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With the traditional Rx pharmaceutical business going through a difficult period—relatively few new blockbuster drugs, and a challenging regulatory environment—healthcare PR firms are being forced to look for new avenues of growth, and those looking to the consumer health space have found at least a couple of established competitors taking the lead. Pegasus, based on the south coast of England and focused on “inspiring healthy decisions,” must be the most eye-catching of these, growing 39% in 2015 to almost £9m in fee income. A team of 100 (up 30%) in Brighton now works across a broad range of services, including digital, social and creative, helping the firm net new business last year from Daiichi Sankyo, Denplan, DuPont, Elanco, GR Lanes, LloydsPharmacy and PAGB. Existing accounts include Thornton & Ross, Holland & Barrett, Godrej Group, LF Beauty, Danone, Novo Nordisk and Bayer (OTC & Animal Health) — helping to demonstrate how Pegasus has grown as health has become central to conversations across a range of sectors, including technology and food.
Recognising those shifts, Pegasus has invested in both specialising its sector skills and broadening its relevance to clients in adjacent sectors, via more thought leadership and focused hiring plans. All of which is underpinned by an outstanding workplace culture — turnover is just 6% and there are numerous initiatives in place to improve learning and development. —AS
Formed in 2009 by former Red Consultancy corporate head Paul Davies, Firstlight has grown to become one of the best of a new breed of UK corporate PR firms. And much of that is down to the firm's stellar healthcare capabilities, which are led by Pat Pearson, another ex-Red Consultancy executive. In 2015, Firstlight grew by 37% to more than £1.5m in fee income, with healthcare accounting for almost half of the firm's business. Key clients include Novartis Oncology (which consolidated its entire UK portfolio with Firstlight in 2014); NAPP (for which it handles biosimilars); Orthimo (for which Firstlight launched the first generic him implant, in the last big bastion of big branded medical devices); Sanofi; Vifor Pharma; Roche; and the NHS.
Unsurprisingly, given that list of clients, Firstlight's healthcare capabilities are broad, covering market access, media relations, regulatory and HTA approaches, disease awareness, patient advocacy and issues management. — AS
GCI Health (WPP)
The GCI Health brand may have only launched in London in 2013, but it began life with two significant advantages: it is part of arguably the hottest healthcare firm in the US right now, and the London office essentially spun out of sister agency Cohn & Wolfe, itself an impressive force in healthcare. Under the leadership of Rikki Jones, the firm recorded more substantial growth in 2015, and is on track to reach £2 million by 2018, with a team of 15 consultants delivering impressive work in four categories: life sciences (mostly pharma), consumer health, market access, and—a real differentiator—strategic consulting.
The firm’s client roster includes Bayer, Lilly, GSK, Takeda and Abbott, and has also benefited from a new medical education offer, led by new hire Cally Clarkson. That has helped bring two consumer health clients and four medical technology accounts. There is also a credible focus on thought leadership and staff culture, resulting in best workplace honours from PRWeek. And there is plenty of good work, including an educational campaign for MSD that aims to help Muslims with diabetes stay healthy while fasting. In addition, the firm helped to steer four therapeutic innovations—including Biogen Idec’s Tecfidera and Plegridy for multiple sclerosis, Janssen’s Olysio for hepatitis C, and Gilead’s Zydelig for leukaemia—from pipeline to market.— AS
Havas Just:: (UK/Havas Group)
Launched by Jennie Talman and Emma Crozier in 2006, UK firm Just:: Health was acquired by Havas Group in 2015. Now rebranded as Havas Just::, the deal does not appear to have impeded Just’s growth trajectory — indeed, in 2015 it increased topline by 15% to around £3.75m. Unusually, for a healthcare firm, Just's positioning revolves as much around creativity as it does around sector expertise. This has paid off via such campaigns as ‘In My Shoes, which used Oculus Rift technology to challenge entrenched healthcare professional perceptions of people with ADHD; and ’Growing up with HIV’, which built empathy for HIV sufferers among a healthcare professional audience.
For several years now, Just's internal culture has remained a competitive differentiator, with low employee turnover also helped by the addition of a central London office. The firm has a broad range of expertise across PR, media, advocacy, medical education, digital and public affairs, enabling a cross-disciplinary approach to strategic planning. The firm remains led by co-founders and co-CEOs Talman and Crozier, who are supported by Kirsty Mearns, recruited as MD in 2014. In 2016, Mearns took on a new role as chief business development officer, switching her focus from operational leadership to growth and marketing. — AS
Virgo Health (IPG/Golin)
The ‘Being Human’ approach continues to be at the heart of Virgo Health’s business. In 2015, this included a manifesto instigating the industry to talk about just how much engagement has changed within the healthcare sector.
It’s now been three years since IPG’s Golin bought Virgo Health — and all signs point to this being a successful acquisition. 2015 saw 23% of organic growth and the addition of £2.8m of new business, including three £1m+ clients for the first time. Its record for winning new business is 86% (surpassing its target of 70%) and last year the firm recorded its largest-ever month and quarter earnings. The 12-year-old firm has 85 people across its offices and boosts a 70% talent retention. Building on the ‘Being Human’ theme, the firm developed a mind map that outlines the values important to its workplace.
While some agencies are moving towards a project model, Virgo transformed its core offerings in 2015 to move away from project work to longer-term retainer assignments. Other notable feats last year included easing client discomfort about ‘Being Human’ by showing how this thinking could flourish in a highly-regulated environment. The firm’s design team grew three-fold with new animation, 3D and motion design capabilities and its digital offering expanded to include the full spectrum between social and digital.
Client retention soared over 95% for the fifth year in a row last year. It also added 17 new clients — including Bayer, Abbott, Celgene and Abbvie — to its existing roster of 47. Virgo’s work with Roche saw a four-fold budget expansion. Notable work includes the HS See Me programme that fostered a partnership between AbbVie and the Centre For Patient Leadership that turned patients into catalysts to educate healthcare professionals; the PaediaSure Shake Fussy Eaters was a social experiment that invited fussy children to lunch; and a campaign for Durex to increase condom usage among young people. — AaS
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