Corbett is hoping to put 2009, a year when the setbacks seemed to come as fast as the successes, behind it. Last year the agency, part of Omnicom's Corbett Accel Healthcare Group, felt the brunt of client downsizing as an ill wind of industry conservatism sucked the air out of some marketing budgets.
The agency lost two significant pieces of business, through no fault of its own, but bounced back winning an oncology assignment involving Bristol-Myers Squibb and a diagnostics account from Johnson & Johnson.
“We finished 2009 stronger than we expected,” says Elaine Eisen, Corbett president. Yet, she adds, “It was more a year of maintaining status quo.” Has the year, now half over, brought the relief the agency seeks?
“My hope was 2010 was going to be miraculously so much better,” she says. “We have definitely experienced some growth, but there has not been a magic lifting of the layer of [industry] concern.” That concern, she adds, manifests as “a level of stress from our clients and sometimes tighter budgetary control and a more conservative approach to strategies and programs.”
Wins include an oncology assignment for XL184, a small-molecule compound being co-developed by Exelixis and BMS. The drug is in phase III testing for medullary thyroid cancer and earlier stages for other malignancies. Core client Alcon awarded new launch assignments in a couple of different categories. During the year, the agency also completed a CRM program for this client's OTC contact lens care brand. A major highlight was Corbett's global launch of the BMS oral anti-diabetic Onglyza. The agency is now working on some line extensions and new combinations.
Despite doing some great work, the agency lost two accounts, former Procter & Gamble osteoporosis drug Actonel and a J&J epilepsy brand. Actonel had been co-promoted by P&G and Sanofi-Aventis until P&G divested all of its pharma holdings last year to Warner Chilcott, prompting Sanofi—in a move that took Corbett by surprise—to sell its Actonel rights to Chilcott, as well, this year. “Overnight, Actonel only became about Warner Chilcott, and they decided to go with a local agency,” Eisen laments, characterizing the loss as a “big blow,” and not only because Actonel was a significant piece of business. “It was a great source of pride to us having P&G on our roster. They are such professional marketers.”
Another non-performance-related setback came in 2009 when Omnicom lost the network pitch at J&J to Interpublic Group and WPP. Corbett saw an epilepsy brand go. “We were essentially eliminated, but Omnicom was able to hold onto the diagnostic and devices division,” says Eisen. That division houses nine key brands, one of which was retained by Corbett in a competitive pitch. It's a small foothold but one Eisen hopes to expand: “Diversification of clients is always one of my top priorities.”
The foregoing adds up to, in Eisen's words, “a mixed bag” for her agency. In this environment, she is thankful for enduring partnerships with core clients Alcon, which has entrusted both its pharma and consumer products portfolios to the agency, as well as AstraZeneca, BMS, Otsuka America and Pfizer.
Growth will be tough. “Because there are fewer new drugs being approved, there are fewer launch opportunities, fewer new pitch opportunities, so agencies are really clawing and doing anything it takes to hold onto their business.”