On August 31, 1992, 21-year-old Nigel Walker arrived in New York City from Studham, a Bedfordshire, UK village whose population typically hovers just above 1,500. He had won a painting competition while at university in London, the award for which was a free semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology as part of a student exchange program. Navigating the streets of midtown Manhattan on the way to FIT, Nigel was wide-eyed, eager and, contrary to what one who knows the unbounded visionary today might believe, a little intimidated. In 1992, the US Census Bureau reported 1.486 million people living in New York City’s most densely populated borough.
“The magnitude of the city could be quite overwhelming for somebody from a small village,” Nigel said.
While it may be the slightest inaccuracy to say that Nigel hit the ground at full speed the moment he touched down in NYC, the ground he has since covered well makes up for any early trepidation as he got his bearings—which did not take long. When it came time to choose a subject for his senior dissertation, an undertaking most people see as one of life’s greatest challenges in itself, Nigel decided to take it a step further with a cross-country journey in the name of America’s youth.
“I was alarmed by the amount of advertising that was being directed at children from cigarette corporations,” he said. “So I made it my objective to write my dissertation on cigarette advertising targeting juveniles via billboards in major cities and along highways.”
Prepared for the journey of a lifetime, Nigel found a rental car company with a one-way program well suited for his upcoming endeavor and hit the road, making it as far as the village of Tuckahoe, New York, where he was met with the first of many roadblocks that would define his journey, both personally and professionally. In the US, one must be 25 years of age to rent a car.
“I had just turned twenty-one,” Nigel recalled. “Twenty-one and four weeks. So that was the end of that journey.”
But for anyone who knows Nigel, the perceived end of one journey is really just a detour, usually to something much larger. In this instance, Nigel pushed forward on his dissertation, documenting youth-targeted cigarette advertising via billboards and convenience stores in and around New York City. The “big idea” would be shelved for a period of time—25 years, to be exact—and revisited from the very different perspective of someone slightly older, worlds wiser and more driven than ever.
That’s Nice | A Science Agency
On May 15, 1995, less than two years after graduating college, Nigel founded That’s Nice, a New York City-based strategic marketing agency that has evolved over time to serve companies exclusively in life and materials sciences. Now in its 22nd year, That’s Nice has supported over 500 companies across a range of industry sectors, with a large portion of its client base comprised of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical contract service organizations—CROs and CDMOs—as well as those specializing in intermediates, excipients and equipment.
While the evolution of That’s Nice into a life science agency could be explained through decades of research, strategy and experience, it’s no surprise that Nigel and his team ended up in this capacity, supporting clients involved in arguably the most time-, labor- and cost-intensive process that exists in the modern world—drug discovery and development. According to Nice Insight, the research arm of That’s Nice, it is estimated that drug development can take an average of 14 years to complete post-discovery, which in itself can take several years.
“Drug development can be tremendously arduous, time consuming and expensive, with no guarantee of any revenue at the end of it,” said Nigel. “It only takes the bravest of companies to go down this journey.”
The Road to BIO | An Epic Journey
Recognizing that some of the greatest bio breakthroughs have come as a result of overcoming adversity, the Road to BIO was born—a 19-state journey from Boston to San Diego for the BIO International Convention, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s largest annual event, and the largest biotech event in the world. Referenced in industry circles simply as BIO, the convention brings together leading biotech and pharma companies, top 20 CROs and CDMOs, academic institutions, major research labs and government agencies, and leading consultants and service companies. In 2017, BIO hosted over 16,000 attendees from more than 5,000 companies.
“It’s always a happy time when everyone traverses and travels to BIO,” said Nigel. “Also, the San Diego Convention Center is, in my opinion, the best convention center in the United States.”
From the start, the Road to BIO was about breakthroughs—breaking through the cost, risk and regulatory pressures on the road to pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical development. Over 22 years, That’s Nice has supported clients through some of their greatest discoveries along the development pathway, which have in many cases translated into some of the industry’s most significant breakthroughs. But as has been seen time and time again, the road to commercial success can be fraught with adversity, requiring perfect alignment of the right strategy, technology and team to see it to a successful conclusion and, above all, a partner that is willing to test the boundaries of what’s possible in order to move it forward.
Mirroring the Development Pathway | A Speed to Market Campaign
“Drug development should not be compared to a road trip across the country.”
This, Nigel proclaimed, was not about engineering far-too-literal comparisons between speed to market and soaring odometer readings, nor would the copywriting team be coming up with strained metaphors for people as molecules. But this was an effort done in solidarity as an illustration of what wins through adversity. And with speed so often at the juncture of commercial success and costly failure in drug development, the means of transportation needed to reflect as much.
Vehicle Selection | The Lamborghini
The That’s Nice signature Lamborghini had made its debut in April 2015 at Interphex—an annual pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device development and manufacturing conference—and has since served as part of the agency’s bold exhibit presence as well as the setting for countless thought leadership interviews with various industry experts. Over the years, the car has evolved from a chrome-wrapped Aventador for the agency’s 20th anniversary campaign in 2015, to a bright yellow Aventador Pirelli Roadster as part of its Glittering Insights campaign in 2016, to today’s glitter-wrapped Aventador SuperVeloce (SV) Roadster that traversed the Road to BIO.
With the new SV due to hit the market in February 2017, the idea of taking the thought leadership platform on the road to visit customers while en route to BIO began to take form. Known for its 217-mph top speed and aeronautics-inspired exterior—and less for fuel economy, comfort and safety—the car was part inspiration, part challenge.
“We first had to question whether this was actually possible,” said Nigel. “Will the car hold up? Is it possible to drive 10-14 hours a day in a relatively small sports car that is not made for comfort? How does one track and negotiate the different road conditions and topographic landscapes across the US?”
Vehicle Selection | The Support RV
To say that the Lamborghini holds two people is a stretch, and to claim that it does so comfortably is arguably plain false. Add to that the fact that the roof, when detached, is stored in the trunk, which eliminates space for a duffel bag, let alone two weeks’ worth of luggage for a traveling film crew. So to transport seven team members from coast to coast required a support vehicle equipped to handle—comfortably—the Road to BIO’s most precious resource. But what appeared to be the height of traveling comfort would prove to be lacking in one crucial aspect, which would be discovered at a most inopportune leg of the journey, and its cumbersome configuration would present a whole new set of challenges in itself—height, width and speed restrictions, to name but a few.
Plotting the Course | Discovering Various Roads to BIO
The customers and sponsors That’s Nice encountered on the Road to BIO were a diverse, multidisciplinary group involved in numerous steps along the development pathway, each with a unique story on how, through triumph and adversity, innovation and failure, their individual journeys have been both defined and motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.
“Whether you’re working with a small biotech or established pharma company, whether your focus is on chemistry or biology, the science behind the industry will at some point end up at BIO,” said Nigel. “We wanted to document all of the different barriers and pathways that mirror those a drug innovator goes through to complete the task of launching a commercial drug.”
With a nonnegotiable 12 days to get from New York City to San Diego, the most direct option—and therefore most tempting—was the famous Route 66. With quite possibly millions testing out the historic northern route before That’s Nice, there would surely be ample service stops, eateries and accommodations along the route?
But That’s Nice clients and Road to BIO sponsors aren’t located along the easy road, and rarely does the easy road lead to great discovery. While a jaunt from New York to California across Route 66 would have replicated Nigel’s 1992 effort, the scope of the journey had evolved considerably since then, and so must the course.
“Originally, we wanted to take the most picturesque route, which we thought was Route 66,” explained Nigel. “But we realized our client base is not located along that route, so we decided to instead go down the east coast and pick up the southern route. This would allow us to see the most customers in our time frame of 12 days.”
New York, despite all of its industry, is not known to be a city particularly rich in biotechnology. So it was decided early on that Cambridge, Massachusetts, one of the world’s largest biotech hubs, would be the starting gate for the journey toward BIO 2017.
Pay the Naysayers No Mind | Steadfast on the Road to BIO
There are few sentiments that bother Nigel Walker more than those indicating something—particularly something he devised—simply cannot be done. This journey in itself was evidence of that; in many ways a revisit to 1992, the last time someone told him a cross-country trek would not be possible.
There were plenty of cynics making their voices heard both leading up to and on the Road to BIO. Many, in their defense, were worried about Nigel and the team. With only a handful of Lamborghini dealerships across the country, and only four on the Road to BIO, even a minor mechanical issue or flat tire could be extremely problematic. And if the RV failed, which seemed to be a more likely possibility, the effort would be crippled.
But the crew was as prepared as they could be, packing away four spare tires, one spare front wheel, a low-profile jack and plenty of spare oil and fluids just in case something were to go awry. And if something were to happen to one of the crew, well, there were provisions in place for that as well.
“I was primarily concerned about someone coming down with an illness or health condition, so we did have a contingency plan in place,” said Nigel. “Secondly, was the Lamborghini going to make it? It’s not necessarily built for driving 5,000 miles in 12 days, but we had everything we could need, other than if we got two flat tires or ran over a bag of nails.”
Six individuals who never doubted Nigel were those who accompanied him on the road. Chalk it up to knowing him, or to having witnessed countless successes as a result of his out-of-the-box thinking, but the team’s faith in Nigel could be seen from the moment the journey was put on the table, all the way through the finish line at BIO 2017.
Selecting the Team | Road Warriors to BIO
While a total of 16 That’s Nice employees had some hand in the execution of the Road to BIO, a team of seven was selected to actually make the trek, each hailing from very different backgrounds and with skillsets spanning multiple disciplines. And though Nigel was careful to assemble the team he deemed most capable of supporting the journey from a capabilities standpoint, he could not have foreseen how these individuals would come together to not only carry it to the finish, but to bring out in one another the characteristics that made it a monumental success—in more ways than one.
Nigel ‘Caine It’ Walker
That’s Nice Founder & Managing Director; Road to BIO Driver (Lamborghini)
22 Years at That’s Nice
For Nigel, the Road to BIO was, in many ways, a return to the epic journey he set out to complete 25 years earlier. But at this point, it was just as much a representation of the organization he had worked so hard to build over the past 22 years. In an industry comprised of research, data and strategy, it was important to show his clients the caliber of That’s Nice as a science agency. And what better way, he thought, than with an undertaking that leverages all of the elements that come together to deliver unparalleled service.
“It’s about the amount of effort that goes into our projects,” said Nigel. “The teamwork, the collaboration and the pulling together to deliver for our clients—no other agency could have gotten this done.”
Wei ‘Sulu’ Gao
That’s Nice Account Director & Partner; Road to BIO Project Manager
~10 Years at That’s Nice
Account director, partner and 10-year staple of That’s Nice, Wei Gao joined the first leg of the journey after another account manager had to drop out at the last minute. Wei is integral to the daily operations of the firm, overseeing all client accounts while also liaising with the internal team to ensure quality execution of all initiatives. With all of the work that had to be done on the back end to accomplish the Road to BIO, it was decided that Wei would only be on the road for the early stage of the journey, and would rejoin the road trip team across the finish line at BIO 2017.
“I wanted to make sure they could get into the swing of things,” said Wei. “If after a few days it looked like they wouldn’t be able to do it, I would stay.”
A trusted partner at the firm, Wei was one of the first with whom Nigel conferred about the Road to BIO.
“I thought it sounded very much like something we would do, and one of those things that we’re very good at,” recalled Wei. “And that’s going into something not fully knowing what to do, but somehow making it happen. So I wasn’t surprised.”
Brian ‘Face’ Pierce
That’s Nice Director of Digital Capture; Road to BIO Video & Filmography
~19 Years at That’s Nice
San Francisco-based Brian Pierce, a 19-year That’s Nice veteran and worldly adventurer himself, had traversed the country 17 times before hitting the Road the BIO, having traveled by motorcycle, bus, train, hitchhiking, sports car and driveaway vehicle—but somehow, never by RV, never with four coworkers, and never trailing a glitter-wrapped Lamborghini. The first of the road warriors to learn of Nigel’s idea, Brian could not have been more enthusiastic upon hearing the proposal.
“I am always ready,” said the Coast Guard veteran and master of digital capture. “I wanted this to be bigger, badder, more epic than it’s ever been. We all know beautiful accidents happen, but there was a lot of design and planning work to be done. But mentally and physically, I’m always ready.”
Steve ‘X-Man’ Kuehn
Pharma’s Almanac Executive Content Director; Road to BIO Reporter
2 Years at That’s Nice
Based in Chicago, award-winning journalist Steve Kuehn was asked to report live on the Road to BIO, in addition to being the campaign’s on-air talent. Formerly editor in chief of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine, a leading trade publication for the drug manufacturing industry, Steve serves as executive content editor for Pharma’s Almanac, a thought leadership content community published by That’s Nice. Steve was admittedly in the “dog house” when Nigel called with the cross-country proposition and was, as he described, relieved to say the least.
“I thought Nigel was going to say something very different,” he said. “So I was excited when he asked. I love cars, and the trip was an opportunity—an adventure—that I could not pass up.”
When presented with the challenge of covering 5,000 miles in 12 days, Steve had no doubt it could be done.
“I’ve been on road trips with a lot less,” he quipped. “Like five dollars in my pocket and a pack of cigarettes.”
Albert ‘The Bruan Identity’ Bruan
That’s Nice Business Logistics Manager; Road to BIO Security & Driver (RV)
~10 Years at That’s Nice
While it may sound presumptuous to say that Albert Bruan was a given when establishing the Road to BIO team, it is a designation given in earnest. Albert is the glue that holds the business together. Described by Nigel as one of his most loyal employees, the Navy veteran took on the project as he does everything else—head on, and with no nonsense.
“I packed a personal first aid kit with battle dressing,” said Albert. “When I travel for a two-day trip, I bring clothes for four days. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Before hitting the Road to BIO, Albert had been stationed all over the world, never doubting for a second that this journey would come to fruition.
“Knowing Nigel, I knew he would definitely do it,” said Albert. “It was possible, but it was going to be very difficult—physically, mentally, all that. Especially when we found out there were only four Lamborghini dealerships across the country.”
Govindra ‘Bollywood’ Singh
That’s Nice Market Research Manager; Road to BIO Scientist
2 Years at That’s Nice
Govindra’s original role on the Road to BIO was providing scientific insight as the crew made its way to BIO 2017, though his responsibilities evolved considerably as the trip went on. The first student to graduate with a dual degree from City College of New York—a BS in biochemistry and MS in organic chemistry—Govindra was no stranger to overcoming challenges to achieve his goals, and this was no exception.
“That’s kind of the way I take on anything I deal with,” said Govindra. “Just stay the course.”
Staying the course has seen Govindra through endless quantitative and qualitative research projects, in-depth industry reports and mountains of data and analysis. But when it came to traveling 5,000 miles in 12 days?
“Logistically, it seemed like it would be very difficult to accomplish,” said Govindra. “It was out of the ordinary, which we’re used to, but even by our standards it was a little out there. But one thing I’ve learned at That’s Nice is that anything can be done.”
Eugene ‘ZzzzZen’ Hsiu
That’s Nice Project Manager; Road to BIO Security & Logistics
2 Years at That’s Nice
Eugene Hsiu had been at That’s Nice for about a year before the Road to BIO, supporting the accounts team on billing, data entry, database management and other internal projects. Known to be a quiet presence around the office, Eugene was tasked with security, crowd control and production support for the duration of the journey.
“I thought, this is going to be a lot of work in terms of planning and process,” he said. “But I definitely thought it could be done.”