The Top 75: MicroMass Communications

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MicroMass, like most agencies, has dealt with a mixed bag of account news this past year. According to Jay Bigelow, agency president, it proves that agencies need to build flexibility into their planning.

“We're saying, ‘Look, let's have a flexible plan that we can accelerate when we need to and the ability to scale up our work without getting too far ahead of the curve,'” he notes. “That's more art than science.”

The agency has been able to strike that balance. MicroMass posted 20% annual growth in 2008, the fourth year in a row it has done so.

“Last year was a record one for us in terms of revenue, despite the black cloud that hung over everybody's head,” Bigelow says, attributing part of the growth to interest and acceptance of its approach applying behavioral science to relationship marketing.

MicroMass did not completely escape the cloud, though. Three pre-launch roster products ran into trouble with the FDA in 2008. One of these was GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix. The FDA's delay on an approval decision put MicroMass's campaign for the HPV vaccine—an account won last year—on hold. In addition, the agency's Cimzia rheumatoid-arthritis assignment from UCB came to end in 2008, as did a five-year-long Novartis project.
MicroMass felt the shockwaves.

“We laid off some people in our content-services area,” says Bigelow, “writers, editors, production folks, project managers.”

Then again, new account wins this year have seen the independent agency off to a positive start, and pitch activity is up.

“We've got an awful lot of new business today in the pipeline, which is great,” he laments.

MicroMass just picked up a new client in the hypertension space, which Bigelow prefers not to name. Earlier this year, another new assignment came from Akrimax. MicroMass designed akrimax.com and is working on an advertising and direct-mail campaign for the company, which licenses and commercializes compounds in the metabolic space.

Existing client Novartis assigned the agency additional work around iron-toxicity drug Exjade (consumer), and a new professional account, Zometa (consumer and professional) for bone cancer. Bayer awarded a roster slot, although there is no specific assignment yet.

Other projects during the year have included HandSurgeryNews.com, a resource for hand-surgery professionals; a re-branding for Shire's Fosrenol for kidney disease; and a pro-bono awareness campaign for the Healing Place, a local Raleigh recovery center.

In keeping with its flexible approach, the agency has judiciously added staff in the digital and creative areas. Dean Logan, creative director, joined the firm, as did Rich Patterson, VP, group account director, who has come in to run a big piece of Novartis oncology business.

The North Carolina shop may be looking to acquire other agencies later this year as a way to grow its expertise well as its geographic footprint more quickly, and it also expects results from a social-media program for an unnamed client.

“Social media is a perfect category to find a way to engage people in a real dialogue between the brand and the customer. That's what MicroMass is all about,” says Bigelow.

Among its existing relationship-marketing accounts, the agency has been running the Committed Quitters program for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health's smoking-cessation franchise for 15 years.

And it took home a 2008 MM&M Gold Award for best use of direct marketing to consumers, in recognition of its work on the A.I.R. Program to encourage patient adherence for Merck's Singulair.
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