When asked if 2005 had been a good year, AbelsonTaylor president Dale Taylor replies, “we're happy.” Indeed, his agency has many reasons to be happy: Revenues increased by about 15% over 2004, the consumer division is gathering momentum, and Taylor feels “fortunate to have not lost any significant brands for quite a while.”
In late 2004, part of the agency was sold to 11 employees, which has also proved positive for the agency. “I think the agency runs a lot better than before,” Taylor says. “Together they're a lot better managers than I am. Things I should have been doing and didn't, now they do. As the agency gets bigger, it's much better to have some of those burdens shared.”
The agency continued to partner with Omnicom's Diversified Agency Services to extend global reach, and Taylor is also pleased with the ongoing relationship, calling it a “good partnership.”
Last year's wins include Vesicare, a treatment for overactive bladder from Astellas-GlaxoSmithKline, and Astellas' Vernakalant for Arrhythmia (not yet launched); Benicar, an anti-hypertensive from Sankyo/ Forest; Sankyo-Lilly's stroke-prevention drug Prasugrel (not yet launched); hematology drug Soliris from Alexion Pharmaceuticals; and Rituxan, for NHL lymphomia from Genentech/Biogen-Idec.
Perhaps the biggest story for AbelsonTaylor has been the growth of its consumer roster. In 2005, the firm won the DTC accounts for Takeda's insomnia treatment Rozerem, and added Amgen's oncology brands, Neulasta and Aranesp, at the beginning of this year—for all three products, AbelsonTaylor already held the professional accounts. The agency landed its fourth DTC account this year from Zimmer, for its reconstructive impact called Gender Solutions High-Flex Knee.
Taylor notes that his agency did not have to pitch for half of the 20-plus brands it was assigned in the past 18 months. “Maybe clients have started to realize that the pitching process is not a good predictor of long-term success,” he says. “A great first date doesn't necessarily make a great marriage. They are tending to work with agencies they are familiar with, or they depend on references. It's not just existing clients, and it's not unique to AbelsonTaylor—I've heard it from other agencies.”
Though he hired 37 people last year and has added 29 since January 1 (making a total of about 300), Taylor says staffing is the agency's biggest challenge. “Located in Chicago, we don't have the big talent pool,” he says. “The other side of that is once people come here they tend to stay. There aren't 20 other agencies trying to lure them away. We do occasionally hire from other agencies. We've also become very good at building staff from within—training, developing skills and promoting.”
Retention means team longevity, which helps business. “One reason companies change agencies is because teams change,” Taylor says. “We have the same set of key individuals on brands for many years.”
The proliferation of partnered brands on AbelsonTaylor's roster is a trend that Taylor sees continuing. “We have eight in-house,” he says. “In one case we had three partners—Genentech, OSI and Roche in Europe for Tarceva [a lung cancer treatment]. It takes a different kind of diplomacy. Transparency is the important thing. The worst thing is to have the perception that you're playing favorites. It's deadly. There has got to be simultaneous consensus and information sharing. It's more the norm in the industry, and agencies are going to have to cope with it.”