Health-Care Marketing of the Future

The CementBloc is helping its clients engage customers in new ways

Jennifer Matthews brings twenty years of agency experience to The Cement Bloc. Photo: Caleb Fox

America is selling wellness. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is transforming interactions between patients, doctors, and hospital systems. Health care—a $2.8 trillion industry—is at a crossroads. With the implementation of the ACA, medical care professionals are emphasizing preventive care and encouraging self-directed decisions. Stressed systems must absorb new patients who have access to care, transparency levels are increasing, and IT departments are creating responsive websites and making the leap to electronic records.

With the future uncertain, health care is an industry in disarray. Pharmaceutical companies and other health and wellness players have to find new ways to market to customers in a changing field. New York-based multichannel agency The CementBloc is helping clients engage physicians, payers, patients, and caregivers on every channel with service offerings from core strategic brand planning to channel strategy and management.

Jennifer Matthews, The CementBloc’s managing partner, spent eleven years within Young & Rubicam Inc. before taking over health-care accounts in 2003, to work with major clients like Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Then, she established and grew the consumer health-care practice to a significant size along with her creative director, Elizabeth Elfenbein. When Matthews and Elfenbein met the owners of an independent agency in 2007, they asked them to start a consumer health-care agency. In 2010, that company has merged with others in the group to become The CementBloc—one of the largest autonomous health communications companies in the United States.

Many of The CementBloc’s competitors are owned by holding companies, and Matthews says her company’s ownership structure gives it a huge advantage. “We own our destiny,” she says. “We make our own decisions. Responding to changing conditions quickly, we all figure out where health-care marketing is headed.” With changes and trends accelerating, helping clients respond is increasingly critical.

Several factors are putting the user in the driver’s seat of health care. Physicians and patients armed with smartphones and tablets are more informed than ever before. “How customers obtain information and make decisions about medical care is being transformed by technology,” Matthews says. Secondly, payers are becoming the primary gatekeeper and decision maker. One or two decades ago, the doctor would have made all medical choices and directed all aspects of care. Today, payers are important decision makers.

The CementBloc has built special services and capabilities to respond to this transformation. When Matthews came to the company, she established a digital and technology capability. Over the last four years, the Bloc team focused on the payer capability, branded as the “Value Builders,” has seen growth of more than 400 percent.

While the payer business has grown at a significant rate, the entire company has seen revenue growth of 35 percent since 2011. Matthews says company executives have brought on content strategy, user experience, and technology experts from varied backgrounds in addition to adding depth in patient and payer marketing. On the creative side, The CementBloc targets talented designers skilled in digital environments and interactive optimization. “We’ve taken steps to diversify our talent base to mirror and anticipate business needs,” she says. “Ten years ago, we concentrated more on healthcare professional branding and advertising. That remains core to what we do, but we have added deep strength in reaching and engaging payers and consumers, with core competence in digital platforms.”

The CementBloc received three prestigious MedAd News Agency of the Year Manny awards. In 2013, the agency was the most creatively awarded health and wellness communications company in the nation, with sixty-nine domestic and global creative awards, and enjoyed 13 percent growth. The trend continued in 2014, as The CementBloc was again the most awarded US agency. Matthews attributes the success to the company’s culture and drive for excellence. “We believe a good idea can come from anywhere,” she says. “We expect everyone to show up and contribute every day, and we empower our people to do just that.”

Workers at The CementBloc collaborate across departments and disciplines with strategists, tech professionals, and others to bring creativity to project, business, and marketing problems. Last year, those employees worked together to help The CementBloc complete six brand launches and begin to expand beyond a core focus in pharmaceutical marketing. That world, however, continues to drive the business forward. Big pharma is shifting from blockbuster, mass-market drugs to more targeted treatments and personalized medicine. Matthews and her colleagues are rapidly expanding in areas like oncology, which now represents roughly half of the pharmaceutical pipeline. Since the drugs produced today are often more specialized, Matthews is adjusting company strategy to deliver personalized communication platforms.

The CementBloc is based in New York City, and is a founding member of Indigenus, the leading global network of independent health-care companies that work together in eighteen key markets worldwide. Matthews and her counterparts at Indigenus meet biannually to share experiences, best practices, and case studies. They employ a multilocal model to pursue business together and uncover mutually beneficial opportunities.

This summer, The CementBloc celebrates fifteen years of business. As it does, the company will move from its home in the Flatiron District to a new space in the Financial District. Matthews and her partners expect the downtown area, which is becoming a creative media and technology hub, to inspire their work as they continue guiding their clients through the changing world of health care.