It was a breakthrough year for The CementWorks. After posting a compound annual growth rate of nearly 55% for the last three years, the agency passed the $20 million mark and grew to more than
“Knock on wood, we're on a roll,” says partner Susan Miller Viray, who married partner Rico Viray in late 2006 in Antarctica on a refitted Russian research ship. “We pinch ourselves every day. We anticipate another year of 50% growth in both staff and revenue.”
At the end of last year an overall holding company called The CementBloc was formed. Two new professional agencies—The IronWorks and The StoneWorks —and one consumer agency called The CementBond were added. Viray notes that the structural shift wasn't driven by conflicts of interest—it was designed to help maintain a concentrated approach.
“We're nearing that point where we're going to start feeling like a big agency,” Viray says. “Having smaller entities within The CementBloc allows us to grow horizontally. The idea is to make sure we don't lose our small culture and entrepreneurial spirit, which is what got us here. Clients come to us because that's what they're looking for.”
The new structure also increases the ratio of senior staff to junior staff. Three long-time employees— Andrea Bast, Ed Cowen and Dave Garson—were elevated to partner level. Four additional new partners were brought in. Art Chavez and Jim Lolis are heading up The StoneWorks. Jennifer Matthews and Elizabeth Elfenbein are at the helm of The CementBond. Both new sets of partners had previously worked together at other agencies.
“We want people who have been successful partners,” Viray says. “It's nice to have a team. Each has brought over SVPs. Now that we've created this partner track, [we can] offer equity positions, which other companies can't offer. It's attractive to entrepreneurial, ambitious, successful people. You always worry when you grow rapidly that you're going to lose your culture. It's been the opposite. The soup is getting richer. Growth hasn't been a strain on the culture. It's been an enhancement.”
Three drugs and three devices were launched last year, and relationships with existing clients grew. An eight-month winning streak began with a corporate rebranding assignment for Altus. Subsequent wins include assignments from Vanda Pharmaceuticals; Genzyme; Amylin; Salix; Vistakon; Novartis Neuroscience; and UCB.
Viray notes the industry's conservative climate, and she doesn't think it's a bad thing.
“It changes the way you approach business—I think in a good way,” she says. “Some marketing approaches can be overly aggressive. We're embracing this return on trust dividend. It's just modifying the voice a little bit—not overstating what a brand can do. You want to maybe understate a little and over deliver. Creating more trust is embedded in how we approach all brands.”
The founding partners have always had a “if we built it, they will come” mentality about both clients and talent, and that certainly has been the case.
“We're still hell-bent on being the most creative agencies in the industry,” Viray adds.