The Top 40: Metaphor

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In the tumultuous sea of healthcare advertising, Metaphor has been an unsinkable ship. In June 2005, its largest client, Reliant Pharmaceuticals, terminated their partnership and, just like that, Metaphor lost 80% of its business. Where many companies might have fired employees or flown the coop, Metaphor persevered and came out on top. In fact, 2005 revenues were up from $5.5 million to $6.3 million.

“It was really a tenuous time where I think most management teams would have cut staff to save money,” says chief creative officer Nick Calandrillo. “We had squirreled away enough to keep the staff on board for about six months through some really slow times, because we have good people that we didn't want to lose. We held the boat strong in the face of the storm and we recovered nicely. It was a major achievement.”

In January this year, Metaphor won the agency of record for GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health's Alli, an over the counter weight-loss medication, as well as the account for the Johnson & Johnson company DePuy Mitek's new knee osteoarthritis medicine, Orthovisc. Since then, the firm has won two additional products from DePuy Mitek, and three accounts from Chester Valley Pharmaceuticals. Losing Reliant “put us in a position to rebound,” continues Calandrillo, “and regain the same amount of business, if not more, than we originally had.”

As a result of the demand, Metaphor added five new people, primarily on the creative side and in account management, bringing the total to 30. Throughout their period of difficulty, management was not only reluctant to cut staff, but staff was disinclined to leave.

“People want to work here,” says president Dwayne Hann. “I haven't had somebody resign in six years.” Hann points to Metaphor's family oriented environment, and flexible work schedule, as factors that keep people satisfied. “We are concerned about profit,” says Hann, “but we don't want the profit to come as a result of people's family lives and their personal activities.”

Hann believes such an experienced staff allows Metaphor to differentiate itself from other agencies, especially the large networks, which might not be able to give clients the same senior-level attention. “By design we are an experienced group here; we don't have anyone who hasn't been in the industry for at least 10 years.” Among his clients, Hann sees “more and more dissatisfaction with the big conglomerate sort of agencies, where clients are required to use a particular network within an agency group, they may not be getting the quality and attention they want.”

However, Hann also acknowledges the difficulties facing smaller agencies. Metaphor has an aggressive growth plan, but for now, “positioning ourselves and creating stronger awareness of our successes is a big challenge for us personally.” Other challenges include standing out in the pitching process, and gaining access to the large clients tied up by the networks.

“I think there is going to be some backlash to the network concept,” says Hann, “because clients are not getting what they want. We hear it every day. Hopefully, companies our size will start having an impact too.”

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