The Top 60: Palio

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Palio rallied to pull out its best year ever after losing GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), its largest client in 2006, due to agency consolidation in February. The agency won 15 new pieces of business, boosting revenue 15% over 2006, and president Mike Myers and chief global creative officer Guy Mastrion are both extremely proud of their team of about 130.

“We called a staff meeting and were very up front about what needed to be done,” Myers says. “We were kicked in the teeth, but we went on a roll and were really fortunate. We pitched a lot and only lost twice.” 

The hard-earned new wins include two Abbott brands; two Byetta products from Eli Lilly/Amylin; three brands from Stiefel; Cephalon's Amrix; Solvay Pharmaceuticals' Creon; Shire's Fosrenol; NicOx; Saratoga Hospital; and global work for Mundipharma's asthma treatment Flutiform.

The agency also made significant internal changes last year by promoting four department heads (operational, brand strategy, creative and account service) to VPs. Myers and Mastrion call these the “four pillars,” and Mastrion says they're in position to drive strategy development and execution. “We're really balanced,” Mastrion adds. “It's part of what differentiates us. Balance makes for the strongest and most thoughtful work. Stratifying those pillars helps work more efficiently. As we've grown we need the structure.” 

Palio also reinvented its brand identity, complete with a new logo and new ads. “It was a couple of years in the making,” Mastrion says. “After internal analysis, we decided we could evolve our look and feel to better explain more of who we are and intrigue more. As the market evolved, our look and feel wasn't as distinctive as it was before.”

Headcount is up about 10 over 2006. The Saratoga Springs, NY-based agency recruits aggressively (there's a full-time recruiter on staff) but is selective about hiring. “Hiring is very considered,” Mastrion says. “We want it to be for keeps. It's very much like a family. We tend to attract senior talent who want to settle down. We have a very senior, experienced management team on the whole, which makes for an empowered work environment. And, they're mentoring the younger people.”

Employees voted the agency one of five best places to work in a local business publication ranking.
Myers has noticed clients are relying on the agency to provide “greater brainpower” and strategic consulting as internal product management and brand teams shrink. He says regulatory pressure has demanded a focus on what can't be said rather than on what can be said, and that this in turn pressures agencies and brand teams in terms of both strategy and creativity.

In the last six months, the agency resigned two multimillion dollar brands because Myers says the agency “wasn't allowed to do work we're proud of.”

“A lot of clients want you to be order takers—they act like we're Kinko's with some creative people,” Myers continues. “Relationships have to be mutually beneficial. We've got good clients. While there's a trend to focus on just getting things done, our clients want to get things right.” 

Myers thinks the pharma industry's reputation is on its way up, and he cites GSK's VP of external advocacy Mike Pucci as doing a good job reaching out and speaking positively about the industry. “I have never worked with a client where the employees aren't focused on the right thing,” Myers says. “The industry is made out to be a big, bad group of people who are in it for the money. Everyone wants to help.”
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