Heartbeat built its reputation as a maverick agency in the image of its charismatic founder, Bill Drummy, who led the company through 19 years of steady growth. So when he handed the reins last year to Nadine Leonard and James Talerico, now co-managing directors, there was much curiosity about the path the agency would take.

Drummy hasn’t left Heartbeat — he remains chairman emeritus and still occasionally consults with clients — but he has “moved pretty far away from the day-to-day responsibilities, and that’s where Nadine and I have stepped in to grow beyond what Bill has established,” Talerico says.

Leonard and Talerico spent 2017 honing a co-management strategy that works well for the agency, with Leonard handling strategy and client service and Talerico handling creative, tech, and media. “Pretty much everything else we do jointly,” she quips.

At the same time, the leadership duo has worked hard to ensure Heartbeat stays true to its challenger self-image. “We want to hold on to that entrepreneurial sense, that spirit of innovation in the face of established norms,” Talerico says.

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Heartbeat claimed five new accounts in 2017, driving up its total to 12 AOR accounts and two project-based ones. “We’ve been doubling down on our existing relationships,” says Talerico, who points to the agency’s launch of Genentech’s Ocrevus for MS as an example. Other recent additions included work from AcelRx, Amag Pharmaceuticals, and Sunovion.

Heartbeat also began exploring a new strategic offering rooted in the electronic health record, pursuing a vision it believes could transform the business. “The problem is the EHR conversation is stuck in payer marketing,” Leonard explains. “We have to get marketers to understand the EHR is a marketing tool and not just a payer access tool.”

The agency grew by five people in 2017, bringing the total to 220, while revenue remained flat at $52.5 million, per MM&M estimates (the agency’s 2016 revenue was restated). Notable hires included SVP of strategy and digital innovation Hudson Plumb, formerly of ghg, and VP of social media strategy Henry Anderson, who previously spent time at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis.

Moving forward, Heartbeat has set its sights on clients who are willing to challenge the status quo. “We’ve been selective with who we work with,” Leonard notes. “Industry challenges are providing us an opportunity, because that’s what is driving our future solutions. Getting to the place where you’re willing to do something different takes time.”