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Revenue slid 32% to $15 million


“We are expanding our medical and scientific strategy resources to reinforce our bilateral thinking”
— Nicole Hyland


“As companies continue to tighten their budgets, it’s important that tactical solutions hyper-target customers effectively and provide a measurable return on investment”
— Nicole Hyland

For Natrel, 2016 represented a return to its roots. Following a year of growth in 2015, the agency found that rejiggering its agency model — a move ostensibly designed to help Natrel keep up with that growth — wasn’t helping the agency better serve its clients, nor did it have a positive effect on its culture.

“Last year was an introspective year for us,” says Nicole Hyland, the agency’s GM. “In 2015, we saw rapid growth and took immediate action to meet client needs and demands, and we extended our services. But those actions did not meet our culture’s needs.”

It’s hard to sugarcoat the results. Natrel’s revenue fell from $22 million in 2015 to $15 million in 2016. Staff size similarly shrank, from 90 at the end of 2015 to 57 at the end of 2016.

What went wrong? Natrel moved to a shared-service model, designed to help the agency grow its capabilities by sharing departments across brands. However, it found this model frustrated a culture that Hyland says was “built on talking and communicating. We work better in a fully integrated, cross-communication system. The agency’s overall vision is what drives its growth.”

Working in silos, with different departments located on different sides of the building, was not conducive to productive communication.

We are big believers in encouraging new talent to get into the industry. – Nicole Hyland, GM

Natrel faced a host of external challenges as well, mostly related to acquisitions and consolidations. In 2016, the agency lost its ex-U.S. AOR work for Regeneron’s retinal-disease drug Eylea. And following Pfizer’s acquisition of Hospira in late 2015, the drugmaker chose to consolidate its agency roster, which resulted in Natrel’s losing Pfizer’s injectables business.

However, the agency also had eight new account wins. Natrel claimed professional AOR status for two brands from LEO Pharma for plaque psoriasis drugs Enstilar and Taclonex. The agency also won new business from Bayer for eczema drug Desonate and corporate work from NeoGenomics Laboratories.

Despite the rough 2016 and an acknowledgment that business was flat vis-à-vis the year-ago period in the first few months of 2017, Hyland is optimistic about the road ahead. She points to the agency’s newly remodeled office space and new intern program with pharmacy students from Philadelphia’s University of Sciences as two bright spots.

Natrel brass recently gave a lecture at the university about career options beyond working as pharmacists.

“We are big believers in encouraging new talent to get into the industry. We spoke to them about looking at marketing, medical education, and scientific strategy,” Hyland says. The lecture had its intended effect: Around 20 students called Natrel to inquire about career opportunities.

That led the agency to create a program that has students join the agency for six weeks and embed with its medical and scientific strategy departments. “The most exciting part is attracting young talent that don’t have pharma goggles on,” Hyland quips. “When you work in this industry for a long time, there are certain things you become accustomed and immune to. That’s not the way we should approach our business.”