Last year was a transition year for Ignite, as the agency prepared for the departure of three of its four co-founders. Matt Brown, who joined as COO in January 2009 from inVentiv sister agency GSW Worldwide, took the helm as president on January 1 this year.
Revenue increased from $14 million in 2008 to $18.5 million last year, and Brown reports it's up to $22.5 million so far this year. A New York City office opened last July.
As the importance of digital marketing increases, clients are asking Ignite to assume full AOR status. Starting 2009, about 80% of business was digital AOR and 20% full AOR. Brown says it's now about 40% full AOR, which includes 2009 wins from Gilead, Mentor, Abbott Medical Optics, and United Therapeutics.
“It's a big cultural shift to go from an 80-person shop in SoCal to expanding to New York and taking on more full AOR clients,” Brown says. “We did restructure creative and account services because our scale is different. We have to think differently and work a little differently, but we're not going to stop being who we are. We don't do much project work anymore. It's not that we think we're too big for project work. We're just not going to create inefficiencies for clients that [want] more.”
Cofounder and chief innovation officer Fabio Gratton remains in his role, and he's “thrilled” to be working with Brown. He says the transition had been in the works for several years, and it's been very smooth.
Many long-time employees were promoted. Ross Fetterolf, and Sean Vassilaros both became SVPs. Pat Macke and Kevin Deegan were both promoted to VP, creative director. Lisa Matson became VP clinical strategy, and Laura Pfister is now VP, Brand Insights. Brown notes that Brand Insights (web analytics) expanded last year to include increased social media research and primary research as well as traditional competitive research and customer insight capability.
VP account director Paul Balagot relocated to head the New York office, which shares space with inVentiv sister agency Chamberlain Healthcare Public Relations.
New York headcount is up to 12. Overall headcount increased last year from 82 to 95, and it's up to 108 this year. Fifteen to 20 positions are currently available (all levels and all functions) between both offices. California staffers will relocate to a bigger building in Irvine this September.
Last year's wins included Abbott's Blink (artificial tears); Amylin's Exenatide QW (type 2 diabetes); a hepatitis C product (in development) from Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and work for a multiple pulmonary arterial hypertension treatment from United Therapeutics. Also won was Genentech business—corporate, Lytics franchise and Activase (for acute ischemic stroke)—as well as social media work for Roche Pharmaceuticals and for Rebif (multiple sclerosis) from EMD Serono and Pfizer.
Gratton describes a palpable sense of optimism, excitement and momentum at the agency.
“When we started 10 years ago, we knew digital was going to be important,” Gratton explains. “Clients weren't necessarily ready, but we knew we had to build the infrastructure. We're at a similar point as we're looking to the future [again]. Clients are offering much more comprehensive services to their customers. We need to help them deliver value beyond the pill with innovative solutions and technology. We're going to see an entire new world, and we need to be there for our clients.”