After several years operating as a business unit within the larger Imre organization, Imre Health formally became a separate offering in 2017. And it did so with a bang: the firm reports revenue grew 28% over the year-ago period, from $4.65 million to $5.95 million. The health division employed 33 full-timers at the end of 2017, up four from 2016.

Imre Health president Jeff Smokler attributes the spike to more effective cross-agency collaboration, especially between the health division and the “creators group,” which houses Imre’s digital, social, and creative resources. “What we discovered about four years ago was that our social marketing offering was really timely, given what was happening in pharma,” he adds. “It enabled us to kind of get in ahead of other, more traditional agencies and do something a little bit different.”

The recent growth made spinning it off a no-brainer. “We saw significant success and came to the conclusion that, in order to continue to grow the right way and be able to operationalize in a way that made sense for our clients, we needed to separate Imre Health,” Smokler says.

However, with the separation came a search for an identity. Smokler recalls the agency had joked internally for several years that it was a “non-pharma pharma agency.” Its work was concentrated in the digital and social realms. But as Imre’s health group grew its client roster, the internal nickname started to chafe.

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In early 2017, Imre Health landed on “empathy” as its new philosophical cornerstone. The agency held training sessions and discussed how empathy informed its work and developed an “empathy brief” that functions much like a creative brief. “We’ve applied that brief to all the assignments that have come our way,” he says.

Imre Health added several prominent assignments in 2017, including social work on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster immunotherapy Opdivo. The firm also added digital work on Amag Pharmaceuticals’ menopause drug Intrarosa and grew its relationship with AstraZeneca to include diabetes drug Farxiga and asthma treatment Fasenra. Imre Health now serves as the digital and social AOR for AstraZeneca’s diabetes and respiratory portfolios as well as its mature brands.

In a trend that plays to Imre’s strengths, Smokler says clients have evolved their thinking on the value of social and digital marketing. “Some clients just need to get their foot in the door, and others are further along in their digital transformation and have an entire ecosystem we’ve either built or helped build,” he explains. “The days of pharma looking at social channels as just a place for community-building are over.”