Last year, Intouch Group CEO Faruk Capan politely declined to spill too many details about his company’s ambitious three-year plan to double in size. “I don’t want to jinx it,” he said at the time.
Capan’s caginess appears to be paying off. Intouch Group’s revenue spiked by 27.3% in 2018, to $140 million from 2017’s total of $110 million. “We exceeded expectations,” he says, before noting that the original plan remains very much in motion. “We want to go over $200 million in revenue by 2020. In 2018 we did great, and this year we’re still on target.”
Capan and EVP of marketing and communications Wendy Blackburn attribute the growth in large part to the decision to evolve Intouch into an agency network. Formally rolled out in June 2018, Intouch Group is the parent organization for Intouch Solutions, Intouch Proto, Intouch International, Intouch Media, Intouch Enterprise and Intouch Analytics.
“Making that happen was a big part of 2018,” Blackburn says. “It took a lot of work behind the scenes and logistical and structural changes. We’re continuing to build up each of the affiliates as its own entity and our clients have really responded positively.”
[Intouch Group is under a single P&L. The company doesn’t break out information such as billings or accounts won/lost for each affiliate separately.]
A final part of the transformation involves adding two offices to the four existing workplaces in Overland Park, Kansas; New York City; Chicago; and London. After opening one this March in Boston, Intouch is choosing between Northern and Southern California for the second.
And no major-league expansion effort would be complete without a simultaneous hiring binge. To that end, Intouch ended 2018 with 842 staffers under its roofs, up from 652 at the conclusion of 2017. Among the new hires: Ann Cave, SVP, managing director in the company’s Boston office. She previously worked at Cambridge BioMarketing as head of client services and business development.
“I’m proud of the team because it takes a lot of effort to hire, train and retain that many employees,” says Capan. “Scaling up is a big challenge, because you have to figure out how to operate as a group. We’re trying to put into practice what we’ve learned in the last few years from the network agencies and the consultant companies about how to scale up and differentiate, but still keep Intouch as one company.”
At the same time, Intouch has attempted to evolve its internal culture through a diversity and inclusion program that kicked off in late 2018. Its stated goal is to identify, confront and minimize the negative effects of implicit bias in the workplace.
Antonio Rivera, previously a senior social media strategist, was promoted to lead the initiative. “We want everyone here to feel that Intouch is a safe and inclusive place to work,” says Blackburn.
“This also helps us cast a wider net for talent, rather than just going back to hire recent grads from the same schools.”
As for the client story, Intouch claimed a total of 35 accounts in 2018, 15 from new business and 20 from existing clients, while losing none. The firm also launched nine products last year.
“We built up a lot of our full-service accounts,” Blackburn explains. “When we started out 20 years ago, we were one of the few digital agencies. Now we’ve grown into full-service and clients see our digital legacy not as a weakness but as a strength.” Work from Genentech, Abbott, Novo Nordisk, Merz Pharma and UCB ranked among the additions. Blackburn adds that Intouch has made client headway in the oncology space.
An easy metaphor can be found in the evolution of Intouch’s relationship with its first client, Teva, for work on MS mainstay Copaxone. “For 19 years, we were their digital agency. Last year, we became their full-service agency of record,” Capan says. “It’s been a long, steady process. They’re a 20-year-old brand and we’re a 20-year-old company, and they’ve been a client for 20 years.”
Another source of company pride is the multi-channel campaign (TV/print/digital) Intouch executed for Regeneron’s Eylea brand, which treats retinal diseases. Called A Beautiful Pair, the campaign was ranked by Ogilvy Health’s chief creative officer as one of the year’s top 10 DTC ads in a commentary published by MM&M.
Capan has a very clear vision for Intouch Group’s continued evolution. While he and Blackburn pay attention to changes made by other large agencies, he says Intouch will continue charting its own course.
“We’re going beyond agency models by partnering with big names such as Salesforce.com — we’re almost getting into their territory,” Capan explains. “We’re investing in the technology space and in good relationships, so that as marketing automation takes off we will be there — and not just on the sidelines as a brand agency or digital agency.”
He adds that Intouch Group has “made this a reality” via its B2D group, which focuses on next-gen technology, and its investments in tactics usually grouped under the banner of AI. “We have a real functioning product that’s very exciting,” he explains.
Capan notes that agencies have a powerful incentive to innovate smartly, as clients are increasingly looking for cost savings, efficiencies and tech solutions. “To compete, you have to be global. You have to have multiple offices and multiple practices,” he continues. “That’s why we want to grow. It’s going to be exciting in the next few years as we bring technology, marketing and strategy together.”
Capan also predicts more pressure on drug pricing, whether from the government or from within the healthcare system itself. Other challenges will come from the continued growth of generics and biosimilars. “We have to be more nimble with our dollars for our clients — and everything must be transparent,” he says.
Expect Intouch to be a willing warrior in an industry battle that’s been brewing for several years: The fight against the commoditization of agency services. “How can we differentiate ourselves and also adjust to the new reality? That’s what keeps me awake at night,” Capan notes, before adding, “Well, that and my puppy. He’s a year old now, a big fat 35-pound bulldog, and he’s a challenge.”
Puppy-induced insomnia notwithstanding, Capan embraces everything that comes with heading up Intouch Group. “I love where our business is today, because pharmaceuticals, technology and agency life are ever-changing. That’s what makes us happy and excited.”