Once upon a time, there was a certain tension when it came to utilizing data in the realm of healthcare marketing. Creative types feared the kind of campaign that can result from an overreliance on physician panels or focus groups, while pharma brand managers consistently stressed the need to be “data-driven.”

Across the industry, agencies and clients seem to be reaching a middle ground. But in W2O’s case, that middle ground is instead a higher plane where the two schools of thought not only coexist but do so productively. The result: improved storytelling and campaigns.

“What’s unique and unprecedented for me, having come from a big agency network, is the way that science partners with analytics. I’ve never seen it before,” says practice leader, scientific strategy Ujwal Pyati, who joined the agency from McCann Health in January 2018.

Pyati jokes that analytics used to be thought of as “one or two guys in a back room looking stuff up.” But at W2O, he notes that “it’s 100 people going deep and broad, looking at conversations online, publications and all the language that’s being used out there. All of that helps a scientist understand which clinical data will be meaningful and how to tell that story.”

By way of example, he points to the agency’s work for flu vaccine maker Seqirus. W2O’s analytics team worked with the company on a lexicon analysis across multiple stakeholders to understand conversations people were having about the vaccine — both misperceptions and the drivers of commoditization within the category. The agency’s lexicon is being rolled out to help change the conversation, and informs technology narratives appearing in Seqirus’ marketing and PR work.

W2O execs also highlight the agency’s AOR work on behalf of midsize specialty firm UCB Pharma, which includes the global launch of the firm’s key pipeline asset, bimekizumab, for psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis. “Quite frankly, the molecule is launching into one of the most competitive markets in the business,” says Dominic Viola, executive director, account management, W2O Sentient. “From a creative standpoint, being able to dissect the customer at the depth we’re able to do it allows the client to paint a much smarter picture for their audience, making them more relevant and bringing audiences into the loop more quickly.”

And creative is playing off analytics in W2O’s U.S. launch for AstraZeneca’s hyperkalemia treatment Lokelma, Pyati says. “I can’t think of a client that doesn’t utilize our analytics in some way, shape or form to inform what they’re doing,” adds Jennifer Gottlieb, president. “From the smallest project to the largest AOR engagement, clients are recognizing the guesswork is over.”

Indeed, W2O revenue rose 21.8% in 2018, to $162 million from 2017’s total of $133 million. Staff count rose from 651 to 721.

In addition to expanding its scientific practice with Pyati, W2O also invested in its market access group by poaching Rita Glaze from Edelman. Other additions included Deborah Hankin, the firm’s first chief people officer, who joined in April 2018 from SY Partners. Global lead of integrated corporate communications and marketing Keri Mattox arrived last June from AmerisourceBergen.

In a bigger-picture sense, a transition has been underway in the two-and-a-half years since analytics and media agency Sentient, research analytics firm Marketeching and health consultancy Pure Communications joined the W2O fold. The three acquisitions catapulted the agency from being a traditional communications firm to an integrated one; W2O now characterizes itself as an AOR/digital communications firm driven by analytics.

“The proof is in the pudding,” says founder and CEO Jim Weiss. “We’ve doubled in size in that time frame. We were less than $100 million in 2016 and we should exceed $200 million in revenue in 2019 for the first time.”

Adam Cossman, chief digital officer and president, W2O Sentient, says that recent growth has been split 50/50 between new business and organic gains. He notes that the addition of AstraZeneca’s U.S. Lokelma work came on the heels of a global AOR engagement for AZ’s Faslodex and work for the drugmaker’s Lynparza and Lokelma brands in Europe. The agency also claimed AZ’s Symbicort AOR assignment.

Meanwhile, Pfizer added an AOR assignment for its C-diff. vaccine after W2O contributed to the architecture and launch of the drugmaker’s direct online storefront for all its pharma products. And Novartis rewarded W2O’s work as AOR for social media listening analytics by adding the global work as well as media planning for cancer drug Arzerra.

On the new-business side, Cedar Pharma (in digital health), Arbor Pharma (ADHD) and Rockwell Medical (hemoglobin replacement) tapped W2O for integrated marketing assignments. The Arbor engagement entails communications, advertising and consulting to help the company hone its value story in advance of several ADHD line extensions.

Finally, in the corporate realm, W2O relaunched Horizon Pharma, which was “fundamentally rethinking what it meant to be a biopharma company,” says chief strategy officer Jeff Rohwer.

Losses included work for Kite Pharma, scPharma and Loxo Oncology.

According to Gottlieb, client feedback suggests that W2O’s data “is what differentiates us when getting a new assignment.” Still, Weiss cautions it’s not the end-all/be-all: “We believe that data and analytics is just one of the many parts of the mix. We tend to mix that extremely well.”

He stresses that a new infusion of capital received this past May from NY-based private equity firm New Mountain Capital, which replaced W2O’s previous investor Mountaingate Capital, will help W2O expand its analytics and digital offering even further. “We want to get more aggressive in terms of growth,” Weiss continues. “We see a big opportunity in investing more, both on the data side but also in repositioning ourselves as less of a vendor in healthcare and more of a player in the digital health landscape.”

In the end, Weiss wants the agency he founded to be able to make the world a healthier place through marketing communications. “We believe companies and people who communicate well are the leaders,” he says. “Communications has never been more important to getting your drug reimbursed and to making sure you’re in the lead position in a cornerstone of care. I believe our heritage in communications — corporate, IR, PR — positions us well as storytellers.”