When something’s not working, Harrison and Star isn’t afraid to go back to the drawing board.

In 2018, the venerable New York City agency restructured into three separate divisions. But in 2019, it reconfigured once anew, dissolving these divisions and placing the reunited firm under the auspices of a single integrated leadership team, which consists of two strategists, two account people and two creatives.

The new structure is designed to make Harrison and Star feel smaller and more nimble. While the three-practice approach succeeded to an extent, CEO Mario Muredda concedes that he had “started to see fiefdoms emerge.” The agency is now operated as a cohesive whole, with the integrated team “overseeing everything from a day-to-day perspective,” Muredda adds. 

The new structure has helped fill a void atop the agency: Former president Mardene Miller departed Harrison and Star in early 2019, but the company hasn’t yet replaced her.

“As we restructured over the last two years, my intent was to get to know the business and the clients and the people, so that I’d have a good sense of what I was looking for in a president,” Muredda explains. “I have a good finger on the pulse of the agency, but we haven’t filled the spot yet.” He stresses the importance of finding someone who is the right cultural fit.

Muredda attributes much of Harrison and Star’s success to its encouragement of creativity in all departments and at all levels of the agency. This is perhaps best illustrated by an annual Shark Tank-style pitch event in which anyone at the agency “can bring an idea to bear that is beneficial to society, to the agency or to our local community,” Muredda says. One recent winning pitch was to create a relief fund for agency workers and families living with cancer; employees can contribute a portion of their salaries to the cause. 

Harrison and Star_Dream Foundation

Harrison and Star enjoyed a solid financial year in 2019, with revenue up by “not quite double digits,” according to Muredda. MM&M estimates that the agency generated $120 million in revenue, up 9% from an estimated $110 million in 2018. The growth was driven by new business from Takeda (on leukemia drug Iclusig), Bristol Myers Squibb (on cancer drugs Revlimid and Pomalyst) and Merck (on biosimilars). Head count rose from 240 to 260, with former GSW SVP, creative director Adam Hessel joining the agency as EVP, executive creative director.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, Muredda isn’t sure how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the company’s business. His concern right now is for his people — and specifically, making sure employees who are taking care of children or relatives don’t burn out. “Personal schedules don’t always align with the business schedule for work,” Muredda notes.

In response, Harrison and Star has created a team designed to help employees recalibrate and reset their schedules as needed. And as best he can, Muredda has continued to emphasize the importance of the agency’s culture and its rituals — which remain intact, just virtually.

The best marketing we saw in 2019…

McCann New York’s work with Donate Life California on Second Chances. The idea is to grant drivers a second chance/warning for a minor traffic violation if, during the traffic stop, their driver’s licenses demonstrate they were organ donors. It’s a great example of a brilliant, simple, socially meaningful idea executed flawlessly. — Mario Muredda