Sandbox isn’t the kind of place to bang gongs or uncork champagne after big wins. “That’s what we get paid to do,” says president Joe Kuchta, channeling football legend Walter Payton. “We cultivate a kind of blue-collar work ethic here, so we don’t do a lot of high-fiving and celebrating.”
But even Kuchta has to admit there was a two-week period last November, during which the agency claimed two “especially rewarding” assignments, that generated some extra enthusiasm at the Monday staff meetings. The two new assignments came from BeiGene, a biotech that specializes in oncology, and Ultragenyx, a rare disease specialist.
Those wins brought the year’s total to eight, following the addition of Abbott Diabetes, Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific, Highmark Health and MannKind. That led to double-digit revenue growth in 2018 — from $38 million to $43.7 million in healthcare-derived revenue — with more likely to come in 2019, Kuchta reports.
He notes Sandbox typically concentrates on “helping smaller startup companies bring revolutionary technology to the market.” By way of example, Kuchta points to the agency’s four years of work with Kite Pharma, makers of a CAR-T and TCR cellular therapy. Kite was acquired by Gilead Sciences in Q4 2018 for $11.9 billion.
While Kuchta doesn’t characterize either as a lost client, Sandbox no longer works with two companies that were on its roster at this time last year. Its relationship with Leiters, a compounding supplier, ended after the firm wrapped up a corporate-image assignment. Its relationship with Xellia, a maker of anti-infectives, concluded after the completion of some pre-market strategy work.
To handle its new business, Sandbox hired two SVPs for client service, Nick Rambke, who joined from HCB Chicago, and Tracy Brown from FCB’s Chicago outpost. If Sandbox expands beyond its current six offices — Chicago; New York; Toronto; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Missouri; and Costa Mesa, California — it will likely do so via acquisition.
“If we grow locations, it will be agencies that come in and join Sandbox,” Kuchta explains.
To ensure Sandbox doesn’t fall prey to complacency, Kuchta says the agency is actively investigating new tactics and strategies geared toward improving its recruitment skills.
“It is a seller’s market right now. As we grow, the caliber of people we hire is really important,” he notes. Besides the typical bonus-referral programs, Kuchta and the Sandbox HR staff are taking what he calls “a creative look” at compensation packages and attempting to lure prospective employees with much-coveted programs such as student-loan repayment, work sabbaticals and liberal time-off policies.
In the months ahead, look for Sandbox to continue to assist clients as they attempt to figure out how to use data to measure marketing effectiveness. “Everyone likes to talk about big data and marketing automation, and now we can often measure how strong the engagements are, almost in real time. It’s exciting,” Kuchta adds.