The Top 75: The CementBloc
“It was an amazing year—a once in a lifetime year,” says partner Susan Miller Viray.
All senior partners are expats from big agencies, where Miller Viray says vertical growth tended to remove senior talent from client work. With the agency now at more than 100 people and huge growth projected, the partners wanted to expand horizontally.
“Each group can form intimate bonds between employees and clients and still have access to all the resources of a larger agency,” says Miller Viray. “Clients see the benefit of more senior people on staff and less bureaucracy. They want agencies to work efficiently, and smaller groups work more efficiently. All the resources…are here. We don't have to create redundant cost structures. We created the best of both worlds.”
A lot of AOR assignments were awarded last year, including Basilea (global—Isavuconazole); Horizon (US—HZT-501); Zogenix (US—Sumavel DosePro); Salix (US—Budesonide Foam); and Vistakon (US —Acuvue contact lens systems).
Project work came in from Medicis (Restylane and Reloxin), and Baxter (Advate), which converted to a global AOR relationship this year. A big account—US AOR for Johnson & Johnson/Tibotec's Prezista and Intelence—was lost due to consolidation with two holding companies. This year has yielded AOR wins for three Novartis vaccines and two Salix products. Basilea also awarded another product.
Headcount was up 50 (to 155 total) ending 2008, but it's down this year to 148. Miller Viray explains the downsizing was primarily a result of the Prezista and Intelence losses following the J&J consolidation. There are a “few select positions” open at the moment.
“Our structure and culture celebrate the intimacy and camaraderie that comes with smaller teams, so staff cuts are particularly difficult,” Miller Viray says. “It should be difficult. These were close friends and colleagues, not numbers on a spreadsheet.”
Despite the cuts, senior talent expanded significantly last year at all the agencies. Services also expanded across several groups: managed markets; market development and expansion; relationship marketing (for professionals and consumers). Ensuring smooth, cohesive operations amid the restructuring was a priority.
“If you put the right senior leaders in place, the rest naturally flows from that,” Miller Viray explains. “We have extraordinary people with energy, ambition and the desire to work together and bring the best out of each other and drive forward for clients. It's gelled very nicely.”
Miller Viray says last year felt to her like “the perfect storm” for clients wherein many challenges converged.
“So many clients got broadsided by the FDA, consolidation and the downturn—particularly the ones living on venture capital,” she says. “We have clients that are no longer around because they ran out of money. The industry seems like it's stabilizing a bit. Some brands have gotten good news from the FDA, that, frankly they should've gotten last year. The economy in general is picking up and it's starting to feel a little bit better.”