Perfectly summing up a sentiment that has become a familiar refrain among agency bosses, Steve Viviano, president and CEO announces: “Flat is the new up this year.” A break-even 2009 would be a successful year for the agency, albeit on a smaller scale than 2008, when ICC won more than 20 new assignments.
Regardless, the last year has been anything but dull for this Interpublic Group shop. The Parsippany, NJ, firm notched organic growth from Sepracor and Johnson & Johnson, started a new unit called Redshift while reviving another, and brought on new staff.
Topping its list of 2009 wins, ICC landed the professional work for Sepracor's Lunesta, the No. 2 contender in the insomnia market with a sizable professional budget. According to Viviano, the genesis of the win began in 2008, when ICC successfully launched allergic rhinitis drug Omnaris. “The clients really liked the work,” he says, referring to chief creative officer Chet Moss's idea to illustrate the nasal spray's staying power via faces sporting sticky notes. “They wanted more of that thinking.”
Sepracor parted ways with echo Torre Lazur last year. The Lunesta account then made a nine-month pitstop at Euro RSCG before coming to rest this past March at ICC, without a pitch. Shortly thereafter, ICC received the rest of Sepracor's respiratory portfolio.
ICC scored another coup last year when J&J consolidated its US advertising business for its prescription drugs, worth around $110 million in agency fees, into two holding companies, WPP and IPG. To ICC went Tibotec's HIV franchise and four assignments, including brands Prezista, Intelence and a new product, TMC278. As the key member of the IPG agency team picked to divvy up the assignment, ICC secured the J&J franchises it had already been handling—the women's healthcare, pain and urology portfolios—and is picking up med ed work.
“Now that J&J has chosen its two holding companies, our job is to demonstrate that we can handle additional services,” says Viviano. Based on the success of the holding-company pitch, J&J held follow-up pitches for meetings and devices.
During the first of these follow-up J&J pitches, ICC wheeled out its Strategic Resource Group (SRG), a long-dormant ICC meetings division which has now been reintroduced. SRG is designed to support medical-meetings logistics and, together with content handled by other ICC staff, can offer clients what some may consider a less cumbersome proposition than using two separate vendors.
Also featured in a J&J follow-up pitch and hoping to gain from the consolidation is ICC's newest division, emerging healthcare technology unit Redshift, launched last year in a bid to broaden the client base to include combination drug/device products and software companies that need to communicate their wares to clinicians. Viviano hired health-technologies ace John Friedberg as its general manager.
Regardless of whether Redshift receives any of the J&J business, it's doing well with three core accounts: TyRx Pharma, Aurora Imaging Technology and corporate work for Gore Medical Products.
“Not too many other [agencies] are focused on this space,” says Viviano. “If we're right and Big Pharma starts putting more drugs into devices, we'll be on the cutting edge for when budgets get really big.”
Redshift and SRG are ICC's fourth and fifth siblings, respectively. Other members of the agency family have been active. Full-service agency Trio doubled in size last year, winning new AstraZeneca med-ed assignments for antipsychotic Seroquel and diabetes drug Onglyza while hiring 20 people.
“Our intent was to grow Trio to be its own $10 million-plus agency; a couple [more] wins, and it will exceed that,” Viviano says. “It will be a mini-ICC in terms of work and size.”
Not to be outdone, Brand(x), the agency's Cheswick, UK, operation, grew by more than 40% in 2008. Viviano deems the performance “uncanny,” considering the other tasks the agency dealt with during the year—integrating business from Lowe Azure (promotional) and Lowe Fusion (med ed) and introducing itself to clients as the new hub of ICC's European network.
The family mourns one loss, though, consumer shop Alchemy, whose GM, Stu Klein, briefly reported to Viviano. It was folded back into parent agency Lowe. As far as clients are concerned, the change is a behind-the-scenes one. ICC returns to using Klein & Co. in partnership and, while Klein works in Parsippany one day a week, Alchemy is formally situated in Lowe's new Manhattan offices handling brands like cold/allergy product Zicam which involve consumer communication without a professional component. “As long as our clients still see ‘ICC Alchemy' when they need to, it's fine with me,” says Viviano.
He also reports one account loss. Bausch & Lomb's new private owner Warburg Pincus transferred two eye-care brands to Draftfcb. Taking solace from the move, Viviano credits his firm's creative work and poo-poos the financial hit. “Budgets are less, compared to what they were,” he says, “so it's not as big a loss as it could have been. But it's always disappointing.”
Nor have the setbacks impacted workflow; the agency has remained busy with a steady stream of product launches. These include high blood-pressure pill Tekturna HCT for Novartis; a corporate campaign for Pharmasset, a new pharmaceutical company; Omnaris; GlaxoSmithKline's NiQuitin Minis smoking-cessation product in France; and Shire's ADHD drug Vyvanse for adults. ICC continues work on the scheduled 2009 launch of pain product Nucynta for J&J's Pricara group, its biggest J&J assignment spanning two launches, short- and long-acting versions.
Creatively the agency had a good showing last year, as well, including a big night at the MM&M Awards last November. Among the statuettes added to its trophy case were an MM&M Gold for a food allergy awareness ad on behalf of Food Allergy Initiative and a Silver award for a travelers sales aid. Viviano attributes the recognition to Moss, who, since joining four years ago, has “established a culture of creativity.”
Moss's unique thinking has been pressed into service on many accounts and during multiple facets of the protracted pitching process. Like his peers, Viviano looks for any edge he can get as the agency scraps with others for a smaller number of opportunities. He reports a recent Trio pitch that started out with 17 agencies vying for the business.
“There are fewer [non-pitch-based account moves] out there and more kinds of carefully thought-through decisions about which agency the brand team wants to work with,” he explains. “You have to show well in all phases of new business: the RFP, site visit, chemistry check, strategic and creative, and financials.”
This explains why the CEO's mantra has become: Do your best and let the chips fall where they may. “For every Bausch & Lomb chip, there's a Lunesta chip,” he says. “That's my job. I'll make sure we get our share of chips. That's been working for us.”