James Atherton, managing consultant and VP of Blue Latitude Health’s New York City office, doesn’t think his current gig comes without its challenges. But he believes it’s nowhere near as daunting as his brief stint as a comedian in a prior professional life, during which he decided that nothing is harder than stand-up.
“The first time I made a presentation to 40 pharma execs at a conference, I thought, ‘This is the easiest thing in the world,’” he says with a laugh.
Atherton and a colleague arrived in the country three years ago to establish a U.S. beachhead for the U.K.-based Blue Latitude Health, which was founded in 2003. The goal was to replicate the company’s overseas formula of strategically focused work that also delivers creatively.
“What differentiates us in the U.S. market is that even though consulting culture is very different from creative culture, at Blue Latitude they’re genuinely integrated,” Atherton explains.
In 2018, Blue Latitude continued to build up its North American presence. Revenue surged nearly 49% — from 2017’s total of $3.9 million to $5.8 million — and staff size grew from 58 to 80.
On the client front, Blue Latitude added work from AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, Shionogi and BioNTech. They joined a roster that includes Janssen (for prostate cancer drugs), Novartis (immunology and hepatology products) and Sanofi Pasteur (flu vaccines).
And then, as the year entered its final quarter, Blue Latitude was acquired by fast-growing independent network Fishawack Group of Companies. According to Atherton, the deal ups the agency’s U.S. resources significantly.
“Now we have access to 60 creatives on the West and East Coast when we’re pitching to clients. It’s been great getting to know people in the group and understanding how we can partner with them,” he says.
That collaborative attitude differentiates Blue Latitude from U.S. agencies, Atherton adds. By way of analogy, he points to the restaurant space. “In the U.S., you can only order your water from the water person, your wine from the sommelier and your check from the person who brings the check. In London, you can order anything from anybody.”
Atherton says that distinction extends to the way Blue Latitude divides responsibilities among its staff. “At other agencies, an account person will only do one thing and a strategy person will only do one thing. We look for people with more blended, holistic skills.”
In the months ahead, Atherton sees three potential growth opportunities for Blue Latitude: ones that arise in the early stages of clinical development, ones related to the maximization of launches and ones around multichannel engagement. In a bigger-picture sense, he expects Blue Latitude to work alongside its pharma clients to declutter and demystify what has become an increasingly complex marketing landscape.
“Physicians have more data and publications than ever before. By the time they leave medical school, much of what they’ve learned is already out of date,” Atherton explains. “And patients now have access to so much personal data, from wearables, genetic testing and more. We’re working to define the role of the pharma company in these spaces.”