The Top 60: Wishbone/ITP

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With a 10% increase in business and seven new agency of record assignments in 2007, Wishbone/ITP is poised for even more growth in 2008, according to Steven Michaelson, founder and CEO. “Our goal for 2008 is to service all our business on every level,” says Michaelson. Wishbone resigned its first piece of business in 2007, and has turned down pitches to make good on that objective. “We want to be the best, not the biggest,” he says.

The agency recently picked up the professional account on Novartis' Diovan, a drug for hypertension, and new AOR accounts include Medpointe's New Formulation Astelin, Dey LP's Cyanokit, Biobrane and EpiPen's patient/consumer account—the agency has held EpiPen's professional account since 2003.
Wishbone won four pieces of business from Valeant, which include Diastat AcuDial, Zelapar and Migranal. The Diovan win was particularly sweet, since Wishbone was in the ring with five other agencies, most of them from a heavier weight class.

Michaelson says his mantra from the agency's inception has been to deliver “the big-agency experience without the big-agency bureaucracy.”

Wishbone hired two senior vice presidents/managing supervisors in 2007—Karl Tiedemann and Bob Karczewski—and has built two new account groups under each of them. The agency's indie status disallows multiple layers of agency management or time-consuming commitments to parent companies, notes Michaelson. “The same senior executives who pitch your business will work on your business—there's no ‘bait and switch,'” he says. Buying everyone lunch each day is one way Michaelson keeps his staff happy. “Great talent and a great process can't thrive on its own,” says Michaelson.

The biggest challenge for Wishbone moving forward is the role of procurement. “Procurement is driving the business. Clients just want more for less. Our challenge is delivering the same strategic/creative product within those confines. There are less blockbuster brands coming to market, so more than ever before, big agencies are fighting over smaller to mid-size products,” explains Michaelson. “Brands well under $100, $50 and even $20 million in sales are targets, and we're competing with agencies four and five times our size.”

Backed by practicing cardiologist and chief medical officer Dr. James Christodoulou, Wishbone claims its cardiovascular group has an obvious strength. The agency is also looking to expand its oncology group, and hopes to add another oncology account to the roster by the end of the year. The agency also has an in-house med ed division, called Backbone.

Wishbone's Discovery process “guides all our strategic, creative and tactical thinking. This process is a systematic way of turning marketing insights into strategic imperatives—which in turn guides creative and tactical development. The process is flexible enough to work with any brand or client, yet it's structured enough to ensure that our thinking is always ‘on strategy,'” says Michaelson. Explaining the “big-agency experience” further, Michaelson says it translates into the “highest-caliber thinking, whether strategic, creative, tactical or scientific.” Avoiding “big-agency bureaucracy” means the ability to be always on time and always on budget.
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