It has been a year of substantial growth for Sudler & Hennessey, according to the agency’s US president Louisa Holland.
“We grew in terms of people and we grew in terms of clients,” she tells MM&M. “It was a good year.”
The Sudler & Hennessey network is comprised of full-service agency Sentrix; medical education companies IntraMed, Precept, Current Medical Directions, HealthAnswers Education and IntraMed West; sales training group HealthAnswers; digital units S&H Digital and Avenue-e Health Strategies and other managed market specialty groups.
Business wins came to a crescendo at the end of 2007, Holland explains. “I think we were four-for-four during the last couple of months of the year.”
New S&H clients on the roster were: Novartis, Cephalon, Merck, Medtronic and Adolor while organic growth came from Boehringer Ingelheim, Allergan, Abbott, AstraZeneca and Bayer.
Holland is especially proud of S&H’s recent involvement in the launches of Forest’s hypertensive BiStalic and Abbott’s dyslipidemia treatment Simcor.
“Those were big for us because primary care launches don’t come around that often these days and having two at the same time is a big deal,” she says.
Among S&H’s accomplishments during the past year are the agency’s growing focus on its own organization and the ways it needs to change in structure to continue to be successful.
“We need to really refocus our thinking and our deliverables around the client’s brand challenges,”
And S&H has been on a hot streak as it comes off an early-2007 reorganization of its New York office. (The office is currently under the leadership of three managing partners—Daria Blackwell, Paul Giroux and Larry Lannino. Blackwell is responsible for digital, interactive, multimedia and multicultural offerings, Giroux handles strategic planning and managed markets and Lannino is handling expansion into Latin America.)
Another key element to S&H’s self-examination process has been the launch of a new self-promotion campaign unveiled earlier this year.
“We have focused our thinking around the concept of doing more—that means doing more for clients and finding more inside a brand,” Holland says.
Additionally, S&H redefined its marketing model under the headline of “effective energy.”
The model has “helped all of our internal teams to come together and analyze brand situations in a very comprehensive yet integrated way,” Holland notes. “It involves looking at a product in the very early stages and thinking about how physicians approach the disease model and how that helps identify the right spot for it.…I think it helps us to find energy in the market to expand brand growth.”
Meanwhile, finding top talent remains a tough task for the agency but it is not an insurmountable challenge, Holland adds.
“I know that everybody says it’s really hard out there, and it is, but we don’t compromise,” she says. “If a job has to be empty for a while, we’ll let everybody else do what needs to be done. We wait to find the person we want and when we do, we usually get them.”
Robert Palmer, formerly of Tribal DDB’s New York office is one such person.
Palmer joined as the new leader for S&H’s digital group Avenue-e. His first leadership move was to reorganize Avenue-e into two units—S&H Digital and Avenue-e. (S&H Digital serves as a full-service digital agency with a very broad range of capabilities including online and interactive. Avenue-e will continue as an application development group.) Holland says: “He really saw that we needed an agency model digital group that was stronger in strategy.”
Another important hire for the agency was the appointment of Debbie Fletcher as managing director of IntraMed West, a division of Sudler & Hennessey located in San Francisco.
Fletcher joined from Telik, where she was SVP, commercial operations.
According to Holland, San Francisco continues to serve as a very different model than the East Coast. “We have seen a lot of East Coast-based agencies open up something and try to replicate what they do there and they have mostly failed.”
“Debbie was an employee here a while ago as a strategic planner,” Holland says. “She has a really good vision. She has worked on the client side for a long time, so she really understands the culture of the biotech world. I think that she is going to help us build to fit what the business is becoming and what clients need.”
As S&H plans for the future, the agency aims to take on the world. “We have just launched our process globally. We put a lot of effort, money and thought into making sure that all of our offices work in the Sudler way and I think that’s very important,” Holland says. S&H’s new global campaign and website are aiding with its mission.
A major score for S&H in the global arena was its selection by AstraZeneca as global agency partner of record for the developmental arthritis treatment PN400. S&H duties include developing the strategy, pre-launch branding and launch campaign for the drug.
[PN400 is an investigational fixed-dose combination of naproxen and immediate release esomeprazole under co-development with specialty drugmaker Pozen. PN 400 is currently in phase III development for patients who require chronic non-steroidal anti-inflammation drug (NSAID) treatment for arthritis pain and are at risk for NSAID associated gastric ulcers. An NDA is targeted for the first-half of 2009, according to AstraZeneca and Pozen.]
“The fact that we can address global work for ourselves in an appropriately consistent way, is something we love to talk to clients about,” Holland says. “We intend to keep growing. That is definitely our plan.”
Although the agency has been riding a wave of expansion, S&H remains grateful for its success at a time when challenges are rife throughout the industry.
As pharma continues to face hurdles in regaining the public trust, it should also be enhancing its commitment to physician education and patient education, Holland says. “I think that on the agency side we talk about integration and how we can do better integrating across our disciplines,” she says. “You don’t see the same thing happening on the industry side. I think they are very siloed in the way they think about challenges. I would love to see them put some of the same effort into integrating across the brand.…If they could integrate R&D through patient experience, I think that they could build stronger brands and maximize product differentiation and clinical outcome…I think the commercialization model can build market impact if it is looked at that way.”