Revenue grew 25% to an MM&M-estimated $60 million
“We’re comfortable with our current growth pace. It’s not frenzied or bananas; it’s just energizing”
“There’s never been a better time for our industry to speak about itself with pride. The drugs are tremendous and we have a healthier population than ever before”
You’d forgive the folks at Heartbeat if they wanted a month or so to catch their collective breath. Prior to its acquisition by Publicis in 2013, the agency — known until recently as Heartbeat Ideas/Heartbeat West — was renowned for its digital chops when few healthcare-first agencies had invested fully in the “new” technology.
Since then, it has tripled in size and revenue — to about 215 employees and an estimated $60 million in 2016 — while moving into larger offices and expanding its therapeutic breadth.
And now, after 19 years, Heartbeat is led by someone other than founder and industry legend Bill Drummy. He stepped away from day-to-day leadership earlier this year, handing the reins to longtime lieutenants Nadine Leonard, formerly chief strategy officer, and James Talerico, formerly chief creative officer.
With two decades worth of Heartbeat tenure between them, Leonard and Talerico now run the agency as co-managing directors. Drummy has slid into the role of chairman, which will keep him active on the client and thought-leadership fronts, but remove any and all agency-management responsibilities from his charge.
“He is beloved here. We do not take lightly the size of the shoes we are trying to fill,” Leonard says.
Yet amid all the change, there’s a sense that Heartbeat hasn’t really changed at all. Even though the agency has long since shed its independence, a healthy dose of quirkiness still permeates its culture.
As Talerico puts it, “Yes, there’s been some change, but our three organizing pillars remain consistent.” Those pillars? A tripartite focus on community, clients, and brand. It’s not unusual, of course, to hear agency execs rhapsodize about any of the three. What distinguishes Heartbeat is that the company walks the walk, especially as it pertains to its “challenger agency” mindset and the way it informs the company’s personnel choices.
“People in this industry sometimes seem as though they think they have it all figured out,” Leonard says. “We celebrate the people who stand up and say, ‘You know what? This is dumb.’”
Talerico agrees, adding, “We double down on the serendipity of putting great people next to one another.”
It’s an approach that continues to resonate with clients. Heartbeat’s recent additions include work on Avanir’s Neudexta, a Johnson & Johnson medical devices website, and social media around Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immuno-oncology franchise.
The agency lost two clients: Sientra (due to issues around product manufacturing) and XenoPort (picked up by Arbor Pharmaceuticals).
Up next for Heartbeat: continued challenging of all things boring, clichéd, and obvious, especially whenever tin-eared messaging rears its ugly tin ear. “The industry needs to start being empathetic to audiences and speak in language that they recognize,” Leonard explains. “We need to stop applying bromides. We need more authentic dialogues and more transparency.”
Adds Drummy: “When clients look up at a steep wall, we want them to know they want Heartbeat. We want the tough stuff.”