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Casey McDonald is Senior Editor, Pharmaceutical Executive.
Senior Director, Marketing, XenoPort
Christopher Dillard, Senior Director, Marketing, XenoPort
Like many ballets, the early steps in one’s career can follow a certain melody, but by the second act, the musical theme may shift entirely. By the finale, the audience may be able to see the arc, but in the midst of it, it can be hard to see the artist’s design. For XenoPort’s Chris Dillard, the path from the contemporary ballet dancer to senior director of marketing makes sense, but only when viewed with some perspective.
After brief stints with such companies as the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Stuttgart Ballet of Germany, Dillard decided to stay adjacent to the arts, utilizing his degree in arts administration. His first big step out of the arts track took him to a major ad firm, Draft Worldwide (now FCB Global), where he worked on a Verizon Fios account. Dillard followed this with successive stops at other advertising firms, where his work had him sticking a toe in tech at LG Mobile, and then Hollywood, working on marketing material for the first of the Iron Man series.
While still on the agency side for his first foray into pharma, Dillard worked on Shire’s ADHD treatment Daytrana. “I had complete hesitation stepping into pharma advertising,” he says. Dillard’s primary concerns were around constraints on creativity, but found rather quickly that working within these limitations, one gains skills and expertise, and “you become invaluable” to an agency hoping to court pharma dollars. He added that in the consumer world, “accounts are lost left and right, but once you move into pharma, things are much more steady.”
During his time on the agency side, Dillard worked on web, social media, and mobile app development for Novartis’ Xolair and the TOBI Podhaler and then digital development and strategy for Teva’s pain franchise, Fentora and Amrix. By this time, Dillard was working for the digitally-oriented marketing firm Heartbeat Ideas, where he began his efforts that would ultimately bring him to pharma on the momentum of an award-winning campaign.
“We were able to put together a really interesting, creative platform to get patients interested, get them to the website,” says Dillard. The “End the Bedtime Battle” integrated campaign on restless legs syndrome won a silver CLIO Award, with recognition in two digital categories, Best Pharmaceutical Website and Banners & Rich Media Advertising.
And given his career’s evolution from dancing, there is a sense of irony or perhaps symmetry, that Dillard’s first role on the client side came when XenoPort offered to bring him over in 2014 from the advertising firm to work directly on Horizant, the treatment for moderate-to-severe restless legs syndrome. His ascent within the ranks of XenoPort to senior director of marketing was rapid, and he now reports directly to the CEO.
“It’s been really big for me, working on a campaign that brings legitimacy to this disorder. People hear restless legs syndrome, it’s sort of a strange sounding disease. To many, it sounds like a joke,” he explains. “Much of the focus has been around empowering the patient and expanding knowledge of the disease.”
“You can’t overestimate the value of a good night’s rest, and for many of these patients, the uncontrollable urge to move is akin to a kid in a car seat,” adds Dillard. But for these patients, there’s a huge problem translating their symptoms to their physician, and knowledge in the medical community is limited-hence, a significant rate of misdiagnosis where many of these patients simply receive sleeping pills that don’t help.
As Dillard works to get the word out, Horizant has hit stride. XenoPort achieved rapid year-over-year growth and has ambitious projections for the future. The value was clear to Arbor Pharmaceuticals, which announced the acquisition of XenoPort in May. “It’s my first acquisition in the industry, so it will be interesting to see how another company functions,” says Dillard. But a fourfold increase to Horizant’s sale force should follow with continued growth.
To XenoPort and now Arbor, Dillard says he brings a varied background, and that of a true marketer. Like his migration from arts to industry, the meandering course of his career seems rather contradictory-leaping from the free forms of the musical and movement arts to one constrained by rigid rules and regulations. But it’s in this confined and regulated space where he strives to always present fresh new ideas. He adds, “It’s actually quite amazing to see the creativity that can come while still playing within the rules.”
- Casey McDonald
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