The two sides of Syneos Health Communications — that’d be the advertising side and the communications side — have found that working together leads to better results. In fact, communications president Lisa Stockman and advertising president Sonja Foster-Storch say that it’s rarer when the units don’t work together in some capacity, whether the task at hand is early-stage clinical trial development or market access or anything else.
Despite the company’s size, the formula is relatively simple. Syneos assembles small teams from different groups to meet clients’ needs, sometimes functioning as a smaller company’s entire commercialization unit. The goal, clearly, is to keep clients within Syneos from the beginning to the end of a drug’s life cycle.
At the same time, this notion is still fairly new within the company, Stockman says. Only about a dozen clients work with Syneos in this broad way.
“Sometimes we’re taking a molecule from clinical development all the way through to commercialization,” she explains. “As you can imagine, in some cases these are smaller companies that don’t have the commercial infrastructure. Before, they only had an option to license the product or raise a bunch of money and hope that it works. We’re giving them a third option.”
In 2018, the communications and advertising businesses “really hit their stride,” Stockman reports. MM&M estimates that revenue for the growing conglomerate increased 7.6% in 2018, to an estimated $245 million from 2017’s sum of $227.8 million.
Syneos’ U.S. work is its “powerhouse,” Stockman continues, while reporting that its European offices in London, Paris and Munich have seen double-digit growth. Longstanding clients include Pfizer, Genentech and Celgene (via Syneos’ Managed Markets Communications arm); Gilead Science, Bausch + Lomb and Amgen (its Addison Whitney naming/branding shop); Sage Therapeutics, Mondelez International and Tesaro (respectively, its PR firms Chamberlain Healthcare PR, Allidura and Chandler Chicco Agency); AstraZeneca and Amgen (GSW); and Celgene, Millennium and Regeneron (Navicor Group).
Eyeing the big picture, Foster-Storch notes a wellspring of interest in cancer and specialty drugs, even from organizations not traditionally in those spaces. That change, she says, means that Syneos teams need to evolve their approaches.
“The old marketing tactics and tools that were applicable in the days of Lipitor and Plavix, they’re not working anymore,” Stockman adds. “So companies are trying to redefine their go-to-market playbook and asking, ‘What does good look like in marketing?’ especially for products that probably have a higher price tag and are relevant for a more narrow patient population.”
Indeed, Syneos is clearly willing to take chances when an opportunity presents itself. Stockman references the agency’s work with BioMarin as it moved into hemophilia, a new disease state for the company. Instead of a simple awareness campaign to introduce patients to BioMarin, the company and Syneos developed a musical about hemophilia. As part of it, the two organizations put out a casting call for young patients with hemophilia to tell their stories through the production.
“I thought the musical idea was super innovative and cool,” Stockman explains. “It goes back to the need to look at different ways to connect and make an impact.”
The two largest advertising brands under the Syneos umbrella enjoyed solid years in 2018, though for different reasons. To hear Navicor president Dave Querry tell it, there’s never been a better time to be working in oncology. The Columbus-based Syneos subsidiary believes its longtime focus on oncology has rendered it particularly well-suited to leverage the fast and furious pace of today’s cancer drug development.
“The products are moving through so quickly that you end up in situations where, when you finally see a positive sign and know you have a product, you only have maybe six or eight months before FDA approval,” says Querry.
While the condensed time frames present operational and logistical challenges, Navicor doesn’t seem particularly intimidated by the task at hand. Rather, it believes the thoroughness of its offering — which, Querry says, now includes everything from clinical-stage consulting to post-launch coordination with medical science liaisons and nurse educators — gives it a distinct advantage.
“We can stand all of that up for clients at a fraction of the cost and risk than if they tried to do it on their own,” he promises.
Despite the high-risk, high-reward nature of oncology drug development, business was good for Navicor through 2018. While the agency lost two accounts due to product failures and one AOR engagement, its business grew by 9%, to an MM&M-estimated $24 million from an estimated $22 million in 2017. Beyond the aforementioned clients, Navicor works with Incyte, Legend Biotech and CMC Biologics, as well as imaging firm Blue Earth Diagnostics and with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Staff size declined by four during 2018, to 103 full-timers from the 107 it had under its roof at the end of 2017.
In the wake of its early-2018 merger with Syneos sibling Palio, GSW underwent a rebranding effort designed to highlight the skills and capabilities it added (depth/size in New York, biopharma/medtech work on the West Coast). At the same time, it reinforced the benefits that come with belonging to a large, multifaceted organization such as Syneos.
“There’s a behavioral insights practice and an innovation group, and we’ve been working a lot closer with them on new and current business,” says GSW Toronto and Montreal president Mark Jazvac. “For AstraZeneca, we’ve used Syneos groups to help us with strategy. For J&J, we’ve found better behavioral insights.”
Though staff size declined from 450 at the end of 2017 to 420 at the end of 2018, GSW did well on the new business front, adding an AOR engagement for Gilead Sciences in the managed markets realm. Dan Smith, president of GSW Columbus, notes that the agency increased its relationship with Amgen on postmenopausal osteoporosis brand Prolia.
To maintain the momentum toward enhanced collaboration, GSW brought together execs from its six offices to form a group it calls the GSW North America Creative Council. While the agency’s offices will continue to operate independently, the council works to foster connections and build competencies across the continent. “It’s a forum to inspire creativity across the agency, as well as to share great work and learnings,” says Kim Johnson, president of GSW’s New York and Los Angeles offices. “The idea is to have that knowledge feed into the working creative teams across GSW.”