Like most every other agency, Neon spent much of the first half of 2020 adjusting to the new digital, remote and virtual world. But the company managed to stay on top of its game, generating a FCB Health Network first in the process.

A virtual booth, engineered by Neon in conjunction with FCB sibling Studio RX on behalf of the Regeneron/Sanofi Genzyme non-small cell lung cancer drug Libtayo, opened eyes at the first virtual ASCO event. “ASCO is so huge — oncology companies plan around it a year in advance,” says Neon managing director Mardene Miller. “Then COVID hits in March and we had to scramble and do this in record time. There was a lot riding on it and we felt the pressure, but it worked.”

Alongside four virtual launches, the booth represented one of Neon’s crowning achievements during a period where many projects existed exclusively in the digital realm. “People laugh year after year when clients say, ‘This year, it will be digital-first,’ then no one is ever digital-first,” Miller quips. “Well, this year everyone was forced to be digital-first.


To that end, the pandemic prompted Neon to effect numerous operational improvements. “We learned how to do things a little bit smarter,” Miller continues, pointing to the agency’s streamlining of its briefing and development processes, among other things. “We created better ways to do business and be more efficient.”

The agency brought in its share of new business over the course of the year, including AOR assignments from Sunovion, Strongbridge Biopharma and Pharming. They join AOR engagements with AbbVie, Janssen, Novartis, Genentech, United Therapeutics and Pfizer/Exact Sciences on the Neon roster. Revenue and head count remained flat at an MM+M-estimated $47 million and 232 full-time staffers, respectively.

Jesse Kates returned to the company as EVP, managing director and executive creative director following a stint as executive creative director at Grey Group (“bringing him back was our proudest moment,” Miller says). Other additions included SVP, group creative director Sebastian Mallarino (from Grey Group) and VP, director of technology David Roach (from Campground Digital).

Miller is bullish on what’s left of 2021, reporting that revenue in the year’s first three months was up double digits over the year-ago period. “Everyone came into 2021 with an optimistic attitude and so far it’s been great,” she says, pointing to a pair of wins and a successful “double launch” of two new indications for Libtayo. 

And despite Neon’s successful transition to virtual work — “it was shown to be possible, effective and efficient,” Miller notes — she is very much looking forward to a return to something approximating the pre-COVID normal.

“I know we will be able to be with each other soon, in some fashion,” Miller says. “We miss each other and the interaction, the play and the give-and-take in our conference rooms. We all can’t wait to write on a whiteboard.” 

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

The Call from The Bloc was one of the most important ideas to emerge from our industry in 2020. It shines a stark and horrifying light on the single most urgent problem in healthcare today. Racial and ethnic disparities in care demand immediate and ongoing action from our industry. We have the collective creative power to make measurable inroads in closing the gap, but we all have to do a whole lot more to get there. — Mardene Miller