The beautiful agency game

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The World Cup is easily my most favorite thing ever. And for reasons too numerous, too complex and too ridiculous to mention. But one of the tournament's more obvious appeals is its unfailing ability to deliver, at some stage, the most nail-destroying, seat-edge-perching drama known to mankind. Drama that comes from switching back and forth between adversity and triumph, and ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Drama that even threatens to reward, just once in a while, my blind British obsession with the underdog.

Here's the thing: As human beings, we are addicted to what sportscasters call the come-from-behind win. We can't help ourselves. It's in our nature. We get drawn in and we want more. Five Rocky movies is probably not enough. But come-from-behind wins are not just for sports (or sports movies).

Welcome to The Agency Issue 2006. It's the biggest ever issue in MM&M's 40-year history, and it contains the most comprehensive coverage of healthcare agencies we've ever compiled. We profiled, objectively, the 40 largest agencies and networks (pages 38 to 126), by talking to their principals and drawing on the data we collected through our annual agency survey. And we compiled as much information as possible on at least 80 more firms as part of our annual Agency A-to-Z section.

And it's not unlike the World Cup. For starters, there is a highly competitive field of agencies (“teams”) of different strengths and from different regions. Each team has its own culture and ideas on how to play. Some expect to win it all. Others, no less enthusiastic, are content to pick up the odd win.

But best of all, just like in the World Cup, there are many exciting come-from-behind victories.

Here are some of my favorites:
Team Donahoe Purohit Miller. Losing its Dermik business when Sanofi-Aventis consolidated its accounts with Publicis should have been bad news. But it turned out to be a catalyst for new accounts, a more diversified roster and a hike in revenues.

Team Euro RSCG. Plain bad luck (or regulatory action) robbed the network of major accounts like Tysabri, Bextra and Oporia. But after a stirring team talk, Euro came out fighting, winning 203 of 278 pitches.

Team FCB Healthcare. After 14 years of servicing Merck's prize Zocor account, the blockbuster finally went off-patent and FCB should have been hit hard. But Dana Maiman and Tom Domanico coached a fine game of strategy and skill, refocusing on high-science and niche brands, and FCB is now very much back in the game.

Team Grey Healthcare Group. Losing both Crestor and Actonel in DTC-led consolidations would put any agency on the ropes. But in true Balboa style, Grey bounced back and won 14 new accounts in its best year yet.

Team Harrison & Star. Larry Star began 2005 “in a huge hole” after Sanofi-Aventis reassigned Taxotere—25% of his business. But good team play resulted in so much new work that he had to hire 64 new staff in what turned out to be the firm's best ever year.

Team Metaphor. Parting ways with Reliant cost Metaphor a whopping 80% of its business. (Like getting eight red cards.) But after winning key accounts with GSK and J&J, the agency actually finished the year up.

Team Wishbone/ITP. Waved goodbye to a third of its business with the losses of Zomig and Sonata. “I held onto everybody for four months and we won our next three pitches and didn't have to let anybody go,” beams founding partner/CEO Steven Michaelson.

I am hoping for one more dramatic turnaround—the one that ends with England lifting the World Cup for the first time in my life. And if that doesn't happen? There's always Rocky VI to look forward to.

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