The Top 60: Ferguson

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CommonHealth network founder Ferguson shook things up this year with the hiring of a new president, Chris Tama. Additionally, Laura Schember was appointed director of client services, while Neil Paulino and Gregg Friedmann were named co-chief creatives, a senior management level position.

“We've won a number of new accounts and added people across the board,” says Tama. “We have a nice growth trajectory, compared with 30% growth [at the end of 2007] heading into 2008.”

New neuroscience and oncology work plus five new client wins helped catalyze the expansion. “We more than doubled our business with Merck,” notes Tama. Other wins include Endo Pharmaceuticals, Novartis' Voltaren Gel (a topical osteoporosis treatment) and Elidel, for eczema. Tama says Ferguson's most significant loss was Berlex's women's health work—the company merged with Bayer last summer. Ferguson also lost GlaxoSmithKline's Avandia, a diabetes drug plagued with safety concerns and black-box warnings.

Tama says Ferguson will be diving into a lot more interactive and digital. Tama is excited about emerging media online, and his excitement is translating into action. Working with Qi, CommonHealth's digital agency, Ferguson developed a brand franchise strategy for Merck that utilized technology oriented around developing products with a novel mechanism of action, explains Tama. “We developed an online game, just like you would see in a Nintendo or Playstation format. We took it to conventions where doctors could walk up and win points.” Tama says Ferguson works with Qi on virtually every one of its clients, but points out that the digital world is not just a “presence” to be filled. “It's how you strategically drive traffic, adherence and compliance [in the digital space],” he says.

Ferguson has plans to add 20 new creative and account people in 2008. Tama says finding the right people isn't easy. “Every hire we make has to bring something extra to the party, and that's a challenge.” Combine that with market challenges, and you have an environment where the investment required in getting new business gets expensive, explains Tama. “There's a shift to much more at-risk spending,” he says. 

With two active launches, three pre-launches and a number of products maturing, Tama appears to be doing something right. The collaborative approach to business found in the CommonHealth network is a major strength for the agency, says Tama. “When we're pitching, we have a managed care expert, a customer relationships management person in the room, and others. [All the CommonHealth agencies] grew organically, it's a great collaboration.” 

“In 34 years we've launched over 250 brands. We created the first DTC campaign, for Claritin, and were the first to do interactive gaming,” says Tama. “I feel very bullish about Ferguson. We're reinvigorated and rejuvenated—we have vitality as an organization.” 

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