SAMPS was previously Association of Commercial Professionals for Life Sciences (ACP-LS)

Life Science Marketing Agencies — Which One is Right for You?

February 20, 2017

Most marketing managers within life science companies are under great pressure in their day-to-day role, managing multiple programs across many channels. Increasingly they’re being tasked with hiring and managing a range of marketing agencies, too. And many managers are often not trained in developing a marketing strategy and associated objectives, nor selecting and onboarding business partners. They will all understand the importance of doing this right — they don’t want the legacy of hiring the wrong agency. And they especially don’t want to be responsible for the lost money — both revenue from missed sales, and the actual cost of the selection process (a rough calculation has this at $15,070, see sidebar 1) if they get this wrong. So how do you begin to select the agency that will provide you with the results you need?

Within the SAMPS website is a valuable list of vendors who support life science companies, including a range of expert marketing suppliers. This is a great resource to identify agencies to which you could outsource your marketing (we’ll address whether you should outsource your marketing at all in the next article in this series). However, how can you tell which group is the best partner for you? All these agencies have worked in life sciences for many years, all will have an impressive list of companies that they’ve worked with, and all will have fantastic case studies.

The traditional approach is to pull together a request for proposal — RFP. This would provide an overview of your needs and require the agencies to present proposals on how they would solve this challenge, along with an estimate of how much they think this would cost you. There are a couple of major issues with this approach — firstly it puts the primary focus of the agency selection on cost. You’re asking the agencies to second-guess your budget, but it also adds an unconscious bias for the agency to provide cheaper solutions than their competitors. This results in a selection based on cost, not quality. For more information on how to select an agency based on qualifications as opposed to price, I suggest you read this post.

Many companies also use the RFP process to develop their marketing strategy — by setting out the challenge that is faced, agencies are then asked to present their ideas on what they would do to help overcome them. This is not only unfair to agencies (asking them to do important work for you free), but when combined with the cost bias mentioned previously, you risk being presented with solutions that are cheaper for the agency to deliver, as opposed to the most appropriate solutions for your needs.

So how do you select the right life science marketing agency for your needs?

Before identifying your short list of agencies to interview, it’s essential that you:

  1. Have a clear view of what you’re trying to achieve with your marketing — and if you don’t know, pay a professional to help you conduct a marketing strategy workshop. It may seem costly, but it will save you money in the long run. There’s no point in deploying tactics such as PR, marketing automation or social media if they don’t help you achieve your business goals. This will be just money down the drain.
  2. Develop a realistic budget for the marketing program. Again, if you don’t know where to start with this, speak with a specialist consultant. By providing the agencies with a budget at the outset, they can help you design and deploy the best programs possible for your money.
  3. Identify what success from the marketing programs will look like to you and your key stakeholders in the program. If your CEO wants his or her name on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, it’s important that you know this up front. And if your VP of Sales and Marketing is looking for measurable leads, make sure that this is documented. Once you know what everyone wants, you need to convert them into objectives that have time frames for their achievement, and a method for proving that they have been attained.
  4. Make sure that all the stakeholders in the marketing program have provided input regarding the features that they require from an agency. Is it essential that your marketing partner try new and creative marketing tactics, or that they have a proven methodology that they use repeatedly? Is agency location important? Are you looking for an agency to take workload off your team, or are you looking for more strategic support? Once you create a list, compile the requirements into a set of selection criteria that you can use to objectively assess each agency.
  5. Create a comprehensive brief based on the above findings and provide it to the agencies. Don’t hold back information to test the agencies’ industry knowledge — you’re looking to build a partnership, not a client-vendor relationship. Partnerships are built on trust and transparency, so give the agencies all the information they need to determine if they’re the right partner for you.
  6. Develop a time frame for the agency-selection process, and then check that all your stakeholders are available to answer agency questions and to attend agency presentations, as well as a debrief session. Make sure you include this timetable in the brief that you develop.

You’re now ready to short-list the agencies that you’d like to meet with.

As you can see, it’s not a short or easy process to get to this point, and you’ve not even started meeting with the potential agencies. Feeling daunted? Rightly so — selecting an agency isn’t easy, and the ramifications from a bad choice are significant, so it’s important that you commit sufficient time and resources to ensure success. But guidance from those experienced in the process can help you apply the principles that transform a daunting task into a productive process.

To that end, the SAMPS is partnering with Covalent Bonds to offer its members a free-of-charge service (as part of your membership) to help with the agency selection process. If you’d like assistance with all the stages discussed above, as well as managing the agency presentation meetings, please register here.  Read more about this added benefit of your membership below (see sidebar 2).

Sidebar 1:

The below table shows the calculations for the time cost of hiring an agency. We have used an average rate of $110 per hour for the various salary roles (ranging from an entry-level marcom manager to chief marketing officer). The typical time spent on each stage has been taken from anecdotal discussions with marketing representatives from US-based life sciences companies.

Agency Selection Costs

Sidebar 2:

The SAMPS Marketing Success Service:

SAMPS has partnered with Covalent Bonds to offer its supporting members a free marketing success service. Fundamentally, the reason companies use marketing is to generate sales for the company and boost the bottom line. It is therefore essential to lay the foundations for success in a marketing program.

Most companies do not have the time to keep track of the life science marketing agency landscape, nor the skills to develop a powerful brief to help select the right agency from a short list. Designed to help companies navigate the complex world of agency selection and review, this service will help:

  • Generate maximum results (sales!) from your marketing efforts:
    • Audit your identified marketing needs to ensure the correct foundations have been laid
  • Optimize your financial investment to save you time and money:
    • Advise on budget allocation for maximum results
  • Ensure you achieve success from your agency-client partnership:
    • Help finalize the right short list of potential agencies for your needs
  • Save you time and money:
    • Facilitate the agency selection process, and guide selection of the best agency for you

Register Now

Laura Browne

Laura Brown

Laura Brown is the CEO of Covalent Bonds. Covalent Bonds works with scientific and tech companies FOR FREE, to develop a brief for a marketing program, and to select the right agency, to ensure the partnership is as powerful and long-lasting as possible.


SAMPS, Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research, is the first and only organization dedicated to sales and marketing professionals within the life sciences.

The association’s goal is to serve its members who work in commercial roles for life science products and services companies and associated businesses, globally.
SAMPS was previously named ACP-LS. We feel that SAMPS more clearly describes the membership, and will form a better foundation from which to expand this membership globally. 
© Copyright 2019 -SAMPS-serving Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research 
All Rights Reserved
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