Last July, Create NYC was acquired by Dublin-based UDG Healthcare and became a part of the organization’s Ashfield Healthcare Communications unit. So it’s no surprise when agency president and founder Natalie McDonald describes 2018 as a year of “diversification” and “foundation-building” for her decade-old agency.
McDonald says the new parent company is a good cultural fit for Create and aligns along existing core values, such as efficiency and accountability. At the same time, Create’s model should prove a nice complementary fit for the larger Ashfield organization. The agency has historically offered clients contract work for shorter-term needs.
By the end of 2018, Create supported more than 13 companies and more than 70 accounts, including Pfizer’s Xeljanz in RA, psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy Opdivo and Bayer’s Mirena and Kyleena birth control products. But as other clients brought marketing functions in-house or cut their budgets, the agency saw revenue dip 5.4%, from $14.9 million in 2017 to $14.1 million in 2018.
Nonetheless, the full-time Create staff grew by eight people in 2018, from 29 to 37, with most of the additions coming in account services roles. Given the year’s emphasis on maintaining the Create culture within its new larger parent company, McDonald points to 100% staff retention, enhanced benefits packages and internal promotions as signs that the integration was successful. There were no changes in leadership in the wake of the acquisition.
The Create value story remains much the same as it was pre-deal, with McDonald noting the agency is “able to provide strategic perspective even when clients are not in a launch or reinvention period.” This means working with budget-conscious brands already in the market, including post-patent “mature” brands and biosimilars.
Beyond the internal challenges that come with any change in ownership, the year featured its share of external ones as well. The amount of consolidation in the industry as a whole continues to vex Create and its agency peers, McDonald says. Similarly, the government shutdown created headaches as clients filing for approvals or label changes with the FDA saw their progress halted.
Looking ahead, Create hopes to continue working with a range of clients at the nexus of technology and promotion. “Gone are the days when you would send an email once a month and that email would be static and standard across all customers,” McDonald explains, pointing for a need for greater content personalization. She adds that such personalization, as well as the integration of multiple social and digital platforms, remains a priority for many pharma and healthcare organizations, which have been late adopters of some new technologies.
Look for Create to attempt to build its global resumé as well. “We’ve been a U.S.-focused agency,” McDonald says. “As we enter our 10th year, we’re looking to add new clients both big and small.”