The Top 75: Lab9

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Unlike its larger siblings, AgencyRx and CDMiConnect, which boast airy, borderline-ostentatious new digs upstairs from it in a grand old SoHo warehouse building, Lab9 has no glassy lobby that screams “advertising agency.” Instead, the visitor is greeted by a drab fire door.

Which is kind of fitting, because the year-and-a-half old CDM spin-off, founded to house the network's Genentech business, is the opposite of your typical flashy full-service agency. Its understated style reflects a high science, specialty brand focus. In contrast to the glee clubs upstairs, this is where the geeks tinker away at the sort of brands that end in “-mab.”

With the increasing focus on biologics and specialty products, CDM thought it might be smart to set up a specialty unit to handle them. Lab9's growth so far seems to bear that out. The shop, under the direction of old CDM hands Wendi Goodman (managing partner, director of client services), Fred Kinch (managing partner, creative director) and Marina Jean (managing partner, medical strategy and scientific affairs), has seen its staff double, from 20 to 40, in the past year. It's also brought on two new clients: EMD Serono (for Gonal-f RFF Pen and Saizen) and J&J's Veridex diagnostics unit (for ProCaM and then for CellSearch).

“That was nice,” says Goodman, “two new clients in one year and gaining more business on the basis of that relationship. That was something we were really striving for, to be able to jump in right away and get more business out of them.”

Lab9 is “completely firewalled” off from CDM, though the shop utilizes CDM's new shared services group, SSCG, and its values —Style, Substance, Conviction and Grace. Almost all of its work is aimed at professional audiences, with a sliver of direct-to-patient. It's a hodgepodge, including a lot of digital work.

“In the classic model, you'd come up with a core creative idea, and then you'd look to see how that's going to diffuse out into a variety of channels,” says Kinch. “We have channel-neutral media planning here. We really want to understand where and how our audiences are digesting information and then create to those channels. This is such a diffuse arena in terms of how you reach physicians and how they're willing to accept that as well.”

The shop's scientific expertise allows it to do a lot of things in-house that more mainline agencies would contract out, says Goodman. “We have a comfort level in the clinical and scientific side, so we're able to take on a lot of work that some traditional healthcare agencies would leave to the med ed agencies. So we do publication planning here, we run ed boards here, we can develop content and materials for those.”

And clients call upon the shop for its strategic expertise outside of brand assignments. “We get things that really border on consulting projects that traditional clients would farm out to other strategy consulting firms,” says Kinch. “In addition to being a full-service agency, because we're focused on biopharma and specialty products, we've had to get into those other aspects as well.”

For Genentech and Biogen Idec, the agency handles Rituxan's immunology indication for rheumatoid arthritis as well as Ocrelizumab or 2H7, a follow-on biologic for immunology. For Eurand, the shop is working on a pancreatic enzyme replacement product called Zenpep. 

“We have CDM DNA,” says Goodman, “the secret sauce that makes CDM successful, a lot of that got transported here. So, we're a new agency but we're not an untested agency.”
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