The Top 50: Palio Communications

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Of the many things that distinguish Palio Communications from its peers, one sticks out: its geography. As opposed to the glut of agencies based in or around New York City, Palio has long called Saratoga Springs, NY its home.

To hear Palio president Mike Myers tell it, though, the 180-mile gap that separates the agency from Manhattan has helped the agency. Not just in attracting city-weary staffers, but also in its dealings with clients. “We like to think of ourselves as small-town America meets Madison Avenue,” he says with a laugh. “We can offer a different kind of lifestyle. The idea that you have to be in the office 120 hours a week to do great work—that’s something we’ve never understood.”

Myers claims that the average tenure of Palio’s staff is five years, an eternity in the musical-chairs world of healthcare marketing and media.

Over the past year, Palio has started putting some of its people on-site with clients, where they serve as something of an around-the-clock conduit. “We’re not the only ones doing this, obviously. But it’s still amazing how many small fires get put out when there’s somebody right there keeping an eye on everything.”

The new staff deployment paid off with a glut of work from existing clients. Longtime client Cephalon tapped Palio for the high-profile Provigil assignment, while Novartis and Kyowa Hakko Kogyo Co. (for the soon-to-launch Istradefylline) handed the agency new assignments. Myers admits that losing a hefty chunk of GlaxoSmithKline business was difficult, but expresses relief that Palio’s organic growth made up for the loss.

“I know that everybody says this when a client leaves for one reason or another, but I honestly wish them nothing but the best,” Myers says. “GSK helped build us into the agency that we are today. The association was hugely positive for us.” At the same time, Palio “took its foot off the new-business accelerator”  last year, turning down more opportunities than it actively pursued.
In fact, Palio is the rare agency that touts its work with smaller clients as much as it does its pharma-behemoth accounts. Myers points to recent campaigns on behalf of SuperGen’s leukemia therapy Nipent and Durham’s nasal steroid Nasarel as especially rewarding and successful. “For Pfizer, two or three percent share growth isn’t much. But for smaller companies, that’s huge, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Of course, Palio spent much of the last 12 months looking inward, growing to 127 employees and bolstering a range of capabilities. While Myers insists, “We don’t want to be an interactive agency,” the company pushed forward with its Media Lab, which houses production and editing facilities. “Clients are moving away from collateral and things that fold. It only makes sense to invest more resources here.”

For its new Design Lab, Palio hired people away from Interbrand and other consumer shops. Similarly, for its seven-strong Brand Strategy Group, Palio poached from BBDO and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The Medical Strategies team hired an MD and a PhD, running Palio’s total to two and six, respectively.

Palio will consider geographic expansion in the months ahead, with—surprise—New York City a possible candidate. Look for the firm to pursue more direct-to-consumer projects as well. “Several of our senior folks did consumer work before they arrived here, but bigger companies didn’t trust a small agency just starting out,” Myers reports. “It’s really gratifying to us that they’ve changed their tune.”
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