If you happened to be a patron at a San Diego-area In-N-Out Burger last fall, wondering why that carload full of singing and wahoo-ing people couldn’t contain their glee, the staff at Carling Communications can explain. The team had just completed a pitch for Edwards Lifesciences’ heart valve disease awareness work, and it had gone so well that participants couldn’t contain themselves.

The subsequent win was met with similar enthusiasm. “This account is a stake in the ground for a new direction for the agency,” says Carling president Sherri Wilkins. “It underscores the teamwork and our new way of thinking.”

Just as importantly, the Edwards pitch was the first with new hire Lee Krauss, who joined the agency in October as managing director, client services, to head up a new office in Conshohocken, Pa. Krauss, who arrived after a decade with Digitas Health, says the post-pitch euphoria “validated my decision. Win or lose, we had put together a great story.”

Carling’s revenue jumped 28.9% in 2018, from $11.4 million to $14.7 million. It grew relationships with existing clients, including Ortho Dermatologics and Bausch & Lomb (for ophthalmic treatments Lotemax SM, Prolensa, Retisert and Visudyne). In addition to Edwards, wins included corporate work for Endo and brand work on Dermira’s Qbrexza, an underarm cloth aimed at combatting excessive sweating.

The agency no longer works with Pernix Therapeutics in the wake of the company’s bankruptcy filing. It also resigned the business for Charleston Labs’ OINV.

Organizationally, Carling has experienced its share of change during the last year or two, with Wilkins noting “one of our big gaps was client leadership.” To that end, she believes Krauss’ addition will go a long way toward filling those gaps, as well as give the agency additional executive muscle as it prepares to open a New York office this year.

“We’ve been able to elevate people in middle management and above and get them to be client-facing,” she adds. “That’s making them happier and more productive and engaged — and the clients feel better, too.”

For the months and years ahead, Carling has set its sights on more disease-awareness work. “It’s something more clients are becoming open to,” Krauss explains. “Previously, they’ve been more bottom-line focused. But because there is this commoditization happening, people now want to see companies that stand for something, through this lens of disease awareness.”

And Carling will continue to evolve the way it defines “consumer,” adopting a more OTC approach to all its accounts, regardless of target audience. “For me, the physician is a consumer. Patients are consumers. Caregivers are consumers,” Wilkins says. “Seeing them all that way is fundamental to how we do our job.”

Expect Carling to make some news on the real-estate front. Along with New York, it’s searching for new digs for its growing London team and a new spot for its San Diego HQ. “We’re taking our time to do it right,” she continues. “Space affects culture. Change affects people. We want to make sure we’re making choices that we can scale as we grow.”