Healthcare public relations
At a time when pharmaceutical clients were increasingly concerned about return on investment and procurement people were beginning to question the cost of large agencies, healthcare PR veterans Sarah Matthew and Angie Wiles launched Virgo Health PR with a vision of providing the “premium” PR services traditionally available from full-service firms along with the flexibility and affordability of a specialist boutique. They had the perfect credentials for such a challenge—Matthew was managing director at Shire Health, while Wiles was managing director of Cohn & Wolfe’s healthcare division—and in two short years Virgo has emerged as one of the top healthcare specialists in the U.K. market, picking up clients and awards and by the end of 2004 ranking just outside the top 10 of PR Week’s healthcare league table.
The core of the firm’s approach is something Matthew and Wiles call “communications without compromise,” which means that where others see the need for trade-offs, Virgo looks for win-win solutions. So the firm seeks to offer the best of big and small—a team of 20 that can offer a wide range of services while remaining nimble and adaptable; the best of networked and independent— working with its own hand-picked partners in international markets, or with a client’s existing agencies; the best of specialist and generalist—focused exclusively on healthcare, but defining the category broadly to include consumer health and partnering with specialists in guerrilla marketing, web and print design and health policy.
Fees in the firm’s first year exceeded £800,000 and by the end of 2004 it had hit £1.67, been named PR Week’s Best New Consultancy and Communiqué’s Best Small Consultancy, and picked up business from six of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies. Clients include Boehringer Ingelheim, Lilly, and Wyeth in the U.K., with Glaxo SmithKline and Roche joining the roster in the past 12 months. And the firm handles global assignments for AstraZeneca, GSK, and Roche.
Interesting assignments over the past 12 months include work on behalf of Lilly for Strattera, the first non-stimulant for ADHD, which involved overcoming media and consumer scepticism about the legitimacy of the condition to deliver impressive 160 million opportunities-to-see, 99 percent of which was positive or balanced, generating 90 percent awareness amongst parents of diagnosed children and earning the firm a Communiqué for the best media relations campaign of the year. For another Lilly drug, Zyprexa, Virgo handled the Behind Closed Doors campaign, a controversial report into the current state of U.K. hospital care for people with psychiatric illness. And for BI’s Micardis the firm managed a wake-up call campaign designed to alert people to the risks of high blood pressure.
”Virgo is a young and dynamic agency run by exceptionally talented and committed people,” says Maxine Taylor, former director of corporate affairs at Lilly. “Professionalism and delivery of outstanding client service has been the signature tune since the agency opened for business.” Adds Kate Browne, senior brand manager at GlaxoSmithKline, “Virgo’s strategic input proved invaluable. Within a short space of time they achieved great results that helped drive the brand forward.” And Jane Boston, communications manager for Wyeth Consumer Healthcare raves: “The difference in the quality, creativity, breadth of understanding and robust strategic thinking that Virgo delivered on our brief—the toughest I’ve ever seen—was phenomenal.”