Benchworks CEO Thad Bench describes his company’s 2018 as “the year of orchestration.” In addition to a raft of creative and strategic hires, Benchworks also invested considerable time and energy in prepping the formation of an umbrella group. The new organization, BW Health Group, launched in February of 2019 with former Neos Therapeutics chief commercial officer Tom McDonnell at its helm.
Bench believes the newly restructured organization is off to a fast start. Underneath the new parent company are four units: Benchworks, led by president Melissa Johnston; distributor Safe Chain Solutions, led by president and partner Charlie Boyd; BW Strategic Consulting, a yet-to-be-launched strategy-minded firm; and a partnership with Occam Health Services.
“Overall, the BW Health Group platform, including the consulting group and the investment in Occum Health, is in full flower,” Bench says. “It was orchestrated in 2018 and we’re in full execution mode in 2019.” Collectively the BWHG firms generated $68 million in revenue in 2018, with Safe Chain leading the way.
Revenue for Benchworks itself remained flat year-over-year at $10 million. However, Bench anticipates the total will reach $14 million in 2019, in part due to key account wins toward the end of 2018. He points to the agency’s expanded relationship with Sun Pharmaceuticals as a big win, especially in the wake of the loss of a Pfizer specialty care unit.
“We had the opportunity to work on several launch brands in the last year for Sun that were fast and furious,” Johnston says. “It was really nice to execute the creative campaigns in a small amount of time and to see our clients and the sales reps using our materials out in the field.”
The Sun opportunity didn’t come without its challenges, among them the need for the account team to get up to speed on the complex 505(b)(2) regulatory pathway for new drug approvals. Benchworks also had to contend with a tight timeline for its work on Vertical Pharmaceuticals’ branded generic treatment for ADHD.
Staff size grew by three people in 2018, raising the total to 49. Notable additions included group creative director Lee Scott, who arrived from the freelance world; executive creative director Angelina Sciolla, from Ogilvy Health; director of health system marketing Lisa Wolfington, from Compass Rose Benefits Group; and SVP, media director Karima Sharif, from CMI/Compas. Director of technology Jeremy Shabtai joined in early 2019 from Digitas Health.
While Benchworks was far from alone in its attempt to focus on innovation, Johnston believes the company did so in a smart, practical way that provides ROI, meaning and growth for client brands. As part of that focus, the agency convened an Innovation Council last October, at which 10 partners made Shark Tank-like presentations to members of Benchworks brand teams.
Moving forward, Johnston believes “the ecosystem of experts” built out under the BW Health Group umbrella will give Benchworks an edge beyond the core creative and strategic marketing services upon which agencies are usually judged. “Based on the number of calls we’re receiving, we’re well-positioned for the rest of 2019,” she says. “There’s definitely interest in what we’re doing.”