The Top 50: LyonHeart

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With a striking symbol replacing words on much of its branding, it would be tempting to label LyonHeart as “the agency formerly known as LLNS.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. LyonHeart represents a fundamental shift in focus, philosophy and vision that has touched and transformed every inch of the New York healthcare shop.

“LLNS had been a very strong, solid agency that had been doing the same thing, the same way, for a long time,” explains Anne Devereux, CEO of both LyonHeart and its network parent TBWA World Health. “If you’re going to achieve quantum change, you have to figure out where the solid foundation is and where the opportunities are.” And so Devereux armed herself with TBWA’s proprietary process Disruption and turned it on her own agency.

Dubbed by LyonHeart as “the cure for complacency,” Disruption challenges market conventions through both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.  The first step was to conduct interviews with current clients, past clients and prospects, and then current employees, past employees and prospective employees. They found that while existing clients were fine with LLNS, those who didn’t work with the agency had never heard of it.

“It was fantastic,” says Devereux. “I mean, it’s a whole lot better to think that the clients who are with you now are very happy with the service that you’re providing, and the ones that don’t know of you don’t have any preconceived notions. That way, you can create your future.”
So the group began to build a vision for its core values and beliefs, and Devereux looked for someone to spearhead it.

“We needed someone who did not have preconceived notions,” she explains. “[Someone] who wouldn’t say, ‘Well here, we always do it this way,’ but rather, ‘what is the biggest possible thing we could accomplish, and how can I rally a group of people to make that happen?’” That person was Susan Flinn, whom Devereux hired in February to be LyonHeart’s president.

An important part of the vision is the recognition and empowerment of employees, and Flinn created a series of rewards— Brains, Heart and Courage—to encourage staff to come forward with ideas. In fact, much of the branding was employee-driven: the LyonHeart name was developed by an internal person, the branding by a team of junior- to mid-level people, and the Web site by “a pretty junior-level art guy and his partner who love that medium,” Devereux says.
Devereux has also been on a mission to empower the creative organization, which she feels has too often been neglected in healthcare.

“Because there are so many restrictions,” she explains, “many agencies don’t give their creatives the level of empowerment and respect and inclusion that consumer agencies do. You’ve got a third of the agency doing art and copy on a daily basis, and they now feel as valued—or even more valued and empowered—than anybody else.”

LyonHeart’s branding is striking and gutsy. Spelling the agency’s name with a “Y” is a tip of the hat to Mike Lyons, one of its founders.

“It’s an attempt to say that we’re not throwing the good out with the bad,” says Devereux. “There is a foundation here of talent and experience and knowledge of healthcare that is a crucial, core foundation of what we’re all about. But the addition of the word “Heart,”…it’s a completely emotional word about the passion that we have for the business.” The letter “Y” in the symbol represents both the “Y” in LyonHeart and the question “Why?”

Devereux is happy to take on the risks of such a dramatic transformation. “When you take risks, that’s when quantum change happens,” she says.  “If you say, ‘We’re different, we’re different!” and then roll out a slight evolution of a logo, no one believes it. And we had a third of the agency when we launched this disruption process that said, ‘Oh yeah, here’s more lip-service, nothing will ever change.’  So we have to, in every execution, push as far as we can without intimidating or scaring people, to be real.”

The feedback so far has been varied, but generally good. “Most people love it,” says Devereux. “A few are afraid of change and ask whether we might be confused with Braveheart or something. But, in general, I think people are intrigued, and that was the goal.”

As well as transforming the dynamic and culture of the agency, Flinn was also tasked with changing the way that it went after new business. And since she joined in February, LyonHeart has won four new pieces of business:  Jazz Pharmaceuticals’ Luvox CR for OCD and FCD; Cephalon’s Treanda for lymphomia; Schering-Plough’s Grazax, an immunotherapy product for grass allergies; and UCB Pharma’s Rikelta, a brand new anti-epileptic product. 

“Before, when we were working on new business, people thought it was homework,” says Flinn. “They were like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to work on a new business pitch, it’s so boring and we never win.’  Now I have people clamoring to get on pitches, volunteering to give up their weekends and coming in with amazing ideas. It’s like new blood has infiltrated the agency…you can sense the change in dynamic.”

On the downside, the firm lost blockbuster Zyrtec, after it went off-patent. “Damned patent expirations!” Flinn quips, before noting that the agency’s experience on Zyrtec paved the way for a recent account win. “We were able to take that wealth of knowledge and apply it to a brand-new product (Grazax) that’s going to come out, at a company (Schering-Plough) that never really had a relationship with us before.”

LyonHeart is refreshingly undaunted by the challenge of hiring talent. “We have the most brilliant HR person on the face of the earth,” Devereux says. “And because we’re thinking outside of the box, we’re going to attract people who wouldn’t have been willing to work in this medium before, in this industry before.”

As for the year ahead, Flinn is confident the agency will continue to pick up clients and attract talent. “I hope that at this time next year every single person on the planet knows who LyonHeart is and what we stand for. ”
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