New Razorfish Division a Sign of Digital Health Market Appeal

Razorfish is not known for creating divisions dedicated to advertiser verticals, but when it came to healthcare and pharmaceuticals, it made an exception. The new Razorfish Health is the second agency initiative in a matter of weeks to launch with a focus on digital marketing services for pharma brands. Take it as another sign that agencies spot an opportunity among health and pharma brands, who remain particularly reluctant to explore social media.

“What we’ve seen in healthcare in particular is it’s an industry at a really interesting tipping point,” said Katy Thorbahn, GM of Razorfish Health. Thorban has headed up Razorfish’s healthcare-centric Philadelphia office, which is home to Razorfish Health. Because of its proximity to several pharma and healthcare companies in Pennsylvania and nearby in New Jersey and Delaware, the Philadelphia office has served almost as a de facto healthcare-focused agency for the past 13 years since Razorfish began serving the market from that convenient location.

“All of our major healthcare clients were coming to us with [similar] challenges,” said Thorbahn. Among the most concerning is social media. Especially for pharmaceutical brands, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and health condition-related forums represent a thick forest of unknowns. Perhaps their biggest worry is how to monitor user generated media for mentions of their brand names and reports of negative side effects of their drugs. They also question how often they’ll need to revisit Web sites where they’ve spotted relevant posts.

Though the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of developing long overdue guidance on these issues, many in the sector don’t expect a clear set of rules. In the meantime, people are talking about their drugs and products at a near-constant rate online; plus, pharmaceutical firms realize they need to develop new ways of communicating with physicians in digital environments.

“No one seems to be expecting any real guidance to come from the FDA,” Thorbahn said.

Agencies like Razorfish Health and recently-launched Pixels and Pills hope their digital and social media expertise will assist pharma and healthcare brands, whom they believe can no longer afford not to listen to and engage in social media. Razorfish has centered its social media discipline on what it calls “Social Influence Marketing,” and has developed metrics for measuring the value of social media interactions.

The company has shifted some members of its social influence marketing team to focus exclusively on health and wellness clients. “That’s an area we’re able to really focus our [social influence marketing] guys – directly on health and wellness,” said Thorbahn. “They’ve already been steeped in [social media.]”

Razorfish serves around 50 advertisers it includes in the health category, which encompasses not only pharmaceutical companies such as Genentech, but insurance firms like Aetna, along with fitness and nutrition advertisers, and other segments. While many of those health clients are currently serviced out of the Philadelphia office, those that aren’t won’t need to establish a connection at the official Razorfish Health office there to continue working with the company. As for the two non-health clients currently working with the Philadelphia team, they will have the option of continuing their work there. The Philadelphia office has around 130 people on staff, according to Thorbahn.

Razorfish parent company Publicis also includes Digitas Health, and Saatchi & Saatchi’s healthcare agencies in its Publicis Healthcare Communications Group.

Last month digital agency Zemoga and pharma agency Palio officially launched Pixels and Pills, a joint service that also aims to help drug marketers navigate digital media.

Coincidentally, at launch, both agencies unveiled a tool for tracking social media conversations around health related topics. The Health Tweeder, a research tool from Pixels and Pills, aggregates recent Twitter posts about disease states and related topics including sleep disorders, cancer, HIV, and gastroenterology. Razorfish Health’s takes a broader approach with its Health Conversation tool, which tracks posts on Twitter, Digg, and other social sites about health conditions, in addition to posts on sports and fitness, diet and nutrition, and even emotions.

“We hope it becomes a gateway to a larger conversation with a client,” explained Thorbahn, adding the tool could convince clients that social discussions affecting their brands and businesses “are not in the dark corner somewhere; it really is happening, and it is happening at a volume that you really have to know about.”

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