If 2020 was the Year of Workplace Disruption, then 2021 was the Year of Trying to Figure Out What’s Normal Now.

For Neon, that included acknowledging that its people, given the option of working from home, weren’t all that interested in returning to the agency’s office in Midtown Manhattan. So managing directors Mardene Miller and Jesse Kates created an initiative called Neon Neighborhoods, which charged geographic “captains” across the tri-state region with organizing team-building events for co-workers in their immediate area.

“We have a strong focus on empathy and human connectedness,” Kates says. “That’s how we approach everything we do, whether it’s working with employees or the activities we arrange.”

New ways of connecting (usually on Zoom) weren’t so unusual in the pandemic’s early days, but by last summer most agencies were pushing to get back to business as usual. For Miller and Kates, that presented an opportunity to take stock.

“We created this new mantra: ‘Light the way,’” Miller says. 

The metaphor is grounded in Neon’s work, about 40% of which is in the rare disease space. “For patients facing serious diseases and the HCPs who are lacking efficacious options to treat them, the way forward can be shrouded in darkness,” she explains.

But new ways of organizing weren’t limited to trivia nights. In July, Neon’s parent company, Interpublic Group, formally merged its FCB Health and McCann Health networks under the IPG Health banner. Being part of a new super-network allowed Neon to tap into more resources — such as partnering with sister agency Solve(d), which specializes in data analytics.

Shortly after the merger, Neon created a specialized intra-agency creative group dubbed The Bellows, which brings together an illustrator (new hire Virginia Zamora), several social media experts and other creatives who work across brands. It’s led by Ilya Tetelman, who joined Neon after a stint as creative director at Klick Health.

The agency also added three SVP-level execs: Kevin Williams and Jesse Packer, formerly of Evoke, joined as creative directors, while Tom Wagner left the client side at AstraZeneca to serve as group director, engagement. Overall staff size rose from 232 at the start of 2021 to 260 at the end of year.

Neon netted 10 new accounts from seven clients, powering an 11% increase in revenue to an MM+M-estimated $52 million from last year’s estimate of $47 million. Noteworthy additions included two oncology indication launches for Sanofi/Regeneron, an AOR engagement on Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine and two EMD Serono brands, which brought neurology back into Neon’s portfolio.

The momentum has carried into 2022, Miller reports, with launches for Xeris Pharmaceuticals and Novartis and the upcoming global Novavax launch on the firm’s calendar. And while further client growth is welcome, Miller reiterates that she’s just as focused internally.

“Achieving our vision, keeping our current businesses and producing great work are important. But most of all, we strive to have everybody who works at Neon really love working at Neon.” 

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

Progressive’s Unbecoming Your Parents campaign. The spots are wonderful, as is the lesser-known self-help book, Dr. Rick Will See You Now, which can be downloaded from Progressive’s website. I’m jealous of the insight and fantastic writing. Tapping into that kind of widespread relatability and paying it off with relatable humor is good for all of us — as individuals, brand stewards and members of the marketing community. — Kates