The Top 40: DDB Rx

Asked to give a state-of-the-union-type assessment just past the occasion of their first professional birthday, the leaders of DDB Rx say many of the expected things. They laud the vision of their clients. They cite the difficulties of being the new kid on the block. And, of course, they discuss their employees in terms usually reserved for award-acceptance speeches.

However, no member of the leadership trifecta—managing partner/creative director of art Ralph Skorge, managing partner/director of client services Bernie Coccia or managing partner/creative director of copy Michael Schreiber—uses the oft-bandied-about words “corporate culture.” Skorge later acknowledges, “We're in the process of establishing our values and vision. We're very much a work in progress in that regard.”

Skorge might not be giving his team enough credit. The Omnicom-owned agency—splintered from Cline Davis & Mann to avoid potential conflicts of interest over the global consolidation of brand assignments by Novartis —has strived to treat its employees differently, to give them a sense that they're on the ground floor of something potentially big.
“The idea is to make everybody feel like an owner rather than an employee,” Coccia explains. “We want them to feel like they can shape their own future, and we've empowered them to chart that course.”

At the same time, DDB Rx already has a distinct personality. The firm's Web site notes how employees “actually smile, laugh, cry, and even scream…We won't give you our thinking unless it's different and sharp, without the cheese.” Plus all three executives stress creating a flexible workplace structure for working moms.

At the same time, DDB Rx isn't exactly neglecting its core business. The firm started strong with Novartis, some brands in the neuroscience category and others in oncology; the healthcare giant has since awarded additional assignments without a pitch. Other pickups in the firm's first year include projects from Merck & Co. and Alpharma.

Citing client sensitivities, DDB Rx execs decline to give many details. However, of the process leading to the assignments, Schreiber notes: “We were mostly up against agencies with many, many more years of experience than us chronologically. A lot of the time, agencies our size and age don't even get invited to pitch.”

Adds Skorge: “The growth was an unexpected surprise.”DDB Rx has temporarily suspended new-business efforts as it attempts to “take a step back and digest our meal,” Coccia quips. The company began with 40 full-time staffers; it recently upped that figure past 100.

Staffing will remain a primary focus at DDB Rx, and the partners are buoyed by their success in hiring top creative and management minds. However, they also credit the company's corporate parentage. “I think everybody who came on board knew that there were opportunities that existed [within Omnicom] if Armageddon happened and something went awry,” Schreiber says. “Yes, we were a small, new company, but being part of a large, global organization gave everybody a sense of stability.”

All hires come with a caveat: “If you don't like being associated with great creative, find an agency that's more business-oriented,” Coccia says. “We want to be known for our creative product.”

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