Syneos Health had been eyeing a sale since March 2020. Apparently, for several years, many of the smaller drugmakers upon which Syneos relied for a big slice of its CRO business had delayed or dropped plans to run new clinical trials, causing a new-business deficit in the sprawling company’s clinical research unit.

A deal finally came to pass in mid-May, when Syneos announced that it had agreed to be bought by a consortium of private equity firms for $7.1 billion. The group set to transition Syneos from a public to a private company consists of Elliott Investment Management, Patient Square Capital and Veritas Capital.

The blockbuster PE deal is expected to be completed later this year, subject to the approval of Syneos’ shareholders as well as other customary closing conditions and regulatory greenlights. The pending deal is just the latest healthcare play by Elliott Investment and Veritas Capital, which had jointly acquired Athenahealth in 2018 for $5.7 billion before flipping it for $17 billion in 2022. 

Needless to say, when MM+M caught up with execs from Syneos Health Communications in late April, neither the sale talks nor the status of said talks were part of the discussion. Yet when one looks back on the interview, it’s apparent that the risk of depositing all of one’s eggs into a few small baskets has reverberated on the marketing side of the house. 

“A few years ago, our roster was comprised of a few large legacy clients,” recalls president, advertising JD Cassidy. “We set out over 2022 to diversify the client portfolio and diversify our offerings — and we saw success with both.”

The group’s biggest account win, which came via a business unit consolidation, was AstraZeneca’s cardiovascular, renal and metabolism portfolio. Syneos is now global AOR for HCP marketing. 

“It’s a robust opportunity for our offices here and in the EU and U.K.,” Cassidy notes, adding that the AZ assignment spans promotional and omnichannel experience work. 

That addition means that Syneos now has what Cassidy calls “anchor accounts” in all four of its North American GSW locations: New York; Columbus, Ohio; Toronto and Los Angeles. It also continues to pitch a variety of drug companies, ranging from pharma behemoths to small and mid-cap firms. 

That said, communications revenue was slightly down in 2022, coming in at an MM+M-estimated $260 million versus an estimated $266 million in 2021. Head count fell from 996 at the end of 2021 to 801 a year later. Key 2022 additions included EVP, executive creative director Lacey Christman and SVP, creative director Jillian Brooks.

Syneos’ strategy to increase its footprint involves expanding its range of offerings. Last year, for instance, the firm launched two new agency brands: standalone market access shop Spherico and oncology-focused unit Genicos. The additions reflect a bullish outlook on the biopharma commercialization business. 

“I haven’t seen too much slowdown in terms of clients wanting to buy services,” notes Jeanine O’Kane, who led Syneos’ portfolio of PR shops before being promoted to president of communications this past spring, a move that came after predecessor Tim Pantello decamped for Relevate Health. “But I have seen a more robust discussion around measuring the impact of things in a meaningful way.”

To that end, Syneos has curated the design of a connected ecosystem of data sources that, company leaders report, can tell them what’s happening with their target audiences and illuminate the reasons behind changing dynamics. One such tool is Mindset Engine, a behavioral insights platform that  incorporates data from 10,000 U.S. HCPs. This year the engine will expand to include data from 2,500 M.D.s in 10 critical specialties across the U.S., the EU and Latin America.

Syneos also incubated a media practice, tapping former Underscore Marketing SVP, media and product delivery Oliver Nelson as EVP to build out a team. “We look at media as not just a revenue opportunity and a standalone business unit, but as an opportunity to integrate media strategy into the creative work we do,” Cassidy explains.

Meanwhile, the external DE&I health advisory council that Syneos founded in 2021 doubled in size in 2022. It’s designed to help clients create strategy around diversity, equity and inclusion by drawing on a cohort of leaders who encompass various disease states, the LGBTQ+ community and other underrepresented groups. In May, Syneos appointed Batisha Anson to the newly created role of global head, patient diversity and health equity.

From O’Kane’s perspective, one of the grand challenges of 2022 involved “working together to redefine what partnership and work look like post-COVID.” Syneos’ recent creative output suggests that the company has come out of that exercise with its head held high.

Take last year’s Double Take event, the first-ever fashion show for people with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The show was funded by client Genentech as part of its larger SMA My Way campaign, meant to spark a broader conversation about authentic representation in the disability space. 

For the event, clothing designers collaborated with patients to create adaptive fashion to fit their needs. Netting coverage in Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily, Double Take drew attention to “disability visibility” in fashion. “It allowed people with SMA to feel seen not just for their disability, but for the way they looked strutting down the runway,” says Syneos head of strategy Maria Tender.

Then there was Go Time, a campaign for BioMarin that addressed achondroplasia, a rare form of dwarfism. Syneos created what Tender describes as “a provocative piece of communication”: Rising Love, a collection of stories about children with the disease and how they’ve been able to overcome and adapt.

It’s not lost on Tender that Go Time and Double Take addressed similar challenges, and with a similar attitudinal approach: “They both celebrated the fact that there’s nothing that somebody with these conditions can’t do.”

For Rising Love, Syneos conducted ethnographic research around how patients view their world. “It’s amazing how resilient and strong they are,” Tender continues, adding that the effort captures both their fighting spirit and the community’s sense of energy and vibrancy. “Rising Love’s stories put their voices out there in the world, and the disease became visible.”

Going forward, Cassidy foresees plenty more hiring. “We have 83 open positions across Jeanine’s remit,” he reports, adding that more omnichannel work is on the horizon. Along those lines, Syneos has developed a sort of diagnostic tool designed to help clients understand what they have under their martech hoods, lay out a roadmap to the omnichannel ecosystem and get the most out of their corporate investment.

“Many clients tell us, ‘We have the Ferrari of martech stacks but don’t know how to take advantage,’” Cassidy adds.

. . .

Our marketing role model…

GSW recently turned 45, and it all started with three entrepreneurs: Bob Gerbig, Chris Snell and Rick Weisheimer. They were three friends with one dream, which was to “get big by acting small.” They had a passion for telling stories to help those in need — to not only meet challenges but rise above them, and to define an internal culture built on respect and fierce devotion to every team member. That foundation is what we build on today. — Cassidy

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