The Top 75: Pace

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Pace seems to be hitting its stride after new management arrived last year with a fresh vision. Having coasted through '08 up 20%, the firm— part of IPG's Lowe Healthcare network—appears to be on the same track in '09. “We've experienced consistent growth,” reports Sharon McCarroll, who leads the agency with co-managing director Mary Beriont. “We added three new clients and five brands during 2008, plus a new brand in first quarter 2009. So, from a business standpoint, we're doing pretty well.”

The pair has been in its leadership role since February 2008. That's long enough for each one to put her stamp on every brand in the roster. One of their first major organizational decisions was to consolidate Pace's consumer shop within Lowe NY, so that it could focus on the professional side of its business.

“From a resource and staffing perspective, we felt it was best for [existing] clients and potential clients,” says Beriont of the decision. “Our core competency was professional, and we wanted to really focus on that, especially as we had brought in oncology business.”

Pace had a small staff working on creative for brands, including women's health products from Duramed (the proprietary business of Barr, now owned by Teva) and Novartis' Exforge, and some of these staffers moved over to Lowe NY, whose DTC heritage runs deep. “The best part of it for us is we were able to do this without jeopardizing any revenue,” Beriont adds. 

Its list of new business is an impressive one, highlighted by Pace's latest score—the first-quarter win of Biovail's Zovirax antiviral. Biovail had become a client in 2008, awarding Pace its Aplenzin antidepressant. Other 2008 new accounts include advocacy work for the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation and a hospital pain-management product for Cumberland Pharmaceuticals. Organic growth includes Celgene's Vidaza oncology business and Bayer imaging agent Primovist.

The agency lost one account, Seasonique, Duramed's follow-on to the Seasonale oral contraceptive. Pace had launched the brand, but clients felt they needed to make a change. Pace maintains good relations; the agency still reps two other Duramed brands, the Paragard and Plan B birth-control products.

Having shed its consumer business, the New Jersey agency is poised to go even deeper into high science. Primovist brings to six the number of oncology-related drugs in Pace's portfolio—quite a lot for a mid-sized shop. Here again, Pace faces identity issues.

As the agency moves forward, it will consider how to grow in the specialty arena without jeopardizing primary care, both of which it's suited to do. “We're not looking to become a complete high-science shop at the cost of other business,” explains Beriont.

Because of its size, the prevailing economic pressure and the tendency for network consolidation, the 75-person agency faced challenges landing larger accounts. McCarroll and Beriont see this as an opportunity to reach out to biotech and mid-sized pharma.

Staffing a specialty practice can be challenging. “We're very discriminating,” says McCarroll. “Mary and I probably interview 10-12 hours a week. We are always seeing people and always networking. We want to make sure people here are the right people for our clients.”
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