2012 All-Star Agency of the Year: ICC Lowe

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All-Star Agency of the Year: ICC Lowe
All-Star Agency of the Year: ICC Lowe

AGENCY/NETWORK OF THE YEAR: ICC LOWE
From left: Steve Viviano, CEO; Chet Moss, chief creative officer; Paul O'Neil, president, ICC Lowe

This past year, ICC received the proverbial keys to the agency kingdom: permission to recast itself as ICC Lowe, and to become the healthcare arm of Interpublic Group's Lowe & Partners the world over.

Michael Wall, Lowe & Partners CEO, saw 25-year-old ICC's growth and minimal turnover in both management and client business, and decided that his IPG sibling could be entrusted to make a serious run at growing Lowe's healthcare vertical.

“We made the case that if we're going to grow healthcare within Lowe, that it should be done under the ICC brand,” says ICC Lowe CEO Steve Viviano. “And of course [Wall] agreed.”

That vote of confidence put ICC Lowe in contention for MM&M's Agency/Network of the Year. Seeing how their plans have gelled in the second half of 2011 sealed the deal.

The agency amassed 31 wins from June to December on the way to an impressive 52 for 2011—24 organic (spanning promotion, medical education, digital and CRM) and 27 new accounts (in mass market, specialty and consumer brands)—plus 11 launches, including Janssen Therapeutics' new AIDS drug Edurant (rilpivirine). Over half the wins are in the digital area. More than 67 new staffers have come on board, with 22 more people being offered new positions internally.

Just as notable, say clients, is ICC Lowe's ability to work across multiple offices and varied services. “In my 20-plus years of marketing healthcare brands, I have not seen a better example of integrating services across multiple offices in order to help a brand succeed,” says Sean Mertz, executive director of commercial development for Agennix, which, shortly before this article went to press, delivered ICC Lowe its 52nd win: med-ed for Agennix's talactoferrin. ICC Lowe NY had handled advertising and promotion for the pipeline cancer brand.

While functionally the offices are organized as a network, philosophically they try to behave like a big agency. That has been Viviano's chief aim.

Commenting on how the rebranding boosted business, Paul O'Neil, president of ICC Lowe's flagship NJ office, notes, “The recognition of the broader agency capabilities and [their] profile got us invited to clients that we have not been invited to before. We have been able to penetrate them very successfully based on that, and not just in one area of expertise or channel of marketing.”

Thirteen wholly owned offices in the US and Europe bear the new “ICC Lowe” moniker and diamond-shaped logo, including the four global shops: the main office in Parsippany (ICC Lowe), ICC Lowe NY (the former Interlink Healthcare Communications), ICC Lowe Zurich, and ICC Lowe London (the erstwhile Brand(X) Healthcare Communications).

Viviano rattles off other highlights: the Zurich office has tripled in size since June. US-based conflict shop ICC Lowe Trio grew 75%—with seven new assignments and more than 20 new employees hired or transferred—and is moving into larger quarters. Digital shop ICC Lowe Thermal is up 300% and plans to open a London office. On the downside, Bayer's Nexavar account left due to agency consolidation.

Viviano's goal has been to build the brand by bringing affiliated agencies into the ICC Lowe fold. ICC Lowe is now in Germany, France, Spain and Italy and plans to open an office in India in association with Lowe's Mumbai office. Next up: the Far East and South America. Agency headcount grew by over 35% the past year, and global revenue is up by more than 40%. His strategy of hand-picking all senior leaders, and having managers vet them, also seems to be working.

Still, becoming IPG's second global healthcare network along with Mc­Cann Healthcare Worldwide is “exciting but a little daunting,” Viviano admits. “It's not like the next step is small; it's massive.”

To communicate the changes internally, he stresses that “we're connected more than people know because of our culture.” Every office, in the US and overseas, has a wall publicizing ICC Lowe's new values: creativity, innovation, excellence, a balanced life, having fun, as well as treating clients properly, embracing differences, and acting with integrity.

Through his internal campaigns that pivot off what he calls “these intensely human, very fundamental beliefs,” Chet Moss, ICC Lowe chief creative officer, has gone far to bolster connections among staff. Following the rebranding, ICC Lowe held a talent show where employees shared their non-work abilities, including execs Viviano (guitar), O'Neil (comedy/juggling) and Moss (MC for the event). Moss promoted the show by featuring posters of individuals and their acts in different offices. In another internal campaign, his “Museum of ICC” gave almost 100 employees a chance to design their own artwork in the shape of ICC Lowe's branding (“…acknowledging the ‘MOI' in all of us,” quips Moss).

Among the stiff competition for Agency of the Year honors, runners-up included Abelson Taylor, whose first-half revenue jumped 22%; inVentiv Health's GSW Worldwide, notable for its commitment to innovation; Euro's resurgent H4B Chelsea, which had 11 AOR wins, significant global expansion and a doubling of staff; and Juice Pharma Worldwide, whose '11 accomplishments included leading an independent consortium to unite and win preferred status from Merck.
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