The Top 75: Wishbone/ITP

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Wishbone's mantra, according to founding partner and CEO Steven Michaelson:  “Job one is taking care of our existing business and taking care of clients by growing their brands.” That strategy seems to be working just fine. The company had 35% growth in 2008 and some significant wins.

Wishbone was awarded the Diovan business from Novartis as well as two cardiovascular products. “We had organic growth from our existing business plus the Novartis wins, that was big news for Wishbone,” says Michaelson.

Wishbone's existing business is strong with the Astepro and Optivar accounts from Meda and its work on EpiPen. The company also launched Synvisc-One from Genzyme, and the global launch of Samsca from Otsuka, business that Michaelson said is growing very strong. Wishbone recently won a group of products in a pitch from Atlanta-based Sciele for a group of products as well as the launch of their new agent for premature ejaculation.

While cardiovascular remains a strong area for Wishbone, the agency is active in a variety of therapeutics ranging from anti-retro viral HIV/AIDS all the way through oncology and Parkinson's disease.

Wishbone has made some key hires within the last year including: Alex Thompson, Mary Pagnotta and Anna Marie Echeverri who joined the agency as SVPs/management supervisors. They also beefed-up on the creative side, by adding SVP Amy Hirschberg and SVP Deborah Young who joined as creative director of copy. SVP Linda Ketchum joined the staff as an associate creative director of copy. Stephanie McGee joined the art department to manage the editorial, traffic, studio and production areas, and Kristen Byvoets was brought on board as a VP and director of operations. Wishbone currently has 70 people on staff.

Regulations, new technology, lack of new drugs and shift in spend have had an impact on the pharma landscape, says Michaelson who says that Wishbone excels because of its mantra of the big agency experience, without big agency bureaucracy. “The pressure that's put on product managers and directors and marketers, today, is that they have to do more with less. Our no big agency bureaucracy—having senior people work the business, we're able to fulfill that need and that's become very attractive with our clients.”

Wishbone, according to Michaelson, doesn't sell a big network. “We have what we call undivided divisions. That is, we have a multi-media division, we have a promotional medical education division and we have a direct-to-consumer division. We have these disciplines under one roof so we can integrate them seamlessly across our core competencies: strategy, creative and service,” says Michaelson. The agency recently joined a global network of 30 agencies around the world.

The big buzz in the industry lately, says Michaelson, is trying to catch-up with so-called “electronic” or “alternative media.” “Pharma is a little bit behind the curve as opposed to consumer advertising. I think there is a big race to that right now in the pharma space, hence the success of a bunch of pharma digital agencies that have popped-up.” Michaelson says the industry needs to take advantage of not only social media, but in a broader context, digital media in general.

One of the challenges of winning new business is that the agency has to staff-up accordingly. Michaelson says attracting talent has been a challenge but for Wishbone it's also become an achievement.

“We have a great senior staff and a large talent pool of dedicated employees,” he explains. “Smart, driven, creative people want to work at a smart, driven, creative agency.”
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