The Top 75: The CementBloc

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After years of explosive growth, The CementBloc's revenue was down from $36.2 million in 2008 to $27.2 million in 2009. In April the agency changed operational course, folding its four distinct agencies (CementWorks, IronWorks, StoneWorks and CementBond) back into one fully integrated company. Partner Susan Miller Viray says revenue is rising on track this year to meet or come close to its 2008 level.

“Last year was unsettling for most pharma companies and agencies,” Viray says. “The industry has come through the storm with a different set of priorities. It requires a different strategy.”

Viray adds that uncertainty in the industry has also given rise to “a whole lot of opportunity” for agencies willing to adapt. Reuniting the four agencies is part of a “convergence strategy” that extends from internal operations to client programs.

“Brands aren't 2-D anymore—they're about customer experience [across mediums],” Viray explains. “We wanted to effectively put the right people on these converged teams. Companies…want one voice for their brands. Most client teams have gotten smaller. They're wearing many hats; they don't have time to manage three or five agencies.”

Founded by big agency veterans, The CementBloc celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer. Retaining a small company feel and entrepreneurial spirit has always been a priority. Viray says culture has played a big role in the agency's success, and she's very committed to maintaining it.

Headcount declined by about 30 last year (down from 155 in 2008). It's up to 148 now with 20 positions open across all levels and all divisions. Two partners of two of the formerly separate agencies left this year—Art Chavez and Dave Garson.  

Last year was a good year on the new business front. Novartis Vaccines awarded four products (Fluvirin, RabAvert, Ixiaro and Menveo), and OraSure awarded four tests: Intercept (substance abuse), QED (alcohol), OraQuick HIV, and OraQuick HCV. The agency also picked up Sumavel DosePro (migraine) from Zogenix/Astellas Pharma; Depomed's Serada (menopausal hot flashes); oncology products from Pfizer (Neratinib) and Abraxis (Abraxane); two Salix Pharmaceutical bowel prep products (MoviPrep and OsmoPrep); and Kepivance (oral mucositis) from Biovitrum. J&J/Vistakon's Acuvue account was lost due to consolidation.

Viray notes changes in sales forces, relationships with physicians, managed markets, and consumer roles have necessitated a “much more multichannel approach.” Digital work continues to increase. Managed markets work is also growing, and a med ed strategy group was launched. Viray notes that the “digital highway has becoming a very important part of med ed.” She also says the agency accumulated “really great” case studies for closed looped marketing and professional relationship marketing, including an eDetailing strategy for Pfizer.

Staying ahead of the coming “tsunami” of generic falloff is another priority, as is exploring emerging markets. The CementBloc is a founding member of Indigenus, a global agency network, and agency partner Rico Viray is currently serving as chairman. The network now includes 10 agencies with reach in Europe, Istanbul, Mexico, Canada and Australia. The group is exploring China now.

At home, focus for the rest of this year will be on driving the agency's convergence model. “We've had good success so far, and we're moving rapidly to flesh it all out and continue to make investments,” Viray says.

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