Revenue grew by 31% to $200 million
“We’ll keep working hard to inoculate ourselves from the status quo. We’re always deep into the data”
“The KINETiQ platform is specifically built for the markets we serve. It’s just the beginning for what marketers should expect for their marketing dollars”
A healthy percentage of the companies featured in MM&M ‘s Top 100 Agencies live year to year. For all the talk about long-term plans and pacing oneself on the growth front, agencies with publicly traded holding companies don’t have the luxury of patience — or, in the most extreme cases, more than a few quarters to prove their mettle. Think that overstates the current reality? Peruse the profiles for reports of leadership successions that totally and honestly weren’t motivated by anything other than a grandiloquent desire to “import fresh thinking,” or some other such corporate line.
Then there’s Klick Health, happily and deliberately going about its business for 20 years now, all the while largely ignoring agency-world trends. Quite possibly related: Klicksters, as the company refers to its employees, tend to speak about the future of the agency business with considerably more enthusiasm and optimism than do their peers at other megafirms.
That attentiveness to the bigger picture and (relative) de-prioritizing of short-term results seemed to pay off in 2016. Klick grew revenue nearly 31% last year, from $153 million to $200 million. The growth trend continued in the first four months of 2017: Klick president Lori Grant pulled us aside at the annual MM&M Transforming Healthcare conference in early May to report 41% growth in Q1 2017 versus the year-ago period. “That’s not to brag — it’s to make sure you have the most updated information,” Grant said when sharing the news, with a hint of a smile affixed to her face.
Klick similarly expanded its staff, from 548 full-timers at the end of 2015 to 639 at the end of 2016 to 697 at the end of April.
The incoming class of 2016-2017 included a handful of heavy hitters: chief medical officer Holly Henry, who held a similar role at FCB Health; chief creative commercial officer, New York Elliot Langerman, from Area 23; SVP of medical strategy Jasmine Singh, from Havas; VP and group account director Joanna Jacobs, from Evoke Health; and group account director Jodi Brichan, from Omnicom Health Group.
To hear Grant tell it, these business and personnel successes are directly traceable to Klick’s insistence on marching to the beat of its own drum.
“This was a year when we were really well served by playing the long game,” she says. “We’ve always prioritized client success, but the thing that allows us to do that is our independence — we’re unbeholden to quarterly targets. In the long term, your needs and your client needs are never at odds.”
It’s no coincidence, then, that one of Klick’s highest-priority — and coolest — areas of development during 2016 was its new KINETiQ platform, which cofounder and CEO Leerom Segal says has been gestating for the last decade or so.
The general idea behind it: to help clients more easily manage their programs by integrating a variety of channels and other data silos and, in so doing, to activate a gaggle of program-optimization tasks that will in turn save them some cash.
“Our motivation is to help them connect the dots across more complex ecosystems,” Segal explains. KINETiQ can also ease the task of asset creation, which Segal illustrates via an example of a client who needed to assemble a PDUFA site.
“The person said, ‘Well, this is going to take six months or more and cost us $200,000,’” Segal says. “We said, ‘No, it’ll be 10 clicks in less than 10 minutes and the license fee is $30,000.’”
Segal says that KINETiQ evolved in response to oft-stated client frustrations. “We ask a lot of questions — that’s what we do,” he says. “Whenever we talked about the things that slow everyone down, there was this sense that clients were often stuck as project coordinators. Every single integration point into a program, whether a find-a-doctor [component] or a Doximity sign-in, became a $100,000 workstream. You were reinventing the wheel with every single engagement.”
Segal describes the KINETiQ platform as the “connective tissue” that will, essentially, let Klick’s clients move far more briskly. As for those clients, Klick is famously protective of its relationships, with only a few of its mainstays publicly known (Novartis, Sanofi, and Pfizer are known to be three of them). That said, Segal allows that 93% of Klick’s 2016 growth came from existing clients and reports a win rate of “over 90%” in competitive pitches.
One area in which Klick continues to distinguish itself is social media. Lighter Blue, a campaign created on behalf of Lundbeck and Takeda (marketers of major depressive disorder drug Trintellix, née Brintellix), has a legitimate claim to the title of pharma’s most successful social-first initiative to date.
The campaign’s 10 million engagements on Facebook, Segal believes, are unprecedented. “I challenge you to find a single campaign that’s had even one million social engagements, much less 10 million,” he says.
Segal believes Klick — and maybe the industry as a whole — can learn from the response to Lighter Blue. As recently as three or four years ago, no pharma MLR department would have given the thumbs-up to a social-minded campaign about depression. It just wasn’t something discussed in that particular realm, at least not with pharma’s direct involvement.
“To me it’s kind of a proof point. When you’ve got great creative and it’s orchestrated well, there are a lot of opportunities to use the [social] channel as intelligently as other industries have been able to,” Segal says, crediting Lundbeck and Takeda for their open-mindedness to any and all new ideas. “They saw the early results and leaned into it.”
As for what comes next, there are quotidian concerns and decidedly non-typical ones. You can file future expansion in the former category: “We’ve always said there are two things that keep us up at night: egos and leases. You saw this when we opened [an office] in New York — we don’t build infrastructure and always hope for the best. We had the clients and the teams. That’s the reverse of the usual order and it’s what we’ll keep doing,” Segal says.
For the latter category, it’s anyone’s guess what will emerge from the innovation hotbed that constitutes Klick’s Sensei Labs. “The beautiful thing is that there’s no commercial agenda attached to it,” Segal continues. “We’re exploring areas and opportunities that could be disruptive to our or our clients’ revenue streams, but that’s not the priority.”
Recent hires have included a handful of technologists who headed gaming studios in the past, so maybe that’s a hint? Klick doesn’t know the answer itself — and seems happier and more engaged for it.