On Heels of GBT Oxbryta campaign, Ad Agency Launches Pharma Comms Division, RIESTER RX

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Independent advertising and public relations agency RIESTER helped create the first TV commercial for a sickle cell disease drug in the U.S. last summer, and it’s eyeing a lot more pharma work in the future.

The Phoenix-based company has just spun out a new division, RIESTER RX, focused solely on pharma and biotech communications. To bolster the pharma side of the business, the agency said it has added a medical advisory board and brought on life science industry and regulatory experts as consultants

The reason for the pharma niche expansion? “With the pandemic, health and well-being are really taking center stage,” Mirja Riester, the company’s chief strategic officer, explained.

That’s created more public demand for health information delivered in an empathetic and personalized way—and more opportunities for pharma to connect with audiences and make an impact, she said.

The agency’s track record of delivering “person-driven communications” with a focus on empathy makes it a good fit for the industry, she said: “I would argue we take a little closer look at the target audience and really develop communications that are a bit more raw emotionally.”

The new division builds on work the 100-employee agency has already been doing in healthcare. Most recently, it worked with Global Blood Therapeutics (GBT), maker of the sickle cell disease treatment Oxbryta, on unbranded and branded campaigns to increase awareness about sickle cell disease, a rare and painful condition that primarily affects the Black community.

The unbranded “Sickle Cell Speaks” campaign featured videos where real-life patients opened up about living with the disease and talked about the misperceptions they encountered.

The Oxbryta TV ad “It’s My Time,” which made its debut in July, included six real-life patients who found success taking the drug. The commercial shows them enjoying things they love, like dancing, cooking, and playing with family on the beach.

The messaging sought to break down stigma and drive home “the added value that an organization like GBT can really provide to the lives of patients,” Riester said.

RIESTER has also worked with drugmaker Gilead on awareness campaigns for HIV treatment and prevention. Other pharma clients include Galderma, Zeltiq (acquired by Allergan), and dermatology company Medicis, according to RIESTER’s website.