The Top 75: Core-Create/Brandkarma

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The last 12 months were about many things for Core-Create/Brandkarma, but nothing more than firming up its West Coast presence. Opened two years ago, the Santa Ana, CA-based Brandkarma—essentially Core-Create's left-coast office—was deemed of such importance to the agency that president Ken Ribotsky relocated to shepherd it through its infancy.

Core-Create went west to sate what it viewed as unmet client needs. In doing so, it succeeded where others had failed. “Lots of agencies tried to establish a West Coast presence, but it's hard to gain a foothold out there for numerous reasons,” says Core-Create managing director Jin Li Frick, speaking from the mothership office in New Jersey. “It's not necessarily the hub of advertising, so the talent pool is shallower. And it's less driven by pharma than by biotech and specialty companies. You can't duplicate an East Coast model on the West Coast.”

Core-Create didn't try, though the firm did export some East Coast thinking via Ribotsky and a handful of creative higher-ups. “What worked for us in terms of our entrance and introduction has been that we understand those differences, that we understand the market dynamics and the divergent approach culturally,” explains Frick. Brandkarma currently employs 10 full-timers; the agency as a whole boasts 45, up by a half-dozen or so over last year.

Beyond affirming that the agency is in it for the long haul in California, Core-Create spent much of 2008 and 2009 focusing on adding high-level talent. Frick herself returned in December from Hill & Knowlton, while the agency also added a group financial controller and a creative director of copy. Frick doesn't profess to speak for the other new arrivals, but says she came back to Core-Create owing to “the sense of opportunity. You're not bridled by a larger holding company or answering to a bigger force, if you will. You can let your creativity go and be more entrepreneurial.”

Those abilities, Frick believes, contributed mightily to Core-Create's new-business success in 2008 and 2009. After launching Coria Laboratories' dermatologic drug Tetrix, the agency helped Watson Pharmaceuticals debut overactive-bladder balm Gelnique. That particular piece of work is one in which Frick takes particular satisfaction: “It's differentiated and in an unexpected way. It makes people stop and think about the product.” Other new clients included ZymoGenetics (for the launch of topical thrombin Recothrom), while ConvaTec returned to the Core-Create fold after a few years for what Frick calls a “top-end launch project.”

Frick attributes these and other successes to the agency's size: “The fact that we're smaller means we can provide that senior-level strategy and support. It also allows us to be a little more nimble and flexible in this economy and challenging regulatory environment.” She adds that Core-Create is on pace to grow by 15% to 20% in 2009.

Core-Create hopes to double Brandkarma's size within a year, as well as up its PR and nontraditional media (interactive/digital) capabilities. “Traditional marketing efforts—detailing pieces and journal ads— will slowly become less important,” predicts Frick.

Frick also anticipates that Core-Create will react to current market uncertainties by confronting them head-on. “We pride ourselves in pushing the envelope and in challenging our clients,” she says. “But really, the biggest challenge we have is challenging ourselves and not settling for status quo at a time when it would be easy to do that.”
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