In late September, Fishawack Health announced a reorganization of business operations to become more agile in its ability to serve life sciences partners across the entire product lifecycle, from R&D to launch and beyond. As part of this change, many of the legacy agency brands will continue to exist under the new Fishawack Health identity, which will now combine all component capabilities from the group companies into an integrated offering organized into Commercial, Consulting, and Medical operating units. PM360 spoke with Chief Commercial Officer Ross Toohey about these changes, how COVID is altering agency-client relationships, and what excites him about the future of the industry.

Ross Toohey, Chief Commercial Officer, Fishawack Health

PM360: What led to this reorganization and what does it mean for how the company and its member companies now operate?

Ross Toohey: Two factors drove a lot of this decision. One was our long-term vision for the organization. The second was COVID, but really COVID just accelerated many of the trends we were already seeing, including the evolution and nature of how drugs are commercialized, how agencies provide value to their clients, and how marketers interact with agencies. Ultimately, we saw the need to become more agile and operate more collaboratively within the organization.

In terms of how it operates, we’ve historically managed to a single P&L, which we believe reflects how our interests are driven by what’s best for the client, not the individual agency. But what is exciting under our new format is what I’ll refer to as strategic traction. Typically, if a client is dealing with a large network that has a meds comms agency, creative agency, market access firm, digital firm, etc., each one has a different operating model, account lead, billing structure, and does their own strategy work. The handoff from partner to partner within that network can often result in some slippage in strategy. Under our new model, a client has one consistent experience by working with a single cohesive strategy team that carries the work from service to service. That’s the operational challenge we’ve reorganized the business around.

When you were preparing for these changes, your company also did research into how COVID was impacting the industry. What can you share about what you learned?

One thing we heard is that 82% of respondents are adopting virtual trial approaches. That means early clinical strategies are going to need to evolve to incorporate very agile, critical trial mechanisms. Another major point was the concept of the virtual launch and a 43.5% increase in nonpersonal promotion. That is now driving the way that we manage our launch and our go-to-market models as we need to be able to respond very rapidly and with dexterity to changes as they occur.

The industry also reported a 434% increase in remote/virtual communications in order to maintain relationships with customers throughout the crisis. That has led us to rethink how we must approach customer engagement to be virtual-first and digital-focused, while ensuring each interaction is truly value-adding. The final big trend worth watching in healthcare is about 175 times more telehealth consultations, with 60% of patients intending to keep using virtual solutions after the pandemic. This presents the opportunity for life sciences companies to shape care pathways in a different way and reimagine their approach to the patient journey.

Agility has been a key theme you’ve mentioned, but historically the life sciences industry has been slow to adapt. Has COVID changed that? And what can agencies do to help clients be even more agile to better accomplish some of the things you are talking about?

Since a lot of these actions are digital, decision-making can be much more fluid because we have the ability to change assets once in market. Now to some degree, that’s always existed, but COVID has forced that way of thinking and we have seen a real appetite among clients for insights-based decision-making and strategic revision. For example, the quick pivot to digital solutions at the outset of the pandemic had an exponential impact on the review and approval cycles within client MLR organizations, and they quickly found themselves overwhelmed. Now clients are coming to us to help with solutions to solve for those issues and allow for more rapid approvals without the need to staff up internally.

How else have you seen the agency-client relationship evolve due to this environment?

I believe this was already happening before COVID, but the situation is helping to further shine a light on the value economics of the client-agency relationship. In other words, what clients are looking for from their partners and what they are willing to pay for that. This is especially true of many things that have been shut down due to the pandemic, such as face-to-face market research, congresses, and tradeshows.

I’m not saying those things aren’t valuable, but I believe clients are going to heavily evaluate the investment they’re willing to put towards the things they had to go without and, more importantly, what return they’re expecting from them. While we believe our organization exists to help companies develop, launch, and grow therapies and brands, and that we should be judged on our performance on that front, we also see how much of this business is unfortunately headed toward evaluating partners on the cost for an hour of creative. We’re building a business that can be assessed for strategic value and impact.

Are there any changes you see that excite you about where this industry is headed?

We’re in the midst of a generational handoff of senior-level pharma marketers to a large GenX and Millennial populous that’s moving into the leadership roles. We are now experiencing this massive change in the way that marketers approach challenges and the tools they’re comfortable with using. I would love to look back five years from now and see how this has impacted the way that people plan their launches, budget for tactics, and measure their performance. So, I’m excited to see this injection of talent.

And as an organization, I’m fascinated by the evolution of what a commercialization partner will need to bring to the table for these next generation of marketers to be successful. We need to be able to augment our capabilities to best serve them, and part of my job will be looking at future acquisitions to help us do so. For example, will we need to focus more on influencer marketing, global market access, payer strategy, or virtual peer-to-peer engagement? I’m excited to identify the things that we can build organically within the business to deliver this new promise for clients.

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