When longtime client Gilead approached Strikeforce Communications about a new campaign in the HIV space, the agency immediately knew it had no interest in rehashing a traditional, fear-based testing initiative. Instead, Strikeforce turned that tired (and dubiously effective) approach on its ear.

Partnering with Do or Die Dares, the team created Press Play. Launched in the southern U.S., the campaign encourages people to confirm their HIV status, reassuring them that they can move forward regardless of the test result. In the wake of its success, Gilead has expanded the effort to other communities that are disproportionately affected by HIV.

Strikeforce founder and CEO Michael Rutstein believes that Press Play refocused the HIV conversation on the future, whether that entails managing and living with the condition or starting on a course of therapy that can help prevent HIV transmission in the first place.

“Press Play unearthed a behavior rooted in resistance and helped get people to take the next step,” Rutstein says. “We were honored to work on a piece of marketing that truly changed people’s lives.”

With Strikeforce heading into its 15th year, the agency chose “string of pearls” as its annual guiding motif. Rutstein explains that just like every pearl, each client is a distinct entity and needs to be treated as such.

That approach manifests itself, among other ways, in the bespoke teams of freelance contributors that Strikeforce assembles for each project. The goal is to migrate traditional healthcare marketing into the realm of leading-edge
consumer work.

“The way that you polish [that pearl] is that you bring all of these different, unexpected people and partners around clients. That drives these unexpected solutions that help them gain a commanding edge in the market,” Rutstein explains. “Being able to create those experiences for clients is what  turns it into a shiny pearl.”

Strikeforce saw revenue nudge upward by just under 4% during 2022, to $14.5 million from $14 million the year prior. The agency added five assignments from Alcon and work from Sight Sciences to a roster that already included Gilead (for the aforementioned HIV franchise) and Acadia Pharmaceuticals (for its Parkinson’s disease psychosis
treatment Nuplazid).

Head count increased in turn, from 25 full-time staffers at the start of 2022 to 30 at its conclusion. Those staff numbers are slightly misleading, however, given how Strikeforce has long relied on a network of a few hundred outside contributors. The agency has allowed its people to work from afar since its birth.

Rutstein continues to believe that such flexibility is essential to any organization in the creative business.

“We think that we’ve given clients better people, a better process and ultimately a better work product than a traditional agency model can,” he explains. “We’re swimming in interesting waters right now, because the bigger agencies are trying to reinvent themselves to be very much like what Strikeforce has been about for 15 years. Clients are looking for unexpected solutions to problems.” 

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Our marketing role model…

Very few people, organizations or even brands know why they do what they do. They know what they do functionally, but they often haven’t pinpointed or expressed their inner “why” — and that’s where the magic lies in creating emotional bonds and true resonance. Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle do just that. His philosophy and framework unearth the brand’s “why,” and this purpose deeply affects how we think, act and engage with brands from the inside out. In a healthcare world fraught with functional stories, Sinek inspires us to go deeper in the work that we do. — Rutstein

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