Welcome to The Agency Issue 2008—the biggest ever issue of MM&M. This year we interviewed the respective principals of the Top 60 agencies and wrote about their experiences, highlights and observations from the past year or so, as well as their projections for the future.

And never before have we seen so much apparent consensus on the key trends and challenges. Never before have so many agencies leaders spoken in unison about the state of the industry and the road ahead.

So what were some of the common threads from our conversations?

Interactive integration: While the news may not yet have reached everybody on the client side, the onset of digital media has exacerbated the inevitable blurring between marketing silos. And no longer are agencies waiting to see whether e-pharma’s budgetary dam will actually break and whether or not the digital dollars will start flowing. It will, and they are.

“We used to have a print space and a digital space,” says Phil Deschamps, president of GSW Worldwide. “Those terms are gone. With our biggest clients, we aren’t doing anything that folds.”
The folks at Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications have a similar mindset: “What keeps me up at night isn’t shrinking budgets or the elections,” says president Sam Welch. “It’s how do I keep this company relevant and ahead of the healthcare space? Because if I set my competitive targets at the traditional shops, I’m probably not going to move fast enough.”

Staffing: Finding enough talent to sustain growth is every agency’s favorite grumble. Most are tackling the issue by creating workplace cultures that embody fun and fulfillment, and by looking for  new hires in places no one else would have dreamed of looking. One firm, however, claims to have solved the problem altogether. “Hiring is not one of our biggest challenges anymore,” says Carol DiSanto, president at Cline Davis & Mann, which recently set up a dedicated talent acquisition department. “It’s certainly one of our biggest accomplishments.”

Regulatory issues: This is another bugbear—it seems the constant regulatory scrutiny of pharma is starting to wear thin.

“Some clients have stopped being marketers and started being risk managers,” says Anne Devereux, CEO of LyonHeart. “And that makes it harder to do aggressive work. Confident organizations use those challenges as an opportunity to do things differently.”

The economy: The squeeze is on and agencies are really starting to feel it. But most are coming out fighting. “We’re not intimidated by the realities of this business right now,” says Michael Schreiber of AgencyRx. “There are unique and creative ways to work within and around the shrinking sales forces and budgets. We’re going to be fearless and we’re going to be smart.”

Where are the new drugs?
FDA drug approvals haven’t dried up completely, of course. So far this year, 32 new treatments have been added to MM&M’s New Drug Dossier. If you haven’t seen the dossier, it’s an online resource for marketers that charts both promotional insights and clinical information for every newly approved product—things like agency rosters, promotional strategy, market data, pipeline competition, physician forecast and indications. Check it out at mmm-online.com.