Please note: This podcast originally aired on June 7, 2022 as part of the 2022 Agency 100.

Click to see Triple Threat Communications’ Agency 100 2024 Profile.

Click here to return to the MM+M Agency 100.

Note: The MM+M Podcast uses speech-recognition software to generate transcripts, which may contain errors. Please use the transcript as a tool but check the corresponding audio before quoting the podcast.

[00:00] Hi, this is Marc Iskowitz I’m editor at large for MM+M. And I’m super excited we part of this episode of Agency 100 Storycast a new podcast series which gives members of the MM+M Agency 100 lists an opportunity to expand on what sets them apart. [00:18] This episode we’re focusing on Triple Threat Communications and speaking with Tim Frank owner and managing partner and we’re going to chat about what inspired him to start the company why clients have dubbed it the Unagency. [00:30] And what the future looks like for independent agencies in the wake of the pandemic. [00:35] Hello Tim thanks for being here today. [00:37] You are welcome Marc thanks for having me really appreciate it. [00:39] Absolutely, so let’s just get into it here Triple Threat Communications has been around since 2004. [00:46] It’s a familiar name to many in the medical marketing industry. [00:49] But for those who don’t know. [00:51] Tell us- about it and how and why you started the business and what was your inspiration? [00:55] Yes, so I was. [00:56] I’ve been working in the big agency. Networks. I had worked at within public assistance Itachi and then at euro for [01:02] close to a decade and I was actually going out I was at a position. [01:06] One of the big agency networks where I had about four or five different teams that I was managing across maybe six or seven different brands and I was going out to dinner with one of the brand leaders. [01:16] And I realised as I was walking to the dinner that you know I knew his brand, but I didn’t really know his brand the way that. [01:22] I would [01:23] have used to have known a brand when I was working more directly with the [01:26] birth right so I I got into a spot where I was managing groups of people. [01:30] Groups of brands and I realised that that’s not really what I wanted to be doing. [01:34] So it started me down a path of thinking well. [01:37] Maybe there is a an untapped need in the market. Maybe there’s a need that that we can fill in that. There’s a gap and that gap is a gap of. [01:45] an agency that has really experienced people that just want to get back to working on the day-to-day efforts of the [01:52] Brand and so I think about that a lot more and I was thinking about what I was doing and you know. [01:56] In my previous job, I was working off of Excel spreadsheets and working on content income ratio and all the needs of the network. [02:02] And again, that’s just not what I really got into this to do. [02:05] Got into this route to really help brand succeed. [02:08] Improve patients lives and I found myself managing more of network needs. [02:12] So I started thinking where could I what could I create? What could I do that was different? [02:16] and could I find enough like-minded people to be able to actually create a sustainable agency and about that same time I was going on vacation with my family and I was just going through the bookstore in the airport and I a couple of little kids and so they’re kind of you know hanging around my feet grabbing at my [02:32] Grabbed in my hands and my pants and everything and it’s never do that. [02:37] Luckily it was my kids doing that and that’s some other. [02:40] book caught my eye it was called getting naked and it was in the business section of [02:44] bookstore at the airport [02:45] of course you see a book that says getting naked that may catch anybody’s eye but it but it caught my eye and I said well. I wonder what this is and why is it in the business? [02:52] And so I grabbed it. [02:54] and it was a book by this business consultant his name is [02:58] Patrick lencioni [02:59] I hope I’m saying it correct. [03:01] And he creates and writes books about businesses and the health of businesses and how they can improve their businesses. [03:06] And this was a business fable that was all about. [03:09] a Consulting firm and a guy that was part of a big [03:12] network [03:13] Let’s just call it Consulting for. [03:15] It worked across all these different clients and had their process in the way that they do things in place. [03:20] And he ended up going and consulting with a smaller agency. [03:24] And he started to understand these things about how the agency did things and for some reason this book. Just really spoke to exactly where I was and my business life and what I was thinking at the time and it. [03:34] It comes off the back of you know this dinner that I had had that I just told you about and really in this book. It’s all about in a client service industry the most important thing that you can do or B is vulnerable and how to be vulnerable with. [03:47] how to be transparent with [03:49] And how to have humility with clients and it’s okay not to have all the right answers. [03:53] And it’s okay to work through the answers with. [03:55] And it just spoke to this culture then that kind of mixed with. [03:59] This practical need in the market that I saw and that really was. [04:03] the start of triple threat communications that’s really how you know we kind of came to be and in and then how we continue to move on from there and the model that I wanted to create in the culture that I [04:14] wanted to want so that message of it’s okay to not have all the answers and to work through things with your clients. [04:19] Spoke to you. [04:20] It did very much so I think that you know very much we’re in a position that we need to have the answers and that we believe clients are expecting us to have all the answers when I don’t think that’s true. [04:29] I think they’re well. I think what they’re looking for is somebody to be able to come in and have the Debate and the discussion and to take a point of view and it doesn’t always have to be the right. [04:37] Answer just through that process and that conversation that you end up getting to the right. [04:41] And to ask the right questions of course and I absolutely cover the needs. Let’s just take a step back for a moment. We’ll talk more about your entrepreneurial move there and what it’s led to but I just wanted to find out you know how has the Year been for you all at the triple threat you know how has your agency whether the pandemic. Yeah, it’s been actually a great year. [04:59] Um you know there was obviously a lot of uncertainty in the beginning. [05:03] We saw a number of assets that transition award digital assets is I’m sure. [05:08] a lot of brands and a lot of [05:09] from agencies saw [05:12] But it was actually really good year for US from a performance standpoint. We did we did very well and I know we’ll get into this in a little bit more but [05:18] When I created triple threat I created it very much based on a remote model. [05:22] Well one, I want to be able to get people. [05:24] and the best Talent wherever I can regardless of [05:27] geography I want to higher. [05:29] People that have experienced and that are adults and so then I created you know really a remote model in which they came to the office maybe one day a week the rest of the time. They were at home or they were down with clients in comparison to that on my personal life. We’ve homeschooled our kids. [05:43] And they’re both. [05:44] 121 and one is teens so we homeschooled our kids so when people would ask me exactly what you asked. Well. How is everything changed and I I would say well I created a remote agency model and we’ve homeschooled our kids for two decades so really nothing is. [05:57] Changing as much as things changed in the world and as much as they change in your personal life as it relates to. [06:03] How life is different than it was a year so ago? [06:06] From a work standpoint and an agency standpoint at what it hasn’t changed. [06:09] We do today what we did five ten years ago. [06:12] And how we do things? [06:14] Heaven we actually send a little primer out to our clients early on. [06:17] Maybe that first week of lockdown, so maybe what second third week of March last year. [06:21] We sent a little primer in a little Tips and Tools on things that we know. [06:24] Have worked for us working in a remote model. [06:26] It was all basic stuff. [06:28] But it was stuff that I think helped them at least understand all right. We can we can do this and then I actually sent a [06:34] note to some of our other clients that I knew really well. [06:37] We’re Tips and Tools to homeschool your kids, so I don’t know how well that one worked out specifically but as much of a change as it was in the in the world. [06:44] From a practical standpoint it didn’t change really my home life from a from how we school are kids or workload. [06:52] feel interesting [06:53] that’s just take a step back. I know earlier you talked about you know the the founding of the agency, but just go over your background a little bit more. You know you started. [07:02] triple threat communications 16 years ago [07:05] you had been with some of the big network shops and your experience there kind of Led you on this entrepreneurial journey that led you to kind of your current positioning. [07:14] Which is the unagency as a way to contrast yourself against? [07:19] The agencies that you want to work for what makes you guys different. [07:23] yeah, it’s funny we [07:25] Early on we had a discussion we started to go down an auntie agency. [07:28] and then we realised well, we can’t be an anti AG [07:33] and so we kind of went down the uncola path and and really what makes us different is our DNA [07:38] and it’s not really us vs. Networks. [07:41] to matter of DNA you can be a relatively small shop and have the same DNA [07:45] as a large network AG [07:47] really about what drives you forward and what and what gets you up every day. [07:51] And we have a relentless focus on putting the client first and that is. [07:55] Maybe try. [07:57] or overused [07:58] in some instances [08:00] when we talked about it, we talked about it in a way of it being very personal in that. [08:05] We want to make sure that our people wake up every morning thinking about the needs of their. [08:10] Client not thinking about the age. [08:11] Of I wake up every morning thinking about the needs of our clients not the needs of. [08:15] And I think that’s the biggest differentiator between us. [08:19] and other agencies whether they’re big or small with a different DNA [08:22] and so you know when when we talk about that we talk about things like we don’t. [08:28] give our [08:29] staff our account people revenue targets [08:31] So, I don’t want to think about the agency. I want them thinking about their clients. You know we have this term. We use all the time which is lead dog vs. Big dog so if we’re going to lead a brand we need to be able to lead the Brand and lead the other agencies that work on that Brand and lead them all towards a common goal of what’s best for the client vs. The big dog in the big dogs and one trying to eat out of everybody else’s bowl right and we’re not we’re not interested in that we’re interested truly in trying to do. [08:53] but as best for the client aligning our objectives with [08:56] The client objectives and if we do that agency, you’ll take care of itself and as you said we’ve been around for 16 17 years and so it’s been proven. [09:03] Proven to work for us at least it is it you know it’s very much. [09:07] a process and a thinking that we go through [09:11] and when people are new to the agency it may take a while for them to get that. [09:15] Sort of idea in their head, I will have many conversations with them, but no no we don’t want to do that. [09:19] Because that’s not really what’s best. [09:21] For the client or find out what’s best for the client and let’s go do that it may be going and finding an outside partner instead of saying that we can actually do something because we don’t do it as well as maybe. [09:30] Somebody that’s specialises in. [09:31] It well, let’s go find that agency and let’s bring them in so that we’re actually doing things they’re going to be able to move the clients business forward okay. Yeah and and to that end. [09:40] back in 2016 [09:41] you articulated a lot of these differences between yourselves and and you know what you wanted to be vs. You know what you didn’t want to be. [09:49] In kind of an open letter and you didn’t pull any punches with this with the title of the letter you call the network agency model big and broken and in it. You gave a number of examples of what you saw as misdirected Focus you know they’re always consolidating and if you’re organising. [10:05] They often move their best people into higher ranks of management which can make them less accessible to customers etc. I’ll ask you about the response in a moment to the manifesto when you put it out but [10:16] you know your argument was that while the network agency may have done a fine job during the Industries [10:21] but I’ll call the small molecule heyday, but now that it’s moving away from the mass market brands and more into high science and rare disease less PCP oriented as well as more targeted amino oncology and gene therapies. [10:32] That the bigger organizations aren’t built for that and that clients needed a different kind of partner right was that the gist. [10:39] Yeah, was it was really trying to say that the focus of the big agencies in the networks. [10:44] Are really on the big agencies in the networks and they’re not on the client and have a client needs. [10:49] to change and we did talk about the one example where [10:52] and I’m sure everybody can relate to this as you progress in your career and you do really well, you move up within an agency. [10:58] And then when you move up with in the agency you move closer and closer to. [11:02] Thinking about the agency every day and you move further and further away from thinking about your clients business. [11:07] And so it was always the funneling to me. [11:09] Why you would have a model in which you take your best product and you move them? [11:14] Further away from your clients. They may see them in a new business pitch. They may see them in a key strategy time. [11:20] But you’re taking your best people and you’re moving them further. It’d be like if png took tide and stuck in on the top. [11:26] from [11:27] the ground would never do that. They want to just close to their customers on the third shelf or whatever it is. They possibly can. [11:31] And then to your point as we move out of the kind of PCP small molecule. [11:36] You know just burn and churn sort of world. We’ve got a world in which things are much more special. [11:41] And agencies are much. [11:43] In the needs of our clients are much. [11:45] Worse and big large network agencies in this instance, I don’t believe. [11:49] Are best suited to do that one, they’re DNA is different. [11:52] Too they have all these issues and concerns about shareholder and shareholder value and what they need to do for what’s best for the agency. [11:58] and three [11:59] it’s hard to turn a boat around those are big massive ships. [12:03] And they’re hard to turn around they can create a conflict or they can create a group that they’re going to call. It’s a small agency in this flexible and they’re going to be able to do the things that are best for the client. [12:12] But there’s still going to have to answer the same questions at the end of every month and at the end of every quarter. [12:17] And so that by itself just takes you away from it. You know I I have focused on. [12:22] profit in a way that we need to make [12:24] a profit to be obviously sustainable we need to be a profitable organisation, but I am not focused on maximising profit and there’s a big difference. [12:32] Right maximizing profit means you’ve got to sell in everything that you can that you’ve got to charge the highest price and get the lowest cost in that system. [12:41] and we just don’t do it we hire very experienced people and ask them to work day today on the brands that doesn’t happen the [12:47] Biggest you’re moving up in your managing four or five different brands again. You know we talked about we don’t have revenue targets for. [12:53] We provide 100% Health care because culture is everything to me and I want to make sure. [12:58] That my people aren’t worried about the health care of the cost of the health. [13:01] Care so we provide 100% Health care. We have unlimited vacation. [13:04] Time because I don’t want people arguing or comparing well. I’ve got two weeks and you’ve got three weeks. It takes their focus away from the clients and what they need to be doing on a daily. [13:12] so we do a bunch of things that [13:14] that I wouldn’t be able to do that. I wasn’t able to do. [13:18] in a big agency network where maximising profit [13:21] is and that we were trying to say with the manifesto. We were trying to say hey you know it needs to be different it can be different and maybe the word is changing so that so that there’s room for it to be. [13:30] Dude sure and that sounds like you’re building a great. [13:33] culture there [13:34] And you know in the way, you’re supporting your people but what was the response to the manifesto when you published it again five years ago. [13:41] Yeah, so it was interesting well. We actually had a couple calls from names that I knew within the industry that said hey this had to be said thanks for the courage to do it. We don’t know if things will change but we’re glad that somebody is out there and talking about it and voicing it. [13:54] And then we had some detractors as well it said. [13:57] You know this Asian the model works fine. [13:59] It’s been working for decades if not longer. [14:02] It serves the client needs. [14:03] I think that I think. [14:04] There was an ad recall survey done. [14:07] And we didn’t test well in the ad recall surveys, so I don’t know if people read it. [14:11] And didn’t like what they heard. [14:13] and so then it wasn’t listed very highly in their in their in their ranking but [14:18] You know to me, it was just something that we had to do. [14:21] it was a little bit of a [14:23] you know the moment in what was the movie where he wrote The [14:26] The sports agent, show me the money yeah Tom Cruise yeah. [14:31] Maguire yeah and Germany it was a little bit like that in thinking yeah, you know we we need to change and we think there’s a better way to do it. [14:39] And you know what about now like I mean you know spirit of five years ago you called for a leaner and more nimble approach. [14:45] Disturbing biopharma clients but didn’t the pandemic Force everybody to a certain extent get better at adaptation and toggling very quickly you know is it still as relevant today as that message as it was five years ago. [14:57] It is as relevant. I think that it. [15:04] We’re reading an article years ago about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates of Bill Gates yeah. I’m sorry it was Bill Gates and Warren buf. [15:11] And they were asked. [15:13] To name the one thing that made them successful the one attribute that was the most important thing to their. [15:18] success and it wasn’t persistence [15:19] it wasn’t persuasiveness. It wasn’t money it was focused. [15:22] And so it’s a matter to me a Focus and and have the big network agencies changed their focus during the pandemic. I think they’ve changed how they work. [15:29] I don’t know that they’ve changed their focus and so I think it is it is as relevant. [15:33] And it will be interesting and you know you probably have a much better handle on this than I do of what will the big agency work life look like. [15:41] in and [15:41] six months are here. You know will it go back to? [15:44] What it was will it be a hybrid of what it was. [15:46] My guess is it’s probably a hybrid, but I’m not sure yeah, we’re hearing a lot of elements of hybrids for sure and you know you answered this tour in a certain extent, but just want to put a finer point on it. Do you see your customers? You know Pharma brands? [16:00] Changing up their buying process have their customers. [16:03] The hcp’s Intern [16:05] buying process change [16:07] I think that is the biggest question in that is the challenge that we have going forward. [16:11] I think everybody’s buying habits have certainly changed mine have in the past year. I think that that access to healthcare professionals has changed. I don’t think that will go back to as open of a world as it was I think they’re they’re more digitally savvy and more used to getting information digitally and we were involved in a in a launch meeting. [16:27] A year ago in May and it was it was a big large zoom meeting with a lot of. [16:31] technical issues [16:32] and then [16:33] we were involved in another one with the same the same client another big launch meeting this may and just the technology and the technological change from last year this year is astounding. [16:43] And so I say that because I think that relates to how our brands and their customers are going to have to work together. [16:50] And how it needs to be more interactive. [16:53] And maybe more of a two-way interaction digitally than it is right now whether it’s through omni channel or some other way, but I think people have changed, how they buy almost everything. [17:02] And so I think that health care professionals have changed and will continue to change their buying process. [17:07] We’re looking very closely now at okay. [17:10] If that’s the case. [17:11] Have our clients have the pharmaceutical companies change their buying process. [17:15] And by buying I don’t mean how do they hire an agency as much as I mean? How do they work it every day with their agency? [17:20] And while we had a remote model that was relatively unique five years ago. It’s not as unique today as it was two years ago. [17:27] So, what are we going to do and what do we need to look at to improve? How? [17:30] We’re helping our clients may be in their new buying process. [17:33] So, I think that that is the question of the next 12 months that we need to figure. [17:37] And you talked about the propensity for you know the network agencies. [17:43] to [17:44] get too far away from you know servicing the customer and you’re in your mind. [17:48] you know today, it’s far from a Monolith as We Know in terms of [17:52] Who’s acquiring smaller agencies? You know you have a pickup and M&A activity of late coming from sort of these mid-tier buy and build groups. You know that are amassing different skill sets from different formerly independent agencies. You know as they pursue more of an integrated approach to servicing the sector and you know they allow the brand operate autonomously in some cases within the larger group. So you know again this. [18:16] Calls into question in my mind. What is the future for independent agencies like to get your take on that I think the future is great quite honestly. I think that because of the specialisation of technology specialisation of the [18:27] of the things that will deliver in the specialisation of the products that we work on. [18:31] I think that it’s that it that it is the best time for smaller independent agencies. I think there is an there’s an open mindedness amongst our clients that they don’t need to use the the one big massive network agency that can do everything or say they can do everything across the entire spectrum that there are better people suited to do specific different parts of what they do so I think it is great. I think there’s a lot of great agencies out there. I think to your point. It’s not just you know the monolithic big network buying up other groups, but they’re all there are smaller groups that have. [19:01] That have started to form and come together. [19:04] And I think you know from our standpoint. [19:06] We’ve had a discussion. We’ve had discussions with with some of them, but you know right now. It is at culture is paramount to me. [19:12] And creating a culture in which people can really thrive and do their best work and do it in a way. [19:17] In which it doesn’t it doesn’t overburden what they’re trying to do from a lifestyle standpoint that while there’s been interesting conversations. I’m just not quite ready yet to say that I’m ready to move on from our culture and in the more of them next environment that that’s a great segue. It’s him I was going to ask you you know have you had the opportunity? [19:34] Sell the agency. [19:35] And why I haven’t you? Yeah, it really is that it really is culture. I thought when I first started that. [19:40] It was more about the organisation. [19:43] and the clients and what we were providing and producing and [19:47] and my job specifically Now is really more about culture. How do I [19:52] one create that culture [19:53] and then two how do I continue to maintain that that was the big question early on? [19:57] Alright, it’s pretty easy to create an agency and to create a remote agency. That has all the things that we talked about it. [20:02] But how do you bring it to scale and can you bring it? [20:05] And that was the biggest challenge that we’ve had for the last 15 years and probably will be for the next 15 years. [20:10] I don’t want to change. [20:12] what we’re about [20:13] And who we are as much as we will change what we offer and and the type of clients that we work with I’m sure. [20:19] yeah [20:19] Staying true to yourself as you evolve the business. That’s what it’s all about. [20:25] Tim Frank of triple threat communications and hope we can have another conversation. You know as we move forward and [20:30] you know hopefully put this pandemic in the rear view mirror and get back to the things that we love yeah. I would love that and I appreciate all your time and [20:37] having me on