14% increase in healthcare revenue, from $28 million to $32 million
“We’re looking forward to a couple of key launches that our clients are undertaking this year, as well as taking the power of a unified Sandbox even deeper into current business and as a catalyst for new assignments”
“Continued uncertainty — about the new administration, the impact on both the accessibility and affordability of healthcare, and uncertainty about how the entire healthcare industry will be impacted”
For Sandbox, 2016 was the year the rubber hit the road. After three years of mapping out how its independent collective of agencies would operate vis-à-vis one another, the company unified under a single P&L in 2016.
“We’re one agency now. The individual operating units have gone away, and the founding agencies have also gone away,” says Sandbox chief client officer and principal Joe Kuchta. “This was the final step.”
While only half of Sandbox’s work comes from healthcare clients, Kuchta believes the firm’s expertise in and around the worlds of consumer packaged goods, finance, and technology often bleeds into its healthcare work. “We combine all of our strategists regardless of discipline,” he explains. “For example, we do a lot of work with LG on their TVs.” The people behind those displays are the ones that help with exhibits at medical meetings.
Kuchta considers this a big part of the firm’s value proposition going forward. “We’re bringing more expertise from other areas, whether it’s strategic or digital. It’s been a big part of our growth.”
Sandbox grew its healthcare business by 14% in 2016, with that unit reaching $32 million in revenue, up from $28 million in 2015. The firm added three new clients (Coherus BioSciences, Kite Pharma, and Medivation) and lost one (Pharmacyclics, when it was acquired by AbbVie).
Other roster mainstays include Baxter, BioMarin, Upsher-Smith, and Mylan. The firm added 15 full-timers in 2016, running the total up to 363 (including healthcare and non-healthcare).
Now that Sandbox is a unified agency operating under a single P&L, Kuchta says the focus for 2017 and beyond is execution, especially as it stares down possible product launches for Kite and Coherus. “We’re looking forward to delivering on those launches. I’m looking forward to a year of actually doing the work — versus planning it and talking about it,” Kuchta notes.
Execution is becoming an even greater focus now that Sandbox is going through the challenging process of assembling teams from its seven offices. “We’re now using more resources across the agency on those launches. Execution will be better in this new organizational structure, but we have to prove it,” Kuchta adds.
In a broader sense, he believes the public’s view of the pharma and healthcare industry remains among Sandbox’s biggest challenges. “Anywhere you go, people are talking about the EpiPen and big bad pharma,” he adds. “From an industry standpoint, so much value is being pushed aside or ignored because people automatically go to ‘high prices.’ There’s truth to that, but the industry has to let people know more of the value story than what they get from the headlines, which will always be negative.”
How can the industry change that perception? “If I knew that, I’d be out there selling it,” Kuchta adds. “It’s great for Joe Biden to say we are going to cure cancer. But who’s going to do that? The companies that are working on and bringing innovative treatments. There’s a whole ecosystem that most people don’t see. It’s going to take a better understanding of the work that goes into creating a drug — and I’m not talking about images of lab techs smiling at test tubes.”