The Top 75: Core-Create/Brandkarma

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During a year when many healthcare marketers exhausted themselves trying to rein in expenses and create efficiencies, Core-Create/Brandkarma decided to take a far different approach to the same tasks: It looked within.
Hoping to better align all available personnel and resources, the bicoastal agency reorganized under the aegis of The Core Nation, an umbrella company sheltering Core-Create (the East Coast presence), Brandkarma (the West Coast presence) and medical communications boutique Alpha & Omega Worldwide. The thinking behind the move? To better leverage shared resources and eliminate duplicate functions.

“We wanted to make sure we were structured in a way that allowed us to increase efficiency and combine resources between agencies in a seamless way,” says managing director Jin Li Frick. “Looking at our structure, we saw there could be a better way.”

According to Frick, clients warmed immediately to the new set-up. “There was an understanding that resource-consolidation was great for them,” she notes. Internally, however, the move proved a slightly tougher sell: “People were a little unclear as to why we wanted to do it. They said, ‘Let's just focus on the agencies we have.' Now that it's in place, our staff sees the advantages.” In the wake of the reorganization, headcount remains what it was at the same time last year, around 45 people total.

Such is Frick's enthusiasm for the new Core Nation structure that she doesn't mention a rather relevant data point—that its three agencies collectively grew revenue 37% in 2009—until 15 minutes into a phone conversation. Frick attributes the growth in part to the company's revamped structure and resource-deployment. During tough economic times, Frick says, “People tend to avoid risk. They want to make sure the decisions they make have impact and show ROI in the short-term...We've structured our teams to accommodate that.”

As for new business, Core-Create won an assignment from Ferrer Therapeutics to launch CerAxon, an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the US but a prescription product overseas. It snared a second piece of OTC work from SolaniUSA, to launch the firm's Solani weight-loss product. “Those are great opportunities for us to venture into OTC,” Frick enthuses. Across the country, Brandkarma added a strategic-consulting gig for Allergan to its slate and worked on the relaunch of ITL Animal Healthcare's Tego blood-collection kits.  

While Core Nation agencies didn't lose any clients, Frick acknowledges that change often comes with its share of challenges. Though it scored on the personnel front, with the hiring of neuroscience PhD Ken Kramer as SVP and medical director, talent recruitment and management continued to pose a headache.

“You have to be able to wear multiple hats within an agency such as ours,” Frick says. “We're flat in structure and don't tend to have a lot of fat. People who can do a lot of things [are the ones] who will be successful in this environment.”

To attract such individuals, Core Nation has begun tooting its own horn a bit, whether through an unusually quirky trio of websites (the Core-Create site describes the agency as “a fat-free, chocolate-coated, sweet-filled healthcare marketing delight”), a sharp-elbowed blog and a robust social-media presence. “We're getting our dialogue and our thinking into the marketplace,” Frick notes. “In order to provide our clients with the right counsel, we have to be in that space ourselves.”
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