July 01, 2008
The Top 60: Cline Davis & Mann
Cline Davis & Mann would need to have some kind of year to match its performance in 2006. And it did just that. While the Midtown mainstay continued to chalk up victories on the back of solid pitch selection and execution—more than 30 wins with a success rate of around 85%—the true buzz stemmed from a slew of initiatives to expand capabilities, evolve strategic responsibility and extend geographical reach.
In short, CDM is continuing its mission to anticipate —and shape—the future needs of clients so that it's well positioned to address those needs when they arise.
“We're diversifying the services that we offer,” explains Ed Wise, chairman and CEO of CDM. “The idea that advertising agencies are all about creating the big ad—it's still a quarter of our business, but there's a lot more happening that creates opportunities for different ways to communicate.”
CDM is relishing the opportunities of adapting to change. “Clients are asking for us to be more strategic,” says Wise. “We have our own unique way of doing that. We adapt and we add capabilities to make it happen.”
To that point, last summer CDM launched Platform Advisors, a strategic consulting group specializing in early commercialization and evaluation of drug candidates. What sets the division apart, according to Josh Prince, managing partner and chief creative officer at CDM, is the end deliverable. “Traditional consulting groups endlessly churn data around with lots of analysis but not much in the way of operation actions,” explains Prince. “Platform Advisors drives towards actionable insights, some of which can have communication built around them that shape the way future customers think and feel about the potential of a particular compound in a particular market.”
Another spinoff success is Lab9, which launched last year to service the Genentech business. Now pitching for other work, this 40-person specialty group is an example of CDM's strategy to diversify services. “Based on their scale, they're very attractive to a different type of client,” says Carol DiSanto, president of CDM.
One of the group's fastest growing divisions, according to Wise, is CDMi Connect, its 11-year-old interactive arm. The fact that it's no longer even considered to be an interactive division illustrates the pace of technological impact on marketing. “While CDMi has interactive expertise, it's really become a relationship marketing company, with interactive being one of the tools they employ,” explains Wise. “They're doing a lot of patient relationship marketing.”
Conversely, it's the entire CDM group that's becoming interactive. “Our initiative this year is to make sure that all of our people and all of our agencies are digitally competent,” he says. “It's part of how every brand needs to operate; it will become the standard fare. So we're initiating a big training program to make sure that [even] the art directors and writers are all capable of thinking digitally.”
CDM prides itself on training programs like these and has garnered a reputation for offering choice career development in an environment where talent is a hot commodity. This year, the agency set up a talent acquisition department, which Wise says has given it a key advantage in the hiring wars.
“For the first time ever, we have gotten on top of our staffing issue,” he says.
DiSanto, too, is proud of the progress. “Hiring is not one of our biggest challenges anymore,” she says. “It's certainly one of our biggest accomplishments.
“We're finding new ways of sourcing people too,” she says. (“But those are our super-secret sources.”)
DiSanto credits the work environment at CDM as key to retaining staff. “They come for the culture and they ultimately stay for the culture,” she says. “What we find, too, is that when people leave and they want to come back, they're coming back for the culture. It starts with the leadership and we invest heavily in training.”
Prince says that a certain amount of turnover is actually advantageous. “People see what life is like in other organizations and that only magnifies what the culture is like here,” he says. “And for those that recognize that culture, they come back and become strong advocates.”
Wise believes there is an energy in the building. “People say that from the moment they come into the lobby they have a sense that something is happening here.”
Success with hiring talent allows CDM to maintain what DiSanto describes as “very controlled growth.” She reports that every client, except one, continues to increase spending. “That's unique in this environment,” she says. “Clients are trusting us with their money.”
Next year, CDM will roll out its most ambitious and exciting venture—a true global network.
“We currently have an offering through the Omnicom agencies,” says Wise. “But what we're going to launch will be a CDM network with CDM names on the doors and CDM ownership in the key markets. Clients are looking for a true brand that is managed and controlled around the world. There are some strong networks but they don't necessarily have the strongest US agencies; and there are some strong US agencies that don't have the strongest global network. By providing a very strong domestic force with some of the best agencies in Europe and around the world I think it can be a unique and solid offering.”
Wise says the venture, which will officially launch on January 1, 2009, will involve some acquisitions.
Closer to home, the agency is preparing for an expansion to downtown Manhattan. AgencyRx and CDMi will move to an 80,000-square-foot facility on Varick Street. CDM will remain at its 42nd Street digs.
Before that, the agency has the sizeable task of organizing the 2008 Pharmapalooza event. Last year's inaugural battle of the bands contest proved hugely popular, selling out New York's BB King's Blues Club and Grill and raising more than $110,000 for the Children's Hospital at Montefiore. “It was a really nice moment for the industry,” says Wise. “It's a powerful thing to be connected with why we do what we do, to lead through actions and show that we're connected to the higher purpose of what our industry is about.”