I first met Phil Cranch, the Managing Director of Crystal, at the DMA09 in San Diego. I have since been impressed by his commitment to build an agency from scratch servicing the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. As a pharmacist himself, who else would they want working on the marketing for their businesses? I recently asked Phil to tell us how he has done it.
What is Crystal all about?
Crystal is in the business of providing creative services to healthcare and pharmaceutical clients in Australia and NZ. We’ve developed a reputation for direct marketing in this space, but that’s not all we do. We also help launch and develop new brands and produce the range of communications needed by pharmaceutical companies to market their products effectively.
How did Crystal get started?
People often ask me that – you’re a pharmacist and you’re running an agency? What’s the deal with that?
The world of pharmacy just wasn’t satisfying my creative thirst. In the middle of the 2009 global financial crisis Crystal was born. It was a remarkably smooth start thanks to my loyal group of clients and the efforts of my creative team.
You started an advertising agency without ever having worked in one. What have been the major benefits and challenges you have faced?
Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? It’s not 100% correct though, as I’ve worked on the supplier side running a company providing services to the pharmaceutical industry in the mid 2000’s, plus set up an agency in 2006, so this definitely helped with all the nuances of running a service-based business. My creative team has had many years working in traditional agencies, so the experience is definitely there. I guess you could say I haven’t been chewed up and spat out by any big agency prior to starting Crystal, which is a good thing.
The benefits are a sense of control over your future. I see so many people reach a glass ceiling in their corporate roles, waiting for their boss to move on. Plus there’s the flexibility of when you put the hours in. Just take last week – I had an hour to kill on a Tuesday afternoon and was able to hit the surf before picking up some proofs from my printer. I also probably get to see more of my kids than some of my peers in corporate roles.
The challenges are many and varied. At the top of the list is to constantly deliver communication programs that hit the mark, as you’re only as good as your last campaign. Also clients tend to get promoted – while it’s great to be a part of their success as they progress up the corporate ladder or get that international placement, or change roles in another company, it also means you need to be nurturing new potential relationships all the time. It’s amazing to think that a client getting promoted, getting a better job elsewhere, or having a baby can affect your bottom line – but that’s exactly what happens.
Staying up to date is also hugely challenging, both on the latest marketing trends as well as the medicines regulatory environment. The annual US DMA conference is a pilgrimage I’ve made a few times now – a sort of Disneyland for marketers of any type – I’d recommend this conference to anybody working in marketing, as it regularly provides an endless source of inspiration and keeps up with all the trends in traditional DM, plus all the new mobile, social and digital channels we have at our fingertips.
In terms of the regulatory environment, all pharmaceutical marketing communications must be acceptable under the Medicines Australia code of conduct. This code is critical for ensuring pharmaceutical companies maintain ethical marketing and promotion of prescription medicines, and was updated early in 2010.
There were lots of changes that directly impacted the way in which companies could present information to healthcare professionals and also included things such as incentives.
Where did the name “Crystal” come from?
I’m a fan of simplicity. After quickly ruling out ‘Cranch Communications’, I guess the name just popped up. There’s an obvious connection between crystal and pharmaceuticals, plus some pretty nice attributes associated with the word, like clear, solid, and even healing.
Is “agency” a dirty word?
This makes for an interesting debate. For some people the word agency conjures up images of long lunches and excessive invoices, doesn’t it? Although I am a fan of Mad Men, given I’ve not been part of any of these excesses, I don’t believe that agency is a dirty word.
What have been the benefits and challenges of going into a business partnership?
One person said to me once that ‘partners are only any good for barn dances.’ I guess the message is make sure there is a good fit, and each partner brings a completely different set of skills to the table. The only partnership I was involved in worked very well, but the structure wasn’t ideal over the long term.
Crystal specializes in healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Why is specialization important?
Healthcare and pharmaceuticals is exactly where I’ve spent the bulk of my career. To gain credibility with my clients and prospects, it makes more sense for me to stick to my knitting within the space I know best. My healthcare background started as a pharmacist and in the industry as a sales rep, medical information associate before going onto other marketing and management roles.
How is Crystal different from other advertising agencies?
Having a pharmaceutical industry background in sales, medical and marketing is the entry level for operating in this space. Being a pharmacist and a marketer is a bit unusual, so that’s a difference.
The relationships we have with our clients, the depth of our medical expertise, and the creative team is what’s really important though. There’s not much our creative team hasn’t worked on, so there’s a wealth of experience to back up the medical and pharmaceutical side.
We also attend a range of conferences to stay in touch with the people we’re speaking to so that the communication programs we develop for our clients hit the mark. We do our best to get along to as many GP, nursing, and pharmaceutical industry conferences, plus of course the US DMA annual conference, as often as possible.
How do people usually find out about Crystal?
We’ve been lucky to get off to a good start without the need to invest in any advertising or marketing, as all of our work has come from word of mouth. But to continue to grow the business we’ll be looking at a number of different B2B initiatives to get the Crystal brand out there. We’ve just launched a cross-media campaign so I’m confident this will get noticed and get us a step closer to being on the short list of people to call.
You’ve just launched a new website for Crystal. Tell us about that?
We’ve just launched an entire new positioning for the Crystal brand that we believe will resonate well with our current clients and future prospects. Steve Hogwood, our Creative Director, developed the “We’re Medical People Too” positioning.
It’s early days but I believe this says a lot about us as an agency – sure we’re creative (but aren’t all agencies creative?) but you know what else, we’re medical people too, so working with us wont be a pain in the neck as we have the credentials to understand your market place and your challenges.
What’s next for Crystal?
Attracting and retaining staff to grow the business. I’m looking for a red hot account manager right now – someone who’s got a good grasp of sales and marketing and is willing to learn the skills of pharmaceutical marketing. Anyone out there interested – send me your CV!
What are you marketing texts are you reading at the moment?
Apart from Maloney on Marketing you mean?
Well I’ve just finished The Clue Train Manifesto (10 year anniversary edition) by Rick Levine (and others), which was a genuine revelation, so much so I’m reading it again. The other book I enjoyed enormously was The Creativity Formula by Dr Amantha Imber, which reviews 50 scientifically proven creativity boosters for work and for life.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to set up his or her own advertising agency?
You need to be prepared to back your house on the business, so a relentless sense of self-belief is a definite must. You’ll never forget your first clients, so make sure you show them the appreciation they deserve for giving you a go. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for any projects – it certainly won’t ring by itself!
Get yourself a decent line of credit while you still have a job – it’s nearly impossible to do this without regular income showing on your bank statement. My accountant gave me that advice, so make sure you get a good accountant!
You’ll also need a good mentor – someone who can guide you through the myriad of things out so you achieve your business goals.
Finally, invest in a good espresso coffee machine – you’ll definitely need one of these.
Thanks for the chance to chat with you Chris and keep up the good work on your blog.
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