Heartbeat devoted much of its 2018 to devising a new co-creation model. The twist? It did so alongside the long-term clients, such as Genentech, Sunovion and Pfizer, that are usually excused from such exercises.

This represented quite a bit more than the average strategic or philosophical tweak. “We did away with the big, Don Draper-style reveal, particularly with creative,” explains Heartbeat co-president and executive planning director Nadine Leonard. “There is a cultural tension inherent in that shift. To have clients help us think through the creative process is not always something that is welcomed in the agency world.”

At the same time, the shift felt like a necessary one to Heartbeat. According to Leonard, collaboration earlier in the creative process makes it easier for agencies to quickly modify its strategic recommendations. For clients dealing with limited budgets yet still requesting expedited schedules for their deliverables, the new approach is clearly a better fit.

Heartbeat believes it has already seen results. The agency was tapped by Pfizer to create a Facebook campaign for its anticoagulant Eliquis (a co-promote with Bristol-Myers Squibb). It won an AOR engagement from AcelRx Pharmaceuticals to launch the Tongue and Done introductory campaign for Dsuvia, an opioid used in emergency settings.

Heartbeat also claimed new work from Bayer (for its Mirena and Kyleena IUDs), Edwards Lifesciences (for transcatheter heart valve Sapien 3 Ultra) and Sunovion (for anti-seizure drug Aptiom). Work with Amag Pharmaceuticals’ Makena, a treatment to reduce the risk of pre-term birth, ended due to patent expiration and a shift in client needs.

According to Heartbeat co-president and executive creative director James Talerico, revenue climbed 10% in 2018. Though Heartbeat doesn’t share exact sums, MM&M estimates 2018 revenue at $58 million, up from an estimated $52.5 million in 2017. Half of that growth came from new clients, Talerico reports. Staff count was flat year-on-year at 220 full-timers.

Heartbeat also grew its executive ranks with two key hires. GHG veteran Kimberly Romagnola joined the agency as EVP, brand lead, while Harrison and Star exec Madhuri Fletcher joined as SVP, medical director.

The agency was similarly active on the technology front. It formally debuted its Voice Lab, which facilitates experimentation with platforms such as Alexa. “What is the possibility for voice with a patient in an exam room?” Talerico asks.

Heartbeat has also pushed forward with its EHR and point-of-care investments. “There is no better relevancy than if you can get into the actual workflow the physician is having with the patient in a meaningful and rich way,” Leonard explains.

Clearly the agency believes that such tech-forward initiatives are more need-to-have than nice-to-have. “The language that we are using to speak to HCPs needs to be more integrated with the language we’re using to speak to consumers and payers,” Talerico says. “Consumers want more information about co-pay programs, while payers are listening and putting more pressure on pharma. Isolated messaging programs that target a particular audience seem more and more artificial.”