The series of corporate maneuvers that resulted in the creation of medcomms powerhouse Inizio Medical began in early March 2020. That was when PE giant Clayton, Dubilier & Rice announced that it had reached a deal to buy Huntsworth, parent of renowned healthcare agency brands Evoke and ApotheCom.
That November, Huntsworth snapped up Nucleus Global. Six months later, in May 2021, CD&R acquired UDG Healthcare, the parent of Ashfield Health and its agency holdings. Finally, in June 2022, Huntsworth and Ashfield were formally joined under the new Inizio network banner.
It was at that point that the expansive organization began to more effectively structure the tens of brands under its roofs. Ultimately Inizio chose to establish four distinct units: Inizio Medical, Inizio Advisory, Inizio Engage and Inizio Marcomms Represented by Evoke.
All of this is to say: A great deal of thought and effort went into the creation of the Inizio Medical juggernaut. “Our story is a bit complicated,” says group president Elaine Ferguson with a sly chuckle. “We were very deliberate in deciding how we would structure ourselves and go to market.”
Inizio Medical is now headlined by a trio of like-minded and complementary agency brands — ApotheCom, Ashfield MedComms and Nucleus Global — with MedEvoke and MediStrava rounding out the offering. While everything was on the table during the months devoted to Inizio Medical’s assembly, it became clear early on that these agency brands would survive the winnowing process.
“If you asked anybody in the industry to name the top five medical agencies, nine times out of 10 those three brands would be mentioned,” Ferguson says. “What we heard from clients was, ‘Don’t take away our choice.’”
Birthing Inizio Medical during the peak of the pandemic wasn’t the challenge that the company’s leaders initially expected. While much of the unification course had already been charted by the time everyone sat down together in person, the virtual planning sessions effected an immediate familiarity among individuals who had previously known each other on a more casual basis.
“You got to meet pets and children. You got to see inside people’s houses. Usually it takes 10 years of working with someone before you have that level of intimacy,” Ferguson says.
Looking back with the benefit of a few months’ worth of hindsight, Ferguson believes that the organization was well served by the deliberate pace. “When we presented our plans to the owners, we said, ‘What we’ve built by extracting and consolidating different parts of the business — you couldn’t have acquired that.’ There was nothing for sale that ticked all those boxes.”
The company experienced few growing pains along the way. Revenue grew 9% in 2022, to $352 million from $323 million in 2021. Staff size increased from 1,960 people at the start of the year to 2,110 at the end of it.
The list of Inizio Medical’s top 20 clients bears a close resemblance to the list of the world’s 20 biggest pharma companies, with Roche, GSK, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck, Pfizer, Bristol Myers Squibb and Novo Nordisk all on board for multiple brands. While 70% of the agency’s 2022 growth came from existing clients — global CEO Dan Bridges reports that Inizio Medical grew its relationships with AstraZeneca and Sanofi by more than 20% each in 2022 — it further bolstered its roster with the addition of work from SpringWorks Therapeutics, Viatris, KalVista Pharmaceuticals, Delcath Systems, Veru and Deciphera Pharmaceuticals.
Of the organic growth, Bridges says, “What drove it was the additional specialized services, which lots of our clients added to the day-to-day deliverable.”
The company’s agencies had success in places both expected and unexpected. Not surprisingly, ApotheCom and MediStrava remained top choices for biotech firms pressing forward in the realms of cell and gene therapy. But Nucleus Global’s work on a social media campaign for Pfizer likely opened a few eyes among the competition. “People don’t necessarily associate Nucleus with something like that,” Ferguson notes.
Meanwhile, Inizio Medical did plenty of work beneath the hood during 2022. It introduced a practice dedicated to DE&I and hired former Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development DEI lead Naseem Ahmed to steer it. The company also created Specialized Services, a new business grouping that houses its patient engagement, medical analytics, value communications and evidence generation, and consulting and strategic communications practice areas.
Another of the company’s important recent additions — global chief growth officer Zack Lentz, who arrived from the Vaniam Group health network in January — believes this structure creates a clear competitive lane for Inizio Medical. He suspects that no other communications company — or network, for that matter — can match the agency’s mix of medical expertise and creative/technological dexterity.
“In the past, our industry was focused on how to get data,” Lentz explains. “Now clients are looking for us to help them use that data to get to the point of decision. We can give them those consulting-level insights, but from a scientific and medical perspective.”
In the months ahead, Inizio Medical expects to further advance its clinical trial recruitment and retention offering. “We’re not just doing materials to get patients into research,” Bridges notes. “We’re thinking about the patient journey through the entire trial long before it even starts. That’s how you get those successes on the retention side.”
Inizio Medical will also continue to work on itself. Like many other organizations in many other verticals, the company worries about forging a durable internal culture in the virtual-work era. Ferguson reports that Inizio Medical welcomed 150 entry-level staffers during 2022 and believes they’ll be best served professionally by spending plenty of time around one another.
The goal: to make it hard for them to not come into the office. “There’s the basic stuff, such as the best possible tech and A/V equipment and the great coffee and fresh fruit,” she says. “But we’re aware that everyone has nice home setups. It’s on us to create spaces where people not only want to work, but are energized just by being there.”
Finally, look for Inizio Medical to endeavor to shape the way the newly united organization is perceived by the broader medical marketing community.
“Everyone knows our agencies, but Inizio Medical is brand new,” Ferguson says. “We have a brilliant opportunity to set in people’s minds who we want to be and what comes next, because right now nobody knows who the heck we are.”
“It’s not just about being big,” Ferguson adds. “We want to use our scale for good.”
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