Pharma goes to Hollywood: W2O Group network snaps up veteran influencer agency

Pharma companies often turn to celebrities for spokesperson roles, tapping agencies and Hollywood agents to make those connections. But W2O Group now has its own stable of star-connected talent specialists.

The independent pharma and healthcare agency network this week acquired entertainment and influencer agency Starpower, which it's been working with for years. Founded in 2007, the veteran influencer group’s clientele include big-name talent such as tennis phenom Serena Williams and model and entrepreneur Chrissy Teigen, but also large networks of micro-influencers on social media.

“Starpower is so well suited and experienced in storytelling direct to consumers through influencers, both notable figures as well as just people and patients who influence each other,” W2O Global President Jennifer Gottlieb said. “It used to be that you needed a notable figure to get the word out, but now influencers can be anybody in your network thanks to the social media environment we all operate in.”

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The pandemic has only amplified the digital push in healthcare across all communications, making the deal even more relevant now, Gottlieb said.

“With telemedicine finally coming of age, consumers embracing the appification of healthcare, and a renewed focus on wellness, it’s clear that influencers are more critical than ever before,” she said.

This is W2O’s eight acquisition in the past year and a half after an investment by New Mountain Capital in May.

“We’ve been extremely purposeful in how we’ve built W2O to this point and where we’re taking it. We’ve done that based on what we saw as the market needs and evolution to help pharma and healthcare make this transition into the virtual and digital world," W2O Group Chairman and CEO Jim Weiss said.

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Total spending on influencer marketing is predicted to double in 2020 and will become a $15 billion market by 2022. The pharma industry's expected contribution to that total hasn’t been broken out in studies, but a review news over just the past few months reveals an anecdotal boom.

Even the government recognizes the power of influencers. The FDA proposed in January two studies that will look at four different kinds of influencers in pharma advertising—celebrities, physicians, patients and online influencers.