#MeetTeamBacke: Mike O’Hara

How a small agency supports Big Pharma

Pharmaceutical companies have significant marketing needs and operate within elaborate, highly rigid regulatory constraints. They also tend to hire large advertising agencies to support their major brands.

I sat down with Mike O’Hara, Backe’s VP and Management Supervisor, to find out how Backe has been able to work so well with GSK, and the secrets to this long-lasting relationship.

Moss: How long has Backe been working with GSK?

Mike: Since 1997 – about 20 years. I’ve been the account lead for about 18 years.

Moss: GSK has a lot of options for getting their projects completed, including a lot of big-name agencies. What do they like about working with Backe?

Mike: For one thing, we know all the GSK processes and how to get things through medical/legal/regulatory review, because we’ve worked with them for so long. And, we’re dependable. We listen to our clients, and they don’t need to worry or micromanage us, because they know that we’ll get things done at a very high quality. People at GSK say we’re easy to work with. We hear, “I was so happy to hear that Backe’s working on this project,” a lot.

Also, GSK knows we can get things done very quickly because of the way we’re set up here.

Moss: What makes us so nimble?

Mike: I think one of the reasons is that we’re a small agency. We’re all in one location. We can all walk down the hallway and talk to each other. Some of the other agencies that GSK works with are very large, and they have a lot of skilled people; but they also have a lot of layers of personnel, and that can slow things down.

Cost is also a consideration, and Backe is typically less expensive than a large global agency. That’s mainly because of the relatively small number of hours and people that we assign to a project. We also have a fairly flat structure in which everyone has an equal voice, and that makes for very effective real-time collaboration and keeps the number of billable hours down.

Moss: Are there specific types of projects that GSK is more likely to consider us for?

Mike: Typically, they’ll have an Agency of Record (AoR) develop a product’s initial brand platform, the messages, and the overall brand strategy. GSK will then partner with Backe to design and execute campaign assets that leverage this initial strategy across a variety of media, including banners, emails, websites, videos, and other tactics that support the multichannel campaign.

Moss: When we collaborate with AoRs on a project, what’s that like?

Mike: We’ve had very positive experiences with their AoRs. They understand that Backe’s been brought in for a reason. They collaborate closely with us, and they’re respectful, and we’re always respectful of them. I think GSK does a good job of explaining why they have things set up the way they do, and that goes a long way to make sure the collaboration is effective.

Moss: Has a lot changed since we first started working with GSK?

Mike: Our role at GSK has expanded. Their dedicated marketing staff has also grown substantially. And their sophistication in understanding digital and multi-channel marketing has grown.

Over the years, I’ve also seen them move towards greater segmentation. So, where in the past we may have created just one email or banner to communicate with an entire audience, we now sub-segment based on behavior, location, interest, area of specialty, or other facets within those audiences.

There’s also a higher reliance on ROI and measurement, trying to be as real-time as possible – which is challenging in the pharmaceutical industry, because you have to get everything approved through medical/legal/regulatory review. So, they’ve been working with us, and others, to try to figure out ways to have things approved early and often, so they can more effectively or practically respond in real time.

Moss: What is the number one secret to keeping a large pharmaceutical company happy as a client?

Mike: Delivering effective solutions on time and on budget.

We’ve been really lucky. GSK is a great client and we get to work with incredibly genuine and nice people. They’re very demanding, but they’re also very reasonable.

Stay tuned to Backe social, when we unravel the mysteries behind an ad team’s every day work – from design to strategy to social media and more – in our #MeetTeamBacke series.

Backe is a digital marketing and brand communications agency, focused on creating smart, beautiful and strategically-driven work. We build communities, relationships, and meaningful connections.