While ApotheCom enjoyed its share of highlights in 2018, global CEO Elaine Ferguson says a single day last June stands out. On that day, the agency conducted its first workshop in behavioral change and cognitive interventions, which Ferguson characterizes as an “idea explosion” of sorts.
“All the best parts of my world collided, with psychologists working with clients and our staff, exploring the many reasons people don’t do what they know they should do — or even what they think they’re doing,” Ferguson recalls. “There were so many real ‘Eureka!’ moments. There’s nothing as energizing as when we get something so right.”
ApotheCom’s addition of behavioral sciences to its slate of offerings is significant in that it marks another step in the company’s evolution. “We are breaking the mold and moving beyond agency services,” Ferguson says, pointing to the agency’s increased interaction with the health-tech startup community as well.
Revenue rose 10.8%, from $41.7 million to $46.2 million, in 2018. This marked ApotheCom’s third consecutive year of double-digit growth, Ferguson reports. Client mainstays include AstraZeneca and Gilead Sciences.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t painful setbacks, including a rough start to 2018 when an amyloidosis drug it was working on failed in Phase II trials. “It was our baby,” Ferguson says. “We had been involved in it since Phase I and it was our biggest account. Overnight, we went from $2.5 million in revenue to zero.” Ferguson declines to name names, but the client was likely Prothena. At the end of April 2018, it halted development of NEOD001, a molecule designed to treat AL amyloidosis.
But Ferguson notes that, in the wake of the failure, ApotheCom secured more work in the same category. She says business is up more than 11% so far in 2019.
ApotheCom has expanded its coverage base in recent months, hiring EVP and practice lead Sam Falsetti to head its new Cambridge, Mass., office. Falsetti arrives from Cambridge BioMarketing, where he headed medical strategy and product innovation.
That said, Ferguson acknowledges that hiring remains an ongoing headache. To combat it, Apothe-Com has hired an in-house recruiter to augment its outside consultants and tweaked its approach.
“Normally, you give people a job brief and they see how their skills fit in, but we are becoming more candidate-centric,” Ferguson explains. “We ask where a candidate’s skills and values lie, then find them the right place.”
An even bigger challenge comes in the form of cresting demand for metrics that demonstrate the efficacy of marketing programs. “Clients want to measure impact and move away from linear measures of reach and frequency. But what are the consequences?” Ferguson asks rhetorically.
She poses the hypothetical of a company that has made substantial organizational investments in a program that isn’t seen as effective. “Well, what happens then? I feel like we are at a tipping point. We are right on the edge having much more established methodologies. There is a huge opportunity to finally get it right.”