Area 23

Although the phrase “full-service agency” can be read as something of a catch-all, Area 23 is embracing the title. Historically all about professional marketing, Area 23 is expanding to include HCP, DTC, and a mix of digital and non-digital within both of those.

Med-ed and managed care fall largely beyond its remit, but the agency can service clients in need of both from within IPG’s FCB network.

Tim Hawkey, managing director, executive creative director, touts the agency’s breadth. “We have such a diversity of projects that it’s going to take a lot to surprise us,” he says.

The agency increased its consumer foothold in 2013, landing DTC work for the Boehringer Ingelheim/Eli Lilly basal insulin product slated to go against Sanofi’s Lantus (global and US), and for Insmed’s Arikayce experimental inhaled antibiotic for cystic fibrosis and other infectious diseases, on the way to what Hawkey says was a 35% year-on-year gain, revenue-wise.

To be sure, pre-launch wins don’t always pan out. Area 23’s list of doomed molecules included GlaxoSmithKline immuno-oncology drug MAGE-A3 and Roche/Genentech NSCLC agent onartuzumab.

But Area 23 snatched victory from the jaws of defeat: this year it pitched and won another fledgling Genentech bio-oncology account, NSCLC drug alectinib, and avoided layoffs, something Hawkey is proud of.

The agency took a step back in the consumer department, though, losing the DTC brief for Biogen Idec MS drug Tysabri in a holding-company consolidation, although its work hasn’t ended yet, and it’s anticipating the loss of Daiichi Sankyo CV drug Welchol, whose US patent comes due this year.

Among other current work, the agency did a “Note to Mom about NTM,” a pro-bono social-media initiative designed to raise awareness about nontuberculous mycobacteria, a bug that causes a rare but severe lung disease, timed for this past Mother’s Day.

“Rarely can your advertising so directly correlate to saving or helping somebody so directly,” says Hawkey.

He’s also charged up about ongoing pre-launch work for AbbVie’s three-drug interferon-free hepatitis C regimen, due out this year to compete against Gilead’s super-blockbuster Sovaldi.

“This will be the cola wars of the pharma industry,” he says of the pending HCV tussle.

Hawkey also has aspirations of adding a big-name consumer client to the roster. “We have a commitment [from FCB] to put the right experts in place to make Area 23 an attractive home for a top consumer account in the near future,” he says.

One way he seeks to fuel clients’ creative appetite is the agency’s internal “What If” program—a competition pitting agency teams against each other to come up with one crazy killer idea per month.

“When you talk about ‘What If,’ the ideas here are so out-of-the box…we are going to be forced to work in really strange areas,” says Hawkey. “I’ve got a creative team that’s hunting down a termite wrangler, an entomologist and a curator at the Museum of Natural History, plus a carpenter and a bullet-proof glass fabricator to pull off one project…This is not about what fits inside the rectangle anymore or that ad-like object. A lot of the ideas coming out of the agency are about doing things no one has done before. That’s the mark of true innovation. When you need to find a termite wrangler, you know you’re doing something right.”

The agency looks for people smart enough to take risks. Last year’s joiners included Robb DeFilippis, SVP, director of integrated ops, formerly of ghg. Headcount is about 175, up from 125 the year prior. It also augmented its analytics offering to meet client demand.

Hawkey’s biggest challenge: preserving a winning culture. “Bringing in 50 new people has the potential to really throw off the culture,” he says. “I spend time looking for ways to keep things the way they are.”