The Top 40: The CementWorks

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The CementWorks got its name because partners Susan Miller and Rico Viray wanted something creative and memorable. They liked the idea that cement is pliable when wet and solid when dry. “When it hardens, you can build whatever you want,” Miller says.

Miller and Viray have built a very strong agency that supported a revenue jump of more than 50% last year (from $5.5 million to $8.4 million). It focuses on core promotion of brands, including primary care products, specialist products and over-the-counter products. “We don't try to be all things to all people,” Miller says.

Last year's new business includes TMC-125, an HIV/AIDS treatment from J&J/Tibotec Therapeutics; Certolizumab pegol, a Crohn's and rheumatoid arthritis drug from UCB Pharma ; and Breeze and Contour, two blood glucose monitoring devices from Bayer Diabetes Care. The agency also picked up global project work on Schering AG's multiple sclerosis drug Betaseron and corporate work for Pfizer's patient advocacy newsletter.

The only losses were dalbavancin (IV antibiotic) and anidulafungin (IV antifungal) from Vicuron, which was acquired by Pfizer. This, says Miller, is a cautionary tale. “We want to [work with] smaller [companies] but we want to make sure they're in it for the long haul.”

The CementWorks is the US member of Indigenus, a global network of independent agencies that came together in 2004 to compete for global business. Some of this year's wins were landed because of group participation in pitches. “[It provides] local intelligence and helps us expand conceptually to make sure concepts translate for global use,” Miller says. “We like each other. The goal is to expand to include Canada, Australia and South America within the next year or so.”
The CementWorks has expanded beyond its current downtown Manhattan digs and will move to a new building in July. About 60 people (up from 49 in 2005 and 32 in 2004) will make the move. Miller likes the “close-knit but not cliquish” culture.

“People come here because they want to feel like they're growing, have a hand in the agency, and that their talent and hard work are seen and appreciated,” Miller says. “[Some are] expats from big agencies.”

As a smaller agency, Miller sometimes feels invited to pitches “just to shake up” the big guys. “We take [pitching] seriously,” she says. “When you feel like a client didn't take it seriously, it's disheartening. We're very leery of making sure pitches are going to amount to something. Most clients understand. They don't want you to spend crazy tons of money if there's not going to be crazy tons of business.”

Miller is unhappy about the persecution and demonization of the industry. “Most of us believe we're doing good [and have] benefited society. It's distressing having to have conversations at dinner to defend pharma.”

But nevertheless, Miller feels well respected within the industry; in fact, she won't entertain clients with unfeasible demands. “The clients we work with appreciate and value the work we do. We know some clients are squeezing agencies to the point of nonprofitability. We avoid them. We've walked away from some of those clients. You can't let one client drag down the agency.”

As the agency rides “terrific positive momentum,” Miller wants to maintain what's special about it as it grows. “We're trying to not become complacent,” she says. “We don't want to lose our edge or hunger. We're trying to capitalize on opportunities without burning everybody out.”

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