While the “fake it till you make it” mentality might fly in Hollywood, for West Coast biopharma, device, diagnostic and health tech companies who work with life-saving drugs and therapies, there is really no room for error.
Splice Agency saw this industry challenge as a springboard for success and has used it as an opportunity to provide its clients with the best possible customer experience by bringing its “A team” to every meeting and adopting an “all hands on deck” approach to servicing clients.
In November, Splice Agency and MM&M co-hosted The View from a California Agency: It’s Different Here, a half-day event focused on the differences between East and West coast biopharma, both in culture and in the approach to engaging customers, and how through a willingness to “break the mold” and put people first, agencies will find themselves on the road to success.
Secrets of successful staffing when your competition is Facebook, Apple and Google
Speakers: Paul Hagopian, Jonathan Peischl and KC Maher
As former East coasters as well as 20-year agency veterans, Splice Agency cofounders Paul Hagopian and Jonathan Peischl know a thing or two about what it takes to make an agency successful. But shortly after arriving on the West Coast, they realized they might need to amend a few pages in their old playbook.
While in New York, competition was right where you could see it (most within a five-block radius of each other), Hagopian noted. On the West Coast, the team has had to learn how to account for an entirely different breed of competitors.
“Here, where the healthcare technology space is so competitive, it presents us with an entirely new challenge,” Hagopian said. “Not only are we competing against other healthcare and consumer agencies in the area, but we’re also competing with other companies like Google, Apple, Fitbit, Facebook, you name it.
“It’s tough, but it’s also very exciting,” he continued, “because you feel like you are part of this game-changing view of health, where creativity is thriving, and you’re also able to leverage this amazing technology right at the source.”
Steve Madden, GM and editor-in-chief of MM&M, questioned whether these additional channels of competition have made it difficult for the agency to recruit and retain new talent.
“It can definitely be challenging at times,” Hagopian admitted, “but I think what truly sets us apart is the sense of community that we’ve created here at Splice.”
Jonathan Peischl, head of strategy and innovation at Splice, agreed, citing that the culture of respect he and his cofounders have cultivated is what has led to more meaningful work in the company’s portfolio.
“When it comes to business, and not just in the agency world, if you don’t respect everything about a person, you’re not going to get the best out of them,” he said. “When they truly feel that we respect them and their lives outside of the office, that changes the way people work and their level of commitment — it makes them more invested.”
Hagopian shared that one of the biggest differences he’s found in West Coast life is people’s ability to seamlessly integrate work and life.
“I’m not saying people don’t work just as hard here,” he was quick to point out. “There are certainly times where you may need to drop everything and get on the phone with a client on a Saturday or Sunday or sit down and solve problems, which we are all willing to do, it’s just that we understand everyone has a life, they have a family, they have things that are important to them, that balance them.”
KC Maher, who has been with the company since 2016, shared that the overall sense of empathy demonstrated by the team was a big part of what convinced her to sign on initially.
“This team is made up of the type of people you always want to have in your life,” she said. “They make everyone feel safe and respected. If you have something going on in your personal life, everyone is ready to pitch in and help however they can.”
Hagopian and Peischl said it sometimes takes awhile for new hires they’ve recruited from the East Coast to get used to the fact that such a heavy emphasis is placed on their personal lives and what they do outside of the office
“When we interview people, we always ask, ‘What do you like to do outside of the office?’ or ‘What is it that truly drives you and inspires you?’” Hagopian said. “And some people find that strange, but for us, it’s finding those people that can bring their outside inspiration into the office and apply it to the work they’re doing here that makes this place so special.”
“In this office alone, we have professional power lifters, racecar drivers, artists, etc.,” Peischl added. “And it’s those people that have helped to shape the culture here just as much as we have as the founders.”
Hagopian noted that as the company expands, it can sometimes make it more difficult to maintain that same level of personal attention for each employee.
“As we grow, scale does affect community somewhat,” he said. “But we still do our best to go out of our way to introduce ourselves, to get to know people day in and day out and have a true interest in who they are. At the end of the day, we can have all these great ideas, but if we don’t have people surrounding us who believe in us and have our backs, that’s a problem.”
“KC said it best,” he continued, “‘Our greatest asset walks in and out of this office every day.’ So we have to do everything we can to ensure that coming to work is a positive experience.”
Company-wide activities like group hikes, off-site gatherings and ‘Happy Monday’ meetings are just a few of the avenues Peischl said they’ve employed to help ensure a level of trustworthiness among staffers.
“Transparency has always been incredibly important to us,” he said. “And not the kind where it’s, ‘OK, I’m going to dress it up whichever way I think it sounds suitable,’ but true, honest transparency. We make it a point to share our struggles as well as our successes.”
In order to foster transparency, Maher emphasized that the leadership team works incredibly hard to remain open and approachable at all times.
“There is no ivory tower here,” she said. “The guys get their hands dirty and are in the weeds every single day. We try to recognize everyone’s talents, experience and idiosyncrasies in order to make sure we are respecting the different perspectives each person brings to the organization.”
That level of respect is a cornerstone the team strictly adheres to when hiring new employees.
“We never want to hire someone that’s counter to our culture,” Hagopian said. “We want a staff who actually wants to please one another, and even if they disagree with someone, they still respect them as a person.”
Madden probed the group as to whether they felt the company’s West Coast location had something to do with the positive and optimistic culture they’ve been able to create.
“It’s about taking the angst out of agency,” Peischl said. “This business does not have to be painful. People shouldn’t be working until 10 o’ clock at night, and if they are, you will not have happy employees on your hands.”
“That’s not to say we don’t occasionally have those 11-hour days where people are killing themselves,” Maher added. “But the difference here is that the team will say, ‘Hey, it’s been a rough week. Go home, go to the beach, take a bike ride. That attitude is a completely different management style that most people in the agency world have never had before.”
The team said that while they have an amazing group of employees in place, they are not under the misconception that they will remain with the agency throughout the entirety of their careers.
“People who work for agencies move around, that’s just the nature of the business, and we get that,” Hagopian said. “Our greatest hope for our staff is that if at some point they decide to move on and do something else, whether it’s with another agency or out on their own, they feel like their time here has enhanced them professionally but also helped them grow as a person.”
Brand comes first
Speakers: Paul Hagopian, Jonathan Peischl, Jennifer Page and Darcy Parkyn
In the second panel, Paul Hagopian and Jonathan Peischl were joined by Jennifer Page and Darcy Parkyn, both client partners from small biotech companies in the Bay area. The group spoke to MM&M’s Steve Madden about what sets their company apart in an ever-crowded agency marketplace and why putting clients’ needs above their own and being open-minded and flexible have been the keys to a successful partnership.
Madden probed Page and Parkyn, who have worked with the team on several successful drug launches, to share what Splice brings to the table as an agency partner.
“They truly understand our vision and how to execute it successfully,” said Page. “They are there every step of the way from the very beginning, and they stay with us throughout the entire journey — through all the blood, sweat and tears and the pain points that go along with bringing a drug to market.”
Parkyn added that in addition to helping manage timelines and ensuring the brand is always on message, what makes Splice such a valuable partner is its ability to serve as an extension of its clients.
“They honestly have the same amount of passion and dedication to our patients that we do,” she said. “When you’re in the trenches of a launch, it can be easy to get mired in the business end of things, but they always come in with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas, which has helped us tremendously.”
Hagopian said making decisions that are right for their brands and clients, not just what’s right for them, has served as the foundation of all they do.
“We are only beholden to ourselves, which gives us a certain freedom because we don’t have a structure sitting above us driving us to make certain decisions,” he said. “It allows us to work with a level of unselfishness in order to make sure that brand is getting every part of the benefits we offer.”
Peischl said the trust their clients put in them also plays a big role in their ability to perform the way they do.
“When you’re being brought in as part of the team rather than just a vendor, it makes all the difference,” he said. “It’s refreshing to hear our clients noting that what we’re trying to put out there is coming through loud and clear. Our brand is about putting our clients and their brands first, and being transparent in all our dealings with them to show that everything that’s important to them is also important to us.”
With that level of transparency and respect also comes a level of honesty Page noted she finds refreshing.
“We truly respect each other, which makes it easy to get along when everything’s going great, but it also makes it easier to deal with each other when things go awry,” she said. “We can literally lock ourselves in a room with this team, leaving no stone unturned and pushing the limits and having the hard, but necessary conversations, and then turn around and go out for a beer and still be able to enjoy each other’s company, which is something you don’t get with every agency you work with.”
“They really check their titles at the door,” Parkyn added. “It’s that idea of rolling up their sleeves and working together as a true strategic thought partner for their clients that makes them successful.”
Why the West is winning the brand wars
Speakers: Paul Hagopian, Jonathan Peischl and KC Maher
In the last session of the day, Steve Madden led a panel discussion centered around some of the company’s key strategies to ensure it is delivering the best possible customer experience to its clients at all times.
Madden kicked off the panel by asking the group why they feel the West Coast has become such an important generator of brand strength.
“It’s based on a willingness to take risks,” Paul Hagopian said. “Out here, you have people who really want to be part of something bigger, so they roll the dice instead of always just playing it safe.”
He went on to note that the seamless integration between health and technology has also helped many West Coast companies succeed.
“Technology is more than just a tool out here,” he noted, “it’s a way of life that’s so natural it’s become like second nature.”
Jonathan Peischl agreed, adding, “The level of comfort with technology is so high out here because you’re around a group of people that have always had a really powerful grasp of technology from day one — basically, they’ve never been in the real world without it.”
He continued, noting that “sometimes, especially with millennials, that constant access to technology takes on somewhat of a negative connotation, but it really shouldn’t, because we’re talking about brilliant people who have a very strong grasp on technology and creativity and innovation.”
Madden asked Peischl, also an East Coast native, to share a bit more about how his background has figured into his work here.
“I come with a slightly different world view that I’ve found helpful when applying to a very entrepreneurial group of men and women,” he said. “People out here absolutely want to make a difference, but with the healthcare realm, you really can’t just wing it.”
Hagopian agreed, noting that while the “fake it till you make it” mentality might fly in Hollywood, for biopharma, device and health tech companies who work with life-saving drugs and therapies, there is really no room for error. An industry challenge, he noted, that the Splice team looked at as an opportunity.
“That’s when we started to realize that an ‘all hands on deck’ approach would really serve us well,” he said.
KC Maher said a big part of this strategy is ensuring that their “A team” is involved in every part of the process — a sentiment that has helped cultivate trusted and lasting partnerships with their clients.
“That’s what clients out here want,” she said. “They want the best possible team working on their project at all times. They want to know that we are all equally engaged in their business.”
Peischl noted that same ideology — a desire for company leaders to be a true part of the process rather than just figureheads — is a big part of what Splice is all about.
“The leaders here are in the weeds along with everyone else,” he said. “They are ideating, they are in it and working side by side with their teams. You find people here who are willing to take risks and get their hands dirty in order to make something happen.”
Maher said she feels the company’s smaller size has been an asset that has allowed them to remain nimble when it comes to bending in order to meet a client’s needs.
“We do whatever it takes to deliver the best possible customer experience,” she said. “Even if that means tapping an outside source for help when something might be out of our range of expertise.”
“In other words,” she added, “we try to maintain the best parts of a boutique agency while still hitting above our weight.”
The group agreed that one of the best parts about the company’s size is that it lends the opportunity to “cherry pick” companies they truly want to work with.
“We get to make sure that not only are our company cultures aligned, but also that we’re working with people we actually like being around,” Peischl said. “And that’s so important because when you’re really connecting, that’s when the gears really start to grind.”