The Top 40: Corbett Accel Healthcare Group

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In the conference room of Corbett Accel Healthcare Group's New York outpost hangs a sign listing the firm's ambitions in the wake of the early 2004 merger of Omnicom siblings Corbett Healthcare Group and Accel Healthcare Communications. One line in particular continues to resonate with CEO Scott Cotherman.

“It says that within three years, we'll be a highly diversified company offering the services that span a brand's life cycle, from birth to death,” he notes. “I guess the headline of us is that we've accomplished what we set out to do on January 29, 2004. It took us two years to do what we hoped to do in three.”

If Corbett Accel's 2004 was about change and the accompanying upheaval, then the firm's 2005 was about solidification of leadership and capabilities, and the stability that comes with it. Corbett Accel had already shifted about one-third of its business from Chicago to New York. “It was kind of like the older sibling donating a kidney to the younger sibling,” Cotherman jokes.
The East Coast outpost thrived, and was rebranded as Surge Worldwide. “It was very clear to us that both organizations deserved their own place in the marketplace as well as their own identities,” Cotherman says.

Cotherman acknowledges that the firm endured its share of growing pains. “It would make a wonderful made-for-TV movie full of intrigue and drama,” he cracks. “But really, the thing you can't anticipate, especially in a professional-services-firm environment, is the human fallout associated with it. There's always going to be some of that, no matter how well you plan.”
Whatever challenges Corbett Accel has endured, the firm heads into the second half of 2006 hoping to cement its 10th double-digit-growth year out of the last 11. In addition to the Surge Worldwide and Corbett Worldwide advertising/promotion brands, the company has grown its digital (Kinect), global clinical trials (Iris) and business/competitive intelligence (Guidenz) arms substantially. Across its seven independent business units, Corbett Accel added more than 100 employees in 2005.

Though the agency doesn't talk about client business, Cotherman points to new work from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Alcon Laboratories in Chicago and Merck and Schering-Plough in New York. Right now, the firm boasts around 30 clients and 65 brand relationships. He also touts Corbett Accel's success working on joint ventures, notably the Merck/Schering-Plough Vytorin and Zetia cholesterol drugs and BMS/Otsuka America's Abilify therapy for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“So many agencies cringe at the prospect of getting involved with joint-venture products. They see it as a minefield filled with all sorts of delicate political situations,” he explains. “But when you have success that comes out of it, each company sees how much value the agency has contributed. That can serve as a new-business engine.”

Looking ahead, keep an eye on Corbett Accel's Kinect and Iris units. Kinect has earned raves for its aggressive approach toward digitizing sales interactions and materials. “You can take one-to-one sales relationships so much deeper. These [digital] sales materials don't just go back into the rep's trunk—you can track them,” says Cotherman. As for Iris, a recent spate of clinical-trial-management and patient-recruitment assignments has the unit poised for substantial growth. “It's not at all unlikely that we may see Iris equal the combined size of Surge and Corbett.”

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