The Imre Health brand launched as its own entity in February 2018, which president Jeff Smokler characterizes as the most exciting news during a period of rapid growth. “We did a lot of internal planning and restructuring to make sure what we were saying about who we are and what we offer was true,” he says.

Although Imre Health has existed within the Imre mothership since before Smokler arrived at the agency seven years ago, 2018 saw the official launch of the brand externally. The distinction was and is a clear one, Smokler notes: The health side has both different audiences (read: professional ones) and different services than the agency’s business and consumer sides.

In the wake of the formal brand debut, Imre’s revenue from health-related work grew to $11.5 million, nearly doubling the firm’s 2017 take of $5.95 million. Among the major growth drivers, Smokler says, were new work in the rare-disease category and organic growth among existing clients (in particular AstraZeneca and Amag Pharmaceuticals, including work on the latter’s touted women’s health product Intrarosa).

Smokler notes that Imre had a successful year on the new-business front as well, via the additions of the AbbVie Foundation and PTC Therapeutics to the client rolls. He says the agency’s work on mature brands and within the diabetes, respiratory and oncology categories led other pharma companies to “want something similar for themselves.” Imre’s relationship with Bristol-Myers Squibb (on blockbuster immunotherapy Opdivo) came to an end.

Imre also upped the amount of attention and resources it devoted to HCP marketing, with such business increasing from about 10% to 30% of the agency’s total work, Smokler reports. He anticipates that figure will approach 50% in 2019. To that end, the company hired a director of HCP strategy who previously spent two decades repping HIV drugs.

Overall, Imre ended the year with 69 people under its roofs, a big jump from the end-of-2017 total of 33. “We needed to expand but also hire for new skill sets,” Smokler notes.

Yueh Fang Feng, former creative director at Havas and Digitas Health, was hired as the creative lead for Imre Health. After nearly 10 years at R2integrated, Lindsay McGettigan joined the agency as VP of social marketing.

As Imre continues to grow, the agency faces a challenge of a different kind: maintaining what Smokler calls “a culture of empathy.” The company partnered with Columbia University for an empathy training session in 2018 and went into the field to learn more about how to better serve patients and clients. During workshops with diabetes patients and lessons from academic experts, Imre’s staff learned about the need to bring empathy into their design thinking.

In the wake of the sessions, Imre created its first empathy brief. “Now ‘how do you feel?’” is the underlying question for every project, whether it’s focused on patients, practitioners or clients,” Smokler says.