Frank Powers is one of the founding partners of Elevate Healthcare Marketing, a multidisciplinary firm based outside of Philadelphia. Elevate Healthcare specializes in product strategy and communications for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device sectors. The firm takes a boundary-pushing, performance-focused approach to marketing and sales activities, with the intention to improve outcomes for caregivers, physicians, and patients. Elevate Healthcare has worked with clients such as Pfizer, Merck, and Bausch + Lomb. An industry veteran, Frank has engineered strategic initiatives for pharma, consumer, and B2B brands like Nexium, Powerade, and Tyvek. He has been named a PM360 ELITE Leader and one of PharmaVoice Magazine’s 100 Most Inspiring People, and his thought leadership has appeared in trade magazines such as Medical Marketing & Media, Pharmaceutical Executive, Med Ad News, PM360, and PharmaVoice.
Frank Powers spoke with Jeff Mack of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank for this interview.
JEFF MACK: Tell us about the company and how it started.
FRANK POWERS: Elevate Healthcare is a strategy practice that specializes in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device fields. We partner with commercial leaders in the C-suite on strategy upstream of those traditional agencies that one might expect in the healthcare space. It’s been an exciting time. We launched in November of 2015 with a small core of senior leaders and that has expanded to 10 full-time employees with the goal of doubling that by year end.
I think a key to starting a business is having trusted partners, not only on the business relationship side of the equation, but also in the client side. We were fortunate to have some key core clients in the gate early and that has allowed us to accelerate the launch of the firm.
I have been in the healthcare marketing field for over 20 years now, cut my teeth on the purple pill—Nexium—as well as many global brands from Merck, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and some of the large pharmaceutical firms, as well as medical device firms like Cordis and Medtronic.
Q. What about Lorna Weir, the other founding partner?
A. Lorna comes to the healthcare marketing field from a law background, so a very different approach to healthcare marketing. She has true sense of compliance and the legalities of the medical marketing field. She truly understands what you can and cannot do, which really frees up the clients to think in a different way about a marketing situation.
Q. Which explains why Lorna is known as “the Liberator,” according to your site. How did you get your nickname?
A. I got the nickname “the Motivator” from my colleagues at the shop because of how I engage with our clients on a regular basis. Some of the programs and risks they take creatively with our group of core senior experienced people and staff results in campaigns that they might not expect from traditional firms.
Q. How would you describe Elevate’s business philosophy? Why do clients choose to work with you?
A. I think any partnership that is worth its salt begins with trust and collaboration. So, we begin there and then the relationship unfolds and is proven by a solid work product.
Our team at Elevate is a group of very senior experienced people that know the healthcare marketing trade inside and out. The average number of years experience in our shop is 15 for each associate.
Companies choose Elevate because of our experience. We are solely focussed and interested in working in the healthcare field. We’re 100% healthcare focused. In that vertical, we’re also focused in pharmaceutical and biotech in addition to marketing to healthcare professionals, so if someone is looking to convince or influence a healthcare professional, such as a pharmaceutical manufacturer or a medical device company, they would look at a firm such as ours.
We’ve positioned Elevate upstream of traditional advertising agencies in the healthcare space because of our strategic expertise. Our core experience and number of years marketing products to healthcare professionals allows us to work at a senior level, and that’s why the C-suite team at a pharmaceutical firm or a biotechnology firm would tap on Elevate to engage earlier—or upstream—as early as phase II in clinical trials to determine positioning, messaging and potential sales strategy for their product.
Q. When did Elevate start?
A. Elevate hit the ground running in November of 2015, working with a flagship account called Kaléo out of Richmond, Virginia working in the opioid overdose state with a product called Evzio: truly a life saving product and very important product for Elevate to be engaged with as a premium partner.
Q. Starting this company in the current tech climate, what values did you emphasize that you wouldn’t have a few years ago?
Regarding Elevate in our multidisciplinary approach, we employ a number of different disciplines at the agencies, so unlike other consultancies that work upstream, you get a full array of talent that includes writing, art, clinical, digital, as well as innovation strategists at the table—in addition to compliance, legal, and branch strategists as well. So, truly a cross-disciplinary team deploys against each account, which is very different in the space we operate in.
As we’ve seen—and digital transformation is occurring right now—people are looking at different ways and different partners to create products. Whether it’s service models or pharmaceutical products, part of that is looking at a firm like Elevate to help them consider digital as a way to create new products, and getting to market faster through digital.
Q. What disruptions are coming to the healthcare industry?
A. Healthcare is ripe for disruption or disintermediation for a number of reasons. If you look across, just your daily world, you look at firms like Uber and Airbnb that have disrupted the status quo or traditional sales model, so healthcare is waiting for this next big disrupter and we believe digital will allow direct sales. If we specifically look at medical devices—that is a particular vertical that is right for this disruption as it’s tougher to getting in to see the target audience and more direct channels of sale can occur online. I would venture to guess that’s where we’re going to the see next big disruption from a digital selling point of view.
The next big disruption in healthcare is coming, whether that’s in pharmaceuticals and insurance, whether it’s on the sales side of the equation—it remains to be seen where it’s going to happen, but it’s coming and everyone feels it. They’re talking about it, they’re writing about it and the question is who’s going to get to it first. A key hunch of mine is that it will have to do with how communication between the patient and physician are currently interacting. I’d venture a guess that that’s where we are going to see the cycle of communication shorten to bridge the physician–patient relationship.
Q. You were recently honored by the industry—is that correct?
A. This past June, Elevate Healthcare was named one of the top 100 Ad Agencies in the country based upon a number of factors: billings, as well as the work we submitted to the publication. I will tell you that based upon the interview that they did with our principals, a long way went to our experience in the field and our backgrounds that chose them to pick Lorna and me, as well as the Elevate team, just after a few months in business as one of the top firms in the field.
Q. The firm is in the middle of a period of growth. What do you look for when recruiting new people?
A. When looking for new hires at Elevate, we are looking for first and foremost a cultural fit. We are a small firm at the moment and so working hand to hand with senior leaders has to be a very comfortable situation for whoever we bring into the mix. Expertise, experience, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and do is a must have in a hire at Elevate.
There are tremendous opportunities is currently with Elevate. We’re in a quite bit of growth, looking to double the size of our staff by year-end. There are entry-level opportunities at a firm focused in the healthcare arena, so for the healthcare marketers in the Philadelphia and Greater Philadelphia region: please take a look at our site in the career section. I’d be happy to spend some time with you.
Q. As someone who has been active in the industry for a number of years, what draws your attention these days?
A. Over my 20-year marketing career I have worked with a number of different world class marketing teams, from Merck & Company to AstraZeneca, as well as Medtronic on the medical device sector. But I will tell you what has impressed me most over the past several years is seeing a transition from a big pharmaceutical manufacturer and one of their leaders moving into the biotechnology firm to take the commercial lead of a smaller firm, where you see some more entrepreneurial spirit and they’re willing to take some risks that they might not be able to do or are allowed to do in a large pharmaceutical organization.
Q. What’s behind Elevate’s immense success?
A. I think the answer there is why they’re doing what they are doing. At the end of the day, Elevate has passion for producing the best work product on the planet in the healthcare space. We answer to ourselves and our clients, and we’re not answering to the street. We’re answering to the mirror and each day we wake up, look at it and get up and go after it. There’s a real passion behind what we do and there’s a reason why we do it on our own.
From a technology point of view Elevate is using a number of cutting edge tools, whether it’s social listening tools, new platforms, sales solutions, or building technology solutions for our clients and their salesforces to better communicate with physicians, nurses, and healthcare professional at large.
Q. Do you have any entrepreneurial influences?
A. I think a great influence over my career has been my parents. I grew up in a very interesting household full of entrepreneurs. Whether it was my mother, and the work she has done with CompanyVoice and her call center career, as well as my dad, who has been a national sales director in a number of top tax firms—at the dinner table at night, you would always hear business. I think I had no choice, at the end of the day, of what I was going to end up doing as a career. That was always a slant that was talked about in my house.
My mom’s the consummate salesperson. Watching her in action—and that’s something that I have been looking up to watch my entire career—she’s very personable, she’s very authentic. When you meet her and spend time with her, that authenticity comes through and makes things real. People gravitate towards that. Hopefully I’ve picked up a bit of that along the way.
Q. How did you get your start in the field?
A. The first true marketing job that eventually laid the groundwork for what I do now was with a firm called Stan Gross Associates, out of Haverford, Pennsylvania. It was a unique brand consultancy. Dr. Gross worked with some of the best brands on the planet, whether it’s Michelin and the tire and the baby, the DuPont corporate brand and many other business units there, and ultimately, my break into healthcare, Dr. Gross wouldn’t let you out of the shop and go to a client until you knew brand strategy cold. There was a teacher from the Sorbonne called Jean-Noël Kapferer. He wrote the seminal book on strategic brand management and he would quiz us before we left the office. If you failed that quiz, you weren’t going on that client call. So, it was a true test between the consultants—who would be going out to client visits.
Q. Where is Elevate going to be in five years?
A. I imagine we’re going to be very focused in a similar path we’re heading down right now, which is serving a very core group of clients to a very high capacity—a narrower client roster than a traditional agency, but doing deeper, more strategic engagement work. Truly, a roster that mimics where it is right now, but with more talented people and more strategic engagements.
Q. Tell us about your philanthropic activities.
A. Philanthropy is a very important part of what we do, not only at Elevate, but for me personally, as well as the city of Philadelphia. I sit on the board of Leadership Philadelphia, an organization committed to getting the best thinking on behalf of the for-profit sector to benefit the nonprofit sector. Liz Dow and the group at Leadership is doing yeoman’s work on behalf of the City. I’m proud to sit on their Board, as well as some of the folks that I’ve met through Leadership Philadelphia, like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the work Marcus Allen is doing—I’m proud to support him; as well as March of Dimes, and particularly the March for Babies, and The Pathway School for children on the spectrum of autism and autism disorders is a personal favorite of mine that we spend time with and engage as a pro bono account.
Q. How would you describe your leadership style?
A. I believe my leadership style is one by example. I’m out in front of it and I’m doing it with my staff, working with them in the trenches. There’s not something that I would ask of any of my employees that I’ve not done or I am not doing at the moment, especially at the scale of where Elevate is right now—just under one year old. So, leading by doing and building the culture in much that same way.
Q. What draws you to the healthcare industry specifically?
A. My favorite part of Elevate Healthcare and the healthcare marketing field is that, at the end of the day, we have an impact on the patient. Through the education of healthcare professionals, ultimately a patient would benefit. Depending on the disease state that you’re working in, that could be saving a life or getting someone with a rare disease in touch with a solution to that rare disease they didn’t know existed before we educated either their physicians or them as patients. It’s pretty rewarding to be able to touch someone in that light.
When I’m not at work I like to spend time at home with the family. I have a wife and three daughters, who are in that grade school age, so certainly a lot of homework and helping on math problems when appropriate; as well as the occasional round of golf with you, Jeff.
Q. What are some important lessons have you learned over the course of your career?
A. If you look at my desk at the moment, or in my briefcase, I just picked up the latest Patrick Lencioni book, The Ideal Team Player, as we’re in growth mode. That’s one of the books that I’m currently engaged with. And you’ll always find me, if I’m traveling, with a book called Win Without Pitching by Blair Enns. I read it on a regular basis and consistently go back to it, remind myself what “good” looks like in business development.
One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that you can’t be beaten if you give everything you got. I believe I can outwork anyone, and because of that my work ethic has always propelled me to heights that I hadn’t expected in my career. Through hard work, being the first in, last out, in addition to constantly reading and learning—and never stop learning—is a mantra that has served me well throughout my career. I have never rested on my laurels.
Q. What are some of the challenges inherent in the current healthcare environment, and how are you helping your clients address them?
A. Elevate partners with C-suite senior people to help firms take analog messaging and build it into the digital world, whether that’s through messaging on their site or their brand communications—certainly have a role in digital transformation and where their brand is going. Those channels are changing each day, and so whether that’s understanding the social presence of their brand, which may be they can or can’t engage in online at this current point in time, people are moving to a place where they are taking a more proactive stance of managing their healthcare, and we’re helping our clients understand that and communicate with those patients in a digital way.
Q. Can you share some of the personal challenges you’ve faced along the way?
A. Regarding difficult times in my career, or lessons learned, any time you engage with a client on a new product launch that doesn’t go the way they expect or hope, there’s always learnings there. There are times in my career where I wish I would have been stronger to guide a client more forcefully or stuck to the data in a way that was more accurate to what we knew the physicians would like to learn. Over that time and through launches that have gone well and gone not so well, the lessons have been in bringing product to market in a way that maximizes that opportunity. You only get a chance to launch once, and you need to maximize it. You can’t sacrifice on the learnings prior to that launch to ensure success.
Q. How does Elevate differentiate itself from the other firms out there?
A. The healthcare marketing landscape is a very complex and crowded one. Every Madison Avenue ad agency that you might know of, such as Ogilvy or Saatchi & Saatchi, has an arm in the healthcare business and are very good at what they do—in addition to independent firms, such as AbelsonTaylor out of Chicago, which is very good and expert in what they do.
How we’ve differentiated Elevate is that we’re playing upstream from them. We’re not just worried about the brand campaign, per se, but engaging with senior leaders on how to position their molecule, their firm, and ultimately a path to success for sales and marketing leadership for an emerging biotech or pharmaceutical firm. We’re not just after their tactics, per se, but looking to partner on a strategic level, and that’s where we live and do our best work.
Q. Where did the name come from?
A. The creation of the name, Elevate, for the firm was an interesting story. There are a number of different parameters that we believe go into a successful name. Ultimately, whether that’s an action verb—which is where we landed—versus naming after a principal’s name or inanimate object, we felt really strongly, of the number of names we put on the table, that Elevate had the most activity and movement to it, which felt right for our culture. It was a fast-moving environment, an entrepreneurial environment; and at the end of the day, we were looking to elevate the lives of patients. So, for us, when we knew our mission was to elevate healthcare, it made perfect sense to involve that in the name.
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