Pacific Communications president Ryan Abbate is happy to report a “phenomenal” year, and he was a bit surprised at how well it turned out. Last summer freelance and contract employees were pared down in anticipation of a stormy fourth quarter. But client spend never bottomed out, and the agency ended the year up 20%.
“We built in a hedge against some business volatility through using a fair amount of contract and freelance resources,” Abbate says. “It's been a great strategy in these volatile times. We haven't laid anyone off—we'd only do as a last resort.”
Headcount has held steady at around 140. A handful of account and creative positions are open now. Peter Siegel, SVP executive creative director, joined last year, and Grace Eriksen joined this year as creative director on the copy side.
“I've never seen so many good people on the streets,” says Abbate. “I don't mean people who have been necessarily displaced. My sense is everybody is evaluating their situation. I've seen more quality people in the first quarter this year than all of last year. We've been the benefactor.”
The agency's medical aesthetics business continued to grow. One of the big highlights was the expansion of Allergan business to include Latisse, the first and only FDA-approved treatment to enhance eyelash prominence, which launches this year. Abbate says it's “probably the biggest launch we've worked on,” adding that it's garnered a lot of publicity and is significant for Allergan.
Also awarded from Allergan were Aczone (acne) and global work for Juvederm, Lap-Band, Combigan (glaucoma) and Botox Therapeutics (strategic communications).
Diagnostics is also growing. ProteoGenix awarded promotional work for non-invasive diagnostics that significantly reduce pregnancy complications. Abbate is very excited about the win, calling the technology “the future of diagnostics.”
The agency also won a patient monitoring product from VivoMetrics, and this year it's picked work from finance company CareCredit.
Abbate is selective about new business at the moment. He says new opportunities must be “very compatible” with what the agency is already doing, and he must have a “very strong” client commitment. Last year, one client simply disappeared (Abbate declines to say which one).
“We were awarded a product with a fair amount of fanfare,” explains Abbate. “Within weeks the company disappeared. Literally. We had had meetings planned, and they just stopped answering their phones. It was that abrupt. We never got an explanation.”
The agency is preparing seven launches this year and Abbate feels lucky to have a nice pipeline. He would like to add more biotech clients to the roster, and he says oncology is under-represented given experience in the agency.
Interactive continues to grow, and investment will continue there. Abbate notes that Pacific has been recognized more for its interactive work over the last few years than for traditional work.
“I feel really good about 2009,” says Abbate. “Growth in a year like this has to be done with caution because there's too much downside potential to overextend. We have no illusions. The back half of this year is going to be difficult to predict. It's hard to say how companies are going to respond to their own business. We're going to keep a very close eye on that. But I'm optimistic. The first half of the year has exceeded expectations.”