Free-lancing turns into big-time marketing: Mom-and-pop ExaroMed now growing fat with large drug and device clients from across the country

Most free-lance writers eke out a living. The most fortunate live comfortable lives.

But Mindy Mascaro turned her freelance writing business into a thriving company.

Carmel-based ExaroMed LLC is now producing sales and marketing content for the like of Roche Diagnostics, Eli Lilly and Co. and Amgen Inc. It has also served smaller life sciences companies such as Indigo BioSciences Inc. and Cheetah Medical Inc.

The company has zoomed from six employees to 20 in the last year. It’s already booked more business in 2008 than it did in all of 2007.

Mindy and her husband, Guy, who coowns the firm, expect to pull in more than $6 million in revenue this year. And they think they’ll soon need satellite offices in New York, Chicago and on the West Coast.

“We’ll take on anything,” said Mindy Mascaro, 46. “Our clients, they love us for it.”

Times are good right now for companies like ExaroMed. Major pharmaceutical companies no longer are ringing up double-digit percentage increases in profit. So they are trimming their work forces and looking to outsource more and more. That creates an opening for smaller firms that do everything from marketing to manufacturing.

“Any time you have industries under that much pressure and that much change, that is good news for service providers,” said Linda Heitzman, director of the health care and life sciences practice at Deloitte Consulting’s Indianapolis office.

Meanwhile, as more firms start up to create new drugs or medical devices, they need outside help.

“There’s no way they can hire in-house the expertise they need to get that product to market because they don’t have revenue yet,” Heitzman said. “It creates opportunities for service providers of all kinds.”

The Mascaros moved into position to exploit those opportunities when they moved to Indianapolis. Guy Mascaro took a job as a brand manager at Indianapolis-based Lilly. Mindy kept writing free-lance technical articles for continuing medical education courses and online marketing verbiage for such companies as Lilly and Bayer.

Mindy had the right background. Her father was a physician. She started studying medicine at Southern Methodist University before switching to earn degrees in English and law. She worked as a medical insurance defense attorney before getting into small-business coaching and technical writing.

She had requests for more articles than she could handle, so she started feeding work to other free-lancers. By 2001, she was managing a crop of writers. And even then she wasn’t keeping up with the work.

On a weekend away to Michigan, Mindy surprised Guy with a series of spreadsheets showing her work flow. She said maybe it was the right time for them to start their own company-something they’d always wanted to do together.

“Our first employee worked at a desk in our living room,” Mindy said.

Now, Mindy spends much of her daily job handling human resources. Guy travels frequently to drum up business.

His pitch to potential clients takes the form of a metaphor: ExaroMed is a white board. Guy promises to bring no preconceived solution to a client, but rather to learn a company’s business, strategy and, most important, a problem it needs to solve.

He acknowledges that such talk may sound hackneyed in the marketing world. But he thinks the firm’s work backs up his claims.

“We’re very strong in life sciences,” said Guy Mascaro, 43.

For example, Roche Diagnostics asked ExaroMed to create a newsletter to communicate with patients. Guy said he could, but also asked what problem the company was trying to solve with the newsletter.

That opened up a broader discussion that ultimately led Roche to hire ExaroMed to revamp its Web site for Accu-Chek, Roche’s lucrative glucose meter.

Roche officials did not return calls seeking comment.

ExaroMed made a simple brand image for tiny INphoton, based in Indianapolis. But the company’s CEO, Steven Plump, said it has sparked interests from both doctors and potential investors.

INphoton uses cutting-edge laser microscope technology to analyze how cells react to new drugs. So ExaroMed took one of the colorful images INphoton produces, put a flowery gold frame around it, and gave it the tag line, “Innovation: It’s a beautiful thing.”

“We’re a very customized imaging company,” Plump said. “That customization, it’s very high-end, it’s sophisticated. So we felt like this art concept, this high art, it really was a great match.”

ExaroMed does more than marketing work. It also will help drug and device makers choose the most effective sales materials, train their sales forces better, and measure whether their sales message is getting through in the field.

For those efforts, the Mascaros rely heavily on Terry Schueth, ExaroMed’s vice president for sales force effectiveness. Before coming to ExaroMed, Schueth worked in sales or sales training for Wyeth Consumer Healthcare and Merrell Dow.

In fact, ExaroMed has been able to attract several veterans of the health care world.

Its chief operating officer, Dennis Wimer, came from Lilly, where he focused on brand marketing. Before that, Wimer was a consultant at McKinsey & Co.

The company’s director of business development, Dan Murnane, joined after working 29 years at Lilly.

Finding such talent in Indiana is a big reason the Mascaros are keeping their company here-even though the center of drug and device firms is on the East Coast.

“We have almost all Midwest expertise,” Mindy Mascaro said. She added, “They have a good work ethic, they’re self-sufficient, they’ll fix anything. And there are no egos.”

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