The Top 75: Cambridge BioMarketing

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At the end of a quick-hit assessment of Cambridge BioMarketing's fortunes over the last year, CEO and chief creative officer Steve West notes, almost in passing, a milestone of sorts. “We broke $10 million in fees,” he says proudly. “Maybe for some people that's not a huge sum, but in our mind the $10 million mark means you're for real.”

Clients needed no such convincing. During an era where good news was in scarce supply, Cambridge grew revenue 30% during 2009. Furthermore, West says the company is on pace to grow another 20% this year. While he realizes that the company was fortunate to duck the bad-economy bullet—“part of that is luck”— West attributes Cambridge's success to its positioning. More than it did in years' past, it emphasized specialty products in biotech and added some pharma to the mix, rather than vice versa. Without that specialization, West suggests, Cambridge might have hit a rough patch.

“My sense is that the whole marketing model is being totally transformed,” he explains. “The model for decades was that companies competed by having more reps than the other guy calling on a comparable product. Something has to replace that, and I think it's digital media.”

Obviously West is far from alone in touting digital, but perhaps Cambridge has invested more time and resources in building those capabilities than its competitors have. During the first years of this decade, the firm viewed strategy and branding through the prism of print, then adapted programs, messaging, concepts and everything else for the web. That has changed. “We're saying, ‘Let's solve it first digitally' and only then are we moving on to print,” West affirms. Digital represented around one-third of the firm's business in 2008 and should hit 40% by the time 2009 has expired.

Cambridge did well with the locals over the last year, netting AOR assignments from Genzyme, Biogen Idec and Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company. “That would've been like having Pfizer and Bristol back when all the drug companies were based in New York,” West crows. Genzyme charged Cambridge with work on Renvela and Renagel, while Millennium tapped the firm to rebrand its oncology efforts. In February, Cambridge netted the Biogen Idec oncology treatment lumiliximab.

The one major client loss was Acorda Therapeutics, for a yet-to-be-branded drug. “I think they'd confirm that it had nothing to do with our performance,” West notes. Nonetheless, West touts Cambridge's Acorda work as among its best during the last 12 months. “They were unknown in the MS and neurology space. What we did was tackle MS mobility as something that a doctor can treat with a drug. We took a concept that was foreign to doctors and made it work for them,” he explains. Other 2008-2009 work of which West is particularly proud includes what he describes as “sort of a relaunch” of Alexion Pharmaceuticals' Soliris and the creation of an interactive lobby exhibit/kiosk for Millennium that conveys its commitment to oncology.

Look for Cambridge to continue with its focus on the specialty product/biotech space. West also hopes to bolster the firm's digital capabilities via a series of hires. As of late May, Cambridge counted 50-plus staffers in its ranks, as opposed to around 40 at the same time in 2008.
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