Some 16 months ago, right after managing director Mardene Miller joined Neon, the agency dubbed 2019 “the year of elevation.” The idea? To elevate most everything it does, whether internal processes, talent level, client engagement or creative work.

The ultimate result, according to Miller, was a year of firsts and “exponential growth.” Revenue jumped 34% in 2019, to an MM&M-estimated $47 million from an estimated $35 million in 2018. Staff size surged in tandem, from 173 to 232.

The successes were fueled in part by the willingness of Miller and fellow managing director Kevin McHale to re-evaluate all facets of Neon’s business. “We looked at every single discipline — not only the way that we do things, but also the approach, the process, who is doing what,” she explains.

They believe that this self-analysis paid off in the form of new business. Much of the growth was organic, with Neon adding a pair of oncology brands from Taiho. Other notable account wins included a new brand and three new indications from Regeneron/Sanofi (in oncology) and AOR assignments from Ascendis (endocrinology) and Rhythm (rare disease).

At the same time, McHale says Neon distinguished itself creatively. He points to Elevate Enthesitis and Monster in the Dark, two unbranded axial spondyloarthritis campaigns the agency completed for longtime client Novartis, as prime examples of the agency’s creative and strategic acuity.

neon selma campaign

“Elevate Enthesitis is a deep, rich, multichannel campaign and Monster in the Dark is perhaps a bit smaller, but they’re both built from and informed by different subsets of data,” McHale says.

There were other firsts, too, including a social media campaign for Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals’ Acthar Gel. McHale believes it marked the first time a multiple sclerosis brand was able to tap into the personal social media presence of a celebrity health influencer — in this case, actress and health activist Selma Blair.

“It just happened that she was about to come out and announce that she had finally been diagnosed with MS and was fighting it,” he says. “We were able to leverage her personal social media channels to promote the brand’s channels, so she became a brand ambassador for Acthar Gel. As far as we know, we’re the only ones who have been able to work with a celebrity and have them promote branded content this way.”

As for the staffing additions (prior to coronavirus), Neon managed to increase top-tier talent without adding multiple layers of executive hierarchy. New arrivals included SVP, group strategic planning director David Hymson, formerly of VMLY&R; SVP, group management director Jim Murphy, from Harrison and Star; SVP, group management director Astrid Reynolds, from Syneos Health; SVP, group creative director Keshni Sharma, from FCB Health; and SVP, management director Becky Yan, from Area 23.

“What we did was create an amazing bench for the SVP leadership,” Miller says.

The best marketing we saw in 2019…

One Word from Area 23 for Constant Therapy. — Mardene Miller