The Spirit of 2007

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I always look forward to compiling the July issue because, although we cover agency news year-round, it affords us a much more detailed look at who’s doing what and allows us to chart the trends.

The pressures exerted on agencies are familiar to most people in this industry: fewer drug approvals, the ever-changing and ever-tightening regulatory environment, the procurement process, resource-draining pitches, agency consolidation, hiring and retaining talented employees, and integrating new media into offerings…to name but a few.

While most of these pressures are not new, the attitude with which agencies are tackling them is changing. Instead of relating stories of self-pity that decry the unfortunate circumstances in which firms find themselves, there seems to have been an industry-wide acceptance of the challenges, followed by a collective rolling up of the sleeves and a determination to adapt to the climate and turn these challenges into opportunities. This is about agencies fighting harder and smarter. This is the spirit of 2007.

Many agencies are changing the way they approach new business. While jumping through hoops is no fun, and the notion of commoditizing strategic and creative genius is difficult to swallow, many firms have revamped both their pitch selection and execution. Some are even recognizing that procurement can actually be advantageous.

“When it’s done well, it can be a great boon to agencies,” says AbelsonTaylor president and CEO Dale Taylor, whose agency posted revenue growth of more than 20% in 2006, along with 80 or so extra staff.

Cline Davis & Mann is another agency that claims to have figured out a good pitching process. And you certainly cannot argue with the numbers—in the past 18 months, CDM has won a staggering 48 pitches in 56 attempts.

According to these statistics, CDM has a greater chance of winning its next pitch (86%) than the Mets’ Jose Reyes (the most prolific base-stealer in professional baseball) has of stealing his next base (81%).

CDM chairman and CEO Ed Wise believes the pitching process has made his agency smarter.
“We came from the kind of environment when we first started out where we were not pitching for assignments,” he says. “ But we’ve become a better organization as a result of being out in the marketplace next to all the competitive pressures.”

Yet another example comes from LLNS reincarnation LyonHeart. “Before, when we were working on new business, people thought it was homework,” says LyonHeart president Susan Flinn. “They were like, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to work on a new business pitch, it’s so boring and we never win.’  Now I have people clamoring to get on pitches, volunteering to give up their weekends and coming in with amazing ideas. It’s like new blood has infiltrated the agency…you can sense the change in dynamic.”

You can read all of these stories and more in The Top 50 agency profiles. Each article is written independently by a member of the MM&M team, and is based on interviews with the agency principal and on research. The agencies themselves do not write these reviews. I believe this consistent and independent approach adds enormous value to this issue, and produces a set of comparable, digestible and entertaining snapshots of the key firms. But you should judge for yourselves.

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