33 West Monroe
Chicago, IL 60603
Best Philanthropic Campaign
Most Creative Agency
Most Admired Agency
Account wins 16
Active business clients 21
Brands by 2016 sales
Brand-product accounts held 48
$25 million or less 4
$25 million-$50 million 11
$50 million-$100 million 11
$100 million-$500 million 7
$500 million-$1 billion 6
$1 billion or more 3
Products not yet approved/launched 6
Sales Promotion 45%
Video Brochures 30%
Consumer Publication 6%
Astellas Pharma US
Eli Lilly/Daiichi Sankyo
For AbelsonTaylor, 2016 was a successful year by any measure, according to management. The Cubs won the World Series and the agency grew its client and brand rosters, revenue, staff, and capabilities. Executives say 2015’s growth of more than 16 percent was hard to match, and much of 2016 was spent hiring the staff needed to service new clients and new brands. AbelsonTaylor turned down most pitch opportunities and still grew the business by about 5 percent, according to its leadership, adding that growth came from both new and existing clients and would have been higher had product and project approvals not been pushed into 2017.
The Year’s Accomplishments
Even though the agency said no to most pitch opportunities, AbelsonTaylor landed 16 new brands during the year. “As seems to always be the case at AT, most of the new business, 12 brands to be exact, came without a pitch,” executives say.
Some of the brands that joined the roster without a pitch include Chiesi’s Cleviprex and Kengreal, CSL Behring’s launches for Afstyla and Idelvion, Fresenius Kabi’s Simplist line of prefilled syringes and corporate ASHP convention booth, and Orexigen’s Contrave. Pitch wins include TherapeuticsMD’s TX-004HR and Pacira’s Exparel. Additionally, the agency won assignments in the diabetes monitoring, migraine, cardiovascular, Parkinson’s, and physical therapy markets.
Executives say the agency is proud of its long history of winning without a pitch. Over the last two years, AbelsonTaylor has added 34 brands to the roster without a pitch. “Each is a testimony to the agency’s consistent ability to build trust-based relationships that keep clients coming back,” execs say.
During the year, the agency worked on eight product launches, created 15 new promotional campaigns, developed 700 digital projects, and produced broadcast spots for six clients, managers say.
Executives admit that AbelsonTaylor lost two important clients. “Both were probably unavoidable,” management explains. “The agency walked away from one, a client in the respiratory market, when procurement demanded a rate cut that would have meant operating at a loss. The other, a GI drug, was lost when a new manager came in and quickly made a change.
Says CEO Dale Taylor, “It always seems unfair when you lose a brand this way. But it seems OK when you win one. It’s like the last election – only rigged when you lose.”
Oncology remains a key focus for the agency. With two brand launches this year and more planned for the next in the important immuno-oncology space, executives consider the category an important engine of growth for the agency.
Rare diseases are another major focus for AbelsonTaylor. Currently the agency has 11 brands on the roster for rare diseases. According to executives, more than 20 years of experience with these conditions have made AbelsonTaylor expert in the unusual dynamics of conditions with small numbers of patients and deeply committed caregivers and support groups. Social media has become the key to reaching and helping these patients and caregivers, and executives say the agency has created a deep expertise in this area.
Two of the three major publications in the industry named AbelsonTaylor Agency of the Year, and Med Ad News named the agency one of three finalists for Category I Agency of the Year in 2016. “That is an amazing accomplishment and one that may have never been achieved before,” execs note.
AbelsonTaylor is always a presence at the creative awards table, management points out. In 2016, among many other awards, the agency won Golds for Best App for the Daliresp IVA, a professional website educating oncologists about lung cancer cell mutation, the launch website for an important lung cancer drug, and a broadcast spot for a drug for adult acne. Silvers were collected for the Amitiza broadcast spot, a lung cancer global campaign, and social media for Ultrashape. “Big wins in all digital and social channels are good examples of how the world of patient and professional communications is changing and how well the agency has adapted to that change with award-winning work,” executives say. A total of 11 Gold and 13 Silver awards were won in various creative competitions.
Three AbelsonTaylor programs were elected to the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame. The agency’s campaigns for Biaxin (Bix the Biaxin Bulldog), Prevacid (the Prevacid Tummy), and the Rozerem website (Abe and the Beaver) were included as examples of the best work the industry has ever produced. Executives point out that of the nine campaigns in the Hall of Fame, four are from AbelsonTaylor.
Executives say DOSE, the agency’s animation studio, continues to grow with work from the agency’s clients and by winning outside work. The group has garnered awards for its work and continues to be an important contributor to the agency’s success.
And 2016 saw the first assignment for Nutrient, the creative consultancy first discussed in last year’s agency review. Executives say the focus of the Nutrient initiative is to deliver insight and creative platforms to the marketers of health and wellness brands outside the traditional pharma and medical device space where the agency has been so successful.
Structure & Services
AT is independent and employee owned. More than 10 years ago, Taylor began the process of selling stock to employees. Now 15 employees own the agency. According to executives, Taylor’s goal is to ensure senior staff stability, constantly bring the next-generation staffers into positions of leadership and equity, and reward high contributors. Taylor also wants to make sure that the people who are making decisions about the agency and its future are the people who must look the staff in the eye every day. “When the owners are a network or a holding company or a pension fund, different kinds of decisions get made,” managers say. As a part of this process, long-time VP Account Director Laura Bartmess became a stockholder and member of the executive committee.
According to executives, staff turnover reduced in 2016 and is comfortably below industry averages. The agency brought on 102 new staffers and promoted 58 employees.
AbelsonTaylor is continuing to grow its relationship with MIT and the MIT Hacking Medicine organization by collaborating on several health hacks in 2016. At both SXSW and the MIT Grand Hack held at MIT, AT team members served as mentors to hacking teams, helping guide them through the ideation, design, and engineering process to solve some of today’s most challenging healthcare issues.
“AbelsonTaylor devotes a lot of heart, time, and money to trying to do the right thing for the community and world in which we all live,” executives say. The agency has given Winterfest, Urban Initiatives, and Chicago Food Depository about $1 million over the years from Friday Lunch proceeds. The Off the Street Club, Lymphoma Society, Ronald McDonald House, and the Movember men’s health initiative and more have all benefited from Hearts AT Work, the committee that guides their philanthropy and community service efforts.
A major beneficiary of these efforts over the years has been Heifer International. For the past few years, the agency, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has been a major sponsor of Heifer’s East Africa Dairy Development program. This program, which now involves almost 50,000 small dairy farmers in Kenya, teaches a no-graze method of dairy farming and supports distribution and processing centers for the milk. To help recruitment in other African countries and support fundraising, a team of filmmakers, writers, and art directors from the agency, including Taylor, traveled to Kenya to make a film about the program. They interviewed farmers whose lives have been changed by this innovative program and visited the distribution center. The resulting film was delivered to Heifer in February.