The Top 50: Cline Davis and Mann

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Cline Davis & Mann is on a tear. Almost unbeatable in the pitch in the past 18 months, the New York-based agency is ready to beef up its capabilities further with a new specialty division, Lab9, and continued investment in its employees.

CDM had an extraordinary year in 2006, winning 31 of 36 pitches (that’s an 86% success rate). And, so far, 2007 is proving every bit as good, with the firm having triumphed in 17 out of 20 pitches (85%).

So, what on earth is CDM doing right?

“We’re being selective in the business that we pitch,” says chairman and CEO Ed Wise. “And we have a very good [pitching] process that represents a lot of strategic services that provide some very deep insight into our customers’ brands.”

CDM is more receptive than most to standard agency-hiring rigmarole—unsurprising, given its success rate. “Pitching I think energizes people here, and also you just get started on a very good foot,” says president Carol DiSanto.

Wise goes a step further, believing it has made his company smarter. “We came from the kind of environment when we first started out where we were not pitching for assignments,” he explains. “We’ve become a better organization as the result of being out in the marketplace next to all the competitive pressures.”

Both Wise and DiSanto were rewarded with promotions in the past year, Wise from president and CEO, and DiSanto from director of client services.

CDM’s hot streak has brought on board a number of new clients in the past 18 months, including Schering-Plough, Organon, Scios, Bayer and Genentech, joining a roster featuring mainstays Pfizer (including Caduet, Lipitor and Viagra) and Novartis (Elidel and Xolair).

With new accounts comes the need to bring in extra bodies to service them. Hiring talent does not come easy in this industry, but CDM has invested heavily in its human resources operation, and Wise was able to add 170 people in the past year to support the expansion of business. “We’ve built a new and deep recruiting organization,” Wise says. “Finding people is challenging, but we’re determined to be very proactive about it.”

DiSanto believes a big part of CDM’s attraction to potential employees lies in its culture. “I think the secret’s out,” she says. “Once people get here, they really do like the culture. We don’t just say it, we live it. It’s a huge draw.”

Wise is keen to stress the opportunity for training and career development, too. “We like to look at it as like being at a university,” he says. “You’re in an environment with a lot of very talented and ambitious people, and that is something that feeds upon itself. We’ve designed our space to have lots of meeting space and public spaces, so that it creates that opportunity for culture.” Wise goes on to cite pilates classes and a mustache-growing contest as two of the numerous extracurricular activities on offer.

“We’ve been investing very deliberately in certain areas, like middle-management management training,” Wise says. “We put about 225 of our people through a custom-designed management training course. It was a significant investment. And then we took another 55 of our very senior leaders up to the Babson School of Management for four days at the beginning of the year for leadership training. I don’t think many other companies are spending their money that way.”

Managing growth is a challenge for every (growing) agency, but Wise won’t compromise the needs of existing clients in the name of a quick buck. “Last year, for three months or so, we turned away really any new business offers that came in,” he says. “It’s important for us to…make sure that the clients we have at any one time are being served extraordinarily well before we stretch to do anything else.”

An important part of CDM’s capabilities is the expertise it draw from its divisions. The agency is about to launch Lab9 (its ninth division) to focus on specialty brands and provide boutique service. “It’s a natural place for biopharmaceuticals and biologics,” Wise says. “It’s a very agile and targeted group.” Designed to have its own identity, the division will ultimately be spun off. Managing partners will be Wendi Goodman, Dr. Marina Jean and Fred Kinch.

Wise and DiSanto are equally as enthusiastic about some of the existing divisions, such as the interactive and relationship marketing group, CDMi Connect. “This is their 10th anniversary,” says DiSanto. “So where I think a lot of people are going to acquire their expertise, we’re celebrating their 10th anniversary, which is pretty cool.

CultureVue, the multicultural group, is also making big strides doing a lot of work for the cardiovascular team. “It’s a group that we started where we really started to learn that brands don’t necessarily need to be culture-blind to actually be very culturally-aware, culturally-proficient,” DiSanto explains.

Wise says that although CultureVue has consultancy work at its core, it also gets involved in tactics. “I have a ‘vis-aid’ for one of our clients that is targeting a specific ethnic group,” he explains. “So that’s the great thing about being attached to an agency like CDM is the ability to drive a strategy right through the tactics.”

Wise says that the objective is to “form completely seamless teams that cross all the borders of relationship marketing, digital, managed markets.”

And in the heat of the pitch, says DiSanto, the idea is to “whet clients’ appetites to then want to buy all of these services.”

In terms of trends in pharma marketing, Wise reports that he is seeing a lot more interest in things other than the “Big Ad.”

“It used to be that everything started from the ad and cascaded outward,” he says. “Now, everything starts from the biggest idea that you can have. And then you decide where is the appropriate way to express that idea to target the audience that you want to reach. “

Wise adds that although there is obviously a sharp increase in the interest in digital media, he’s also finding conventions to be very strong.

“There’s a digital component, as well as a print component, as well as a physical component,” he says. “And so it’s a very broad thing.” 

And speaking of broad things, Wise genuinely believes that the pharmaceutical industry can turn around its public image and points to Genentech’s practice of inviting customers to its premises as the type of action the industry needs to take. “I think it can get there,” he says. “Based on the pressures, it must get there. I think it can by being responsible. And I think that’s a role that we play.”

As for the future fortunes of his own organization, Wise is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “The offers keep coming in,” he says. “We feel we’re in a very fortunate position to be interesting to a lot of different clients.”

DiSanto, like Wise, is not about to neglect CDM’s existing clients. “We kid ourselves that we’re addicted to the whole process of pitching, and it’s great to win,” she says. “But we do really look at this entire business and make sure we’re continuing to service our longstanding clients as well as our new best friend clients. We really do want to make sure that no one suffers as we continue to look and grow and expand our horizons.”

Wise would like to continue to build the CDM brand globally and is looking to strengthen the CDM Europe offering, as well as build the brand on a worldwide level. 

“We have always gotten a lot of global work and intend to pursue it more,” Wise says. “That’s where clients are moving. We’ve talked about it for 20 years and we’re doing more and more pitches that involve the concept of consolidation.”

Lastly, Wise reports that CDM plans to launch a branding division. “ The key here is to provide both specialization and also an opportunity to offer something very special and united,” he says. “That’s a rare kind of combination and we don’t have to go far outside of our walls to really provide that.”
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