brands, is a prime example.

“We have been working with challenger brands for the last decade. It is what we do,” stresses co-president, executive creative director James Talerico.

For Heartbeat co-president Nadine Leonard, working with these brands requires a degree of discipline and a commitment to precise targeting. “Challenger brands tend to have ambitions that are bigger than their resources,” she explains. This requires the agency to dig in on specifics, especially around the strategic imperative of every facet of every campaign.

Clients continued to respond to the approach during 2021. Heartbeat grew revenue to an MM+M-estimated $67.5 million, up just under 13% from last year’s MM+M estimate of $60 million. Among the agency’s client additions, Talerico is especially excited about Twirla, a contraceptive patch from Agile Therapeutics.

“The language we use is completely accessible; it’s not pharmaceutical language,” he says. “There is almost no waste. It is super-targeted to geographies and demographics. Strategy, media, creative and planning all came together efficiently.”

Talerico sees the consumer-friendly language of the Twirla campaign as part of a larger industry trend.

“Bravery is hitting critical mass in this industry — in creative, in strategic decision-making and even in the tone we use to speak to our audience,” he continues. “Our clients, and the whole industry, have come around to the fact that if we keep behaving the way we used to, we will be summarily ignored.”

As a result, Talerico anticipates significant change during the next 12 to 18 months: “I expect to see new inventive communications and I will be surprised and disappointed if it doesn’t happen.”

2021 also saw Heartbeat launch an accessibility discipline focused on helping consumers of diverse abilities access all of the agency’s work and information. Talerico and Leonard want no credit for it, though: They note that it was proposed by Heartbeat’s UX team.

“It came up through the community,” Talerico says. “It wasn’t something on our radar, but the organization jumped on it because it is true to our value set. Everyone embraced it.”

As for the broader agency world’s transition to hybrid work environments, Heartbeat dubbed its effort “Work from Wherever, Forever.” Like many other firms, it is thrilled to be able to hire from a wider geographic expanse than ever before. Head count jumped from 265 at the start of 2021 to 291 at year’s end. 

Talerico emphasizes that Heartbeat’s current hybrid approach may change and that both he and Leonard have noted the discrepancies between younger employees (who often care more about the social aspects of work) and older ones (often happy to stay home).

“In the next couple of years, we will see a lot of trial and error,” he admits. “We don’t even know what workplaces will look like in the future. Right now, I am sitting in an office built for a culture that ceased to exist three years ago.” 

. . .

Work from outside pharma you admire…

FCB/SIX’s Go Back To Africa, a pan-African tourism campaign for Black & Abroad that transforms the racial slur “go back to Africa” — a hateful directive used every three minutes on social media — into a glorious, aspirational call-to-action. By co-opting real, racist tweets and recontextualizing the hateful phrase over photos of awesome African locales and joyful Black tourists, the campaign not only inspires travel, it transcends hatred. — Talerico