Corrections or additions?
These articles by Barbara Fox were prepared
for the May 23, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
On the Web & On the Go
Last year many dotcom companies found themselves on
the bottom of a rubble pile, but firms that use the Internet on behalf
of pharmaceutical clients have survived. One in particular —
International — claims a spot near the top of the heap. "In
the pharmaceutical marketing space, we are agency of record for more
brands than any other company out there," says David Reim, the
founder. "We like to think that makes us the best."
Eight years ago David Reim’s young company was doing digital work
for pharmaceutical companies by making CD-ROMs. He got written up
in 1993 as "an entrepreneur of the 1990s" by futurist John
Naisbitt. Then Reim put up what is arguably the first innovative
for a drug brand, for Claritin.
Now Simstar represents 27 pharmaceutical brands and 10 of the top
20 pharmaceutical companies. Its most recent work can be seen at
for Bristol-Myers Squibb, www.detrolla.com for Pharmacia, and
for Wyeth-Ayerst. Other clients include Aventis, Bayer, Hoffmann-La
Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Pharmacia, Sanofi-Synthelabo, and
With 105 employees, Simstar has been named both an Inc. 500 and a
Forbes Deloitte & Touche Technology Fast 500 company, and it just
landed a $10 million private equity minority investment from
Catterton Partners. In June Simstar will double its space with a move
from 16,000 square feet Class C space Research Park to 30,000 feet
of Class A space at 202 Carnegie Center. For the fourth year in a
row, it expects to double its revenues, which were $9.6 million last
Many would take Simstar out of the dotcom category — the web
and E-commerce retailers. It is a pharmaceutical services company
and — unlike most dotcoms — has no red ink. "We have been
profitable since day one," says Reim. "When I first heard
of how dotcoms were burning money, I had to read it 12 times. I never
understood how you could run a business without being profitable."
Reim justifies his June 8 move to the Carnegie Center, as a "step
wise investment decision" and notes that he is funding it out
of operations, not venture capital money. Bill Barish of Commercial
Property Network helped find the space after an 18-month search.
has a 3 1/2 year sublease on already-furnished RCN space —
worth $30 per square foot and presumably costing somewhat less on
Reim is fairly fierce about protecting profits. Three years ago, at
the launch of healthcare websites like WebMD (which lost more than
$1 billion just in the last quarter), his clients were sitting-duck
targets for unproven strategies. "When healthcare dotcoms were
rushing to pharmaceutical companies saying give us a million dollars
because we have licensed a good name like DrKoop.com — I said,
let’s slow down," says Reim. "I was concerned that pharmas
would spend a lot of money building the dotcom’s equity, rather than
their own brand equity. In many cases, those dotcoms did not survive
and I am proud to say that our clients did not lose significant
"One thing I really liked about Dave was that the majority of
agencies told you to do what benefited their pocketbook, and he was
not afraid to tell you when he thought an idea was stupid," says
Rob Rebak, who used to work for one of Simstar’s clients. He left
his product manager’s job to buy into Simstar and now is Reim’s
and senior vice president of strategy and development. "When the
Internet was really growing and nobody knew anything about it, Dave
was a big thought leader in the space," he says.
"In contrast to an agency, in which the Internet is just another
media channel, we spend most of our efforts leveraging the marketing
efforts online," says Reim.
When Internet spending was limited to pilot projects, nobody paid
much attention to it, but spending attracts attention now. "As
the budgets in E-marketing go up, we are getting onto the radar screen
of the CFOs, and they are asking more questions about what value the
Internet-based efforts generate for the company," says Rebak.
Simstar’s answer to such potentially uncomfortable questions is a
new trademarked program, Combinatorial E-Marketing (CEM), a tool and
methodology built on six years experience — that’s 60 years in
Internet time. "Introduced last November, CEM is what our most
forward-thinking clients are adopting," says Reim. "It
only 20 percent of our business; it’s pretty cutting edge."
Most traditional E-marketing is based on metrics — the numbers
of signups or the numbers of visitors. But CEM takes a novel approach.
Like combinatorial chemistry, in which computers crunch numbers to
create limitless formulas for molecules, the CEM platform looks at
lots of different permutations of messages that could affect
change. With tools of personalization, content management, analysis,
reporting, and campaign management, it analyzes the return on
as "velocity of assimilation" or the speed at which the
affects behavioral change.
"CEM measures the behavior and the change to behavior — to
cause someone to see the doctor, change a medication, or take a
— and how these changes have value to our client," says Rebak.
If a pharma’s prescription drug is about to go off patent, for in
stance, it would be very valuable to influence a patient to bypass
a generic drug in favor of taking a new form of the prescription drug.
CEM’s "fuzzy" mathematical models makes sophisticated guesses
about which customers have the most potential. It assigns dollar
from zero (a person who is totally ignorant of the drug) to someone
vaguely interested in it (hypothetically $50), to the top value, the
$20,000 jackpot person who will use the drug properly and tell all
his friends about it.
CEM’s real-time software tool observes the behavior of a website
and determines where that person fits along the behavior continuum.
Another tool offers content and messaging intended to push that
to the next level on the behavior continuum. All of this without
the visitor to fill out a form.
"Based on our industry-leading experience, we have found that
more than 90 percent of pharmaceutical website visitors are reluctant
to register or provide personal health information online," says
Rebak. "Our implicit measurement tool should play a major role
in improving the online marketing practices of pharmaceutical
by measuring, analyzing, interpreting, and driving consumer
"You can make a case for the way a person surfs the site being
directly related to the quality of the prospect," confirms Tom
Sullivan, head of the advertising agency, Princeton Partners (see
sidebar). "This sounds like an additional tool for companies to
optimize web strategies. But it cannot be an panacea because different
target markets behave differently, depending on the level of need,
education level and economic status of an individual."
David Reim comes from a Silicon Valley and computers
background, and Rob Rebak from a New Jersey pharmaceutical family
— a useful combination for Simstar. Rebak is the oldest of three
in a family that emphasized both optimism and competition, and Reim,
the oldest of four, was raised in an uncompetitive environment and
is an optimist only by reaction.
Reim remembers his pessimistic father railing against the trials of
his acoustical engineering company. "I swore I would never be
an entrepreneur because my dad came home every night and complained
about his company. I vowed that whatever I did I was going to have
FUN and be happy in it."
Reim was the first in the family to graduate from college, majoring
in computer science at the University of California at San Diego,
Class of 1985, and then working for Apple Computer. "It was late
in college when all of a sudden I met some optimistic Silicon Valley
people. I thought it was a cool way of looking at the world, and I
determined to work in a place where people were having fun."
He met his wife at Penn when he was getting a Wharton MBA — not
in entrepreneurism but in large company management. Now he and his
wife Jennifer, who has graduated from Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School, have four children under the age of six.
After Wharton, Reim went to work for Sun Microsystems and then decided
to go off on his own — in spite of the fact that he had promised
himself he would never be his own boss. "But I felt like I was
working really hard and doing a really good job for a really big
And I said, `Why don’t I do it on my own?’" He is one of just
two percent of company founders in the Inc. 500 who started a firm
alone, without a partner.
When Simstar began in 1993, CD-ROMs were getting very popular "and
I realized I was in the hotbed of healthcare." So he did CD-ROMs
for healthcare companies, for sales training and patient education
in the doctors’ offices.
"Early in 1996 Claritin was looking to establish the first
website, and the product manager asked around among the traditional
agencies who could do this, but back then the other agencies couldn’t
even spell Internet. He hired a consultant to find someone to do it
for him. We launched www.claritin.com in 1996, and then we focused
the company on Internet and pharmaceuticals."
Rebak started with Simstar in 1999. Rebak’s father, an All-American
swimmer and pharmaceutical executive, started two Inc. 500 businesses.
"My goal was to go in and run that family business. It was a nice
vision, but as it got closer to becoming a reality, I decided I
the father and son relationship," he says.
So after graduating from Vanderbilt in 1989, Rebak worked for Pfizer,
earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, and then worked for
Bristol-Myers Squibb. "What led me here was that I was a client
of Simstar’s and became real interested in Simstar as a company and
Dave as a person," says Rebak. Joining Simstar in 1999, he brought
subject matter expertise, introduced marketing and sales savvy, and
diversified the client base. (He also contributes his marketing
as a board member at T2 Ventures, the Momo brothers’ restaurant
With Simstar’s growth has come the inevitable conflict of interest
problems. "As a result we have had to turn down some
says Rebak. Half the business is in software development, where
of interest are not serious. "But if you are in a straight agency
relationship, clients tend to not want you to take on a
So Simstar wants to emphasize strategy in the manner of the big
companies like McKinsey. "Just building websites will become a
commodity," says Reim. "What is important is to maximize
on the Internet." Possibilities for Simstar might include:
"We are doing it now for current clients with position
thinking and wrapping it around the client."
a framework and a software. But not, Rebak hastens to add, shrink
wrapping and selling it to anyone who will pay.
on the Internet. "Now some are really picking up their
says Reim, "for real strategic uses, and they will have higher
needs. Once again we are on the cusp of a first mover
Customer relationship management (CRM) across multiple touch points,
including the Internet, is one of the new big ideas. "Most pharmas
have had product/brand teams, not customer-oriented teams, covering
more than one brand," says Rebak.
"We are very much seeing them look product to product and within
franchise," says Reim. He points to the new federal guidelines
linking high cholesterol to both stroke and diabetes. "You can
bet the big pharmas, with all these products in their customer
strategies, will be thinking about those patients with those
What customers can the Internet influence? Physicians (tracking
writing and educational support), consumers (making them aware of
a certain product), and managed care organizations (to facilitate
All three categories are worried about privacy issues, and to deal
with that, Simstar appointed a privacy officer, Mario Cavallini, who
evaluates and issues white papers about privacy policies.
Reim says his major worries center on organizational
issues. "In the Silicon Valley we had a habit of reorganizing
our companies, even large companies, on a regular basis. This is
that the pharmas have never seen. But I believe it is hard to have
the same organizational approach year after year. I am focused on
how our organization can be the best." That may mean he gets
"I’ve enjoyed the operational aspect of the business," says
Reim. "I try to have fun and create an atmosphere where other
people have fun. But my passion is finding ways to innovate for our
"We have brought in senior people," Rebak points out, "who
are able to grow the business, which frees Dave to be the CEO and
visionary and think of the future of the company.
Rebak’s own worries center on the failed dotcom companies, "trying
to figure out what they did wrong and making sure we don’t follow
in the footsteps." But Simstar has been able to hire dotcom
people who didn’t want to return to a stuffy corporation but wanted
to continue in an E-business culture. "They are interested in
what we are doing, and that we are able to move fairly quickly, and
pursue interesting things."
He also focuses on competition. "Before we were flying below the
radar screen. Now the IBMs and the Accentures (Anderson Consulting)
are on one side of the equation and the big agencies on the other
side, and as this space we will find our place."
He’s not that worried. "Not a lot of groups are capable of
the size of pharmaceutical E-marketing solutions that we can,"
says Rebak. "We have consultants, web designers, software
healthcare agency people, and content developers — we have built
from the ground up to do this."
— Barbara Figge Fox
08540. David Reim, president. 609-252-9741; fax, 609-252-1425. Home
Back in 1993, Tom Sullivan says, he was promoting use
of the Internet to a major client who should have leaped at the
but did not. "I was crying in the wilderness to find new ways
to reach markets," says Sullivan, who bought the 30-year-old
Princeton Partners, from founder Cathy Mathis earlier this year.
tell people we had the third website for an advertising agency in
the country — I started working on it in 1994." Three years
ago the agency hired Veronica Fielding as director of interactive
services, and the firm is happily ensconced in the web space with
a medical device client, Unilever.
Princeton Partners does the E-commerce and E-marketing for Unilever’s
ClearPlan, Unipath Diagnostics’ device to assist women in getting
pregnant (www.clearplan.com). "Our website generates 45,000
visitors a month, and their E-commerce sales
are up 250 percent since last June," says Sullivan. "We have
doubled the amount of time visitors spend on the site and created
relationships in the community. We manage the site and the Internet
effort as a whole."
Relationships are a powerful motivator for someone who is trying to
get pregnant and can’t. "The important thing was not to sell the
product but to focus in a high touch way on how people need to share
information around an important personal subject. We are integrating
PR with marketing in innovative ways, like sponsoring a live chat
with a star of `Days of our Lives,’" says Sullivan. "Couples
compete to test the equipment and share tips and stories."
Several full-time E-marketers work to create relationships and do
affiliate marketing for the agency. The agency is also in charge of
running an international conference in Santa Fe in June on behalf
of the Marketing Advertising Global Network. "It has energized
our staff, and we now have relationship with top internet marketers
and sharing strategies and tactics and they are feeding off of each
08540. Thomas M. Sullivan, CEO. 609-452-8500; fax, 609-452-7212.
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