Area 23: 2017
622 3rd Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10017
Agency of the Year, Category I
Most Creative Agency
Most Admired Agency
Best Interactive Physician Campaign
Best Medical Device Campaign
Best Consumer Campaign
Best Nonbranded Campaign
Best Professional Campaign
Account wins 6
Active business clients 20
Brands by 2016 sales
Brand-product accounts held 34
$25 million or less 2
$25 million to $50 million 5
$50 million to $100 million 4
$100 million to $500 million 3
$500 million to $1 billion 3
$1 billion or more 1
Products yet to be approved/launched 16
How do you top your best year ever? According to Area 23 leaders, you don’t try to.
After a banner 2015, which saw the agency tack on 35 percent growth, rocket past the $50 million mark, add 65 employees, and rake in more creative awards than any other healthcare agency in the world, Area 23 leaders decided early in 2016 that it would be a year of slow and steady growth, with less pitching and a focus on culture. “Well, the gods of advertising had other plans, and after another explosive year, the agency has broken all of its own growth records once again, expanding another 55 percent in size, and finishing the year with 325 employees and more creative recognition than in any prior year,” executives say.
The Year’s Accomplishments
The year 2016 was a big one for product launches at Area 23, with three important oncology launches in the first half of the year alone. Merrimack’s Onivyde represented the first advance for pancreatic cancer in decades. Lilly’s Lartruvo was rushed to approval with a breakthrough designation in soft tissue sarcoma, an area of dire unmet need. Alecensa from Roche/Genentech was launched for NSCLC patients with the ALK+ mutation, bringing hope to that underserved group. In the latter half of the year, the agency led another launch, which made headlines around the world. Jardiance, a longstanding product from the BI/Lilly Diabetes Alliance, demonstrated reductions in cardiovascular (CV) death, leading to the brand’s much-anticipated launch in the CV space, and thrusting the brand onto the track of blockbuster potential.
On the new business front, the agency spent the first half of 2016 focusing on onboarding the new assignments won the prior year. During the second half of 2016, however, executives say the agency “put their pitch pants back on” and won all six out of the six pitches it participated in. New launch assignments included Gilteritinib, a heme-oncology agent from Astellas; Fostemsavir, an HIV therapy from ViiV; Ryanodex, a therapy for exertional heat stroke from Eagle; and an allergy diagnostic from Hycor based on a new technology platform. New in-line brand assignments included Onzetra Xsail, a migraine therapy from Avanir, and Beiersdorf’s household names, Eucerin and Aquaphor. “Winning new business is great, but the thing we’re most proud of is our organic growth because it’s a reflection of the superb work we’re doing with our existing clients,” says Rénee Mellas, managing director at Area 23. The agency experienced its biggest year of organic growth in 2016, with $4 million of growth revenue coming from existing assignments.
In 2016, executives say the agency’s biggest creative challenge was striving to top itself. According to managing director, Tim Hawkey, “We knew we had had such a killer year last year with the success of Free Killer Tan. It won everything under the sun in 2015. So our award goal for 2016 was not to win MORE awards, but to win awards with MORE campaigns, and strive to have work from every corner of the agency recognized at the highest level.”
Management believes that the agency has achieved this goal, as Area 23 earned awards for 10 of its clients and was the top award-winning U.S. healthcare agency at every show it entered, including Lions Health, the Manny Awards, the MM&M awards, The Creative Floor Awards, IPA Best of Health, The Global Awards, the North American Effies, and Clio Health. Some memorable trophy moments from 2016 include being awarded, for the second year in a row, the title of Most Creative Agency at the Manny Awards. At Lions Health, Area 23 took home its first Lion, a bronze for the “1000 Words about NTM” campaign for Insmed. The agency was shortlisted for six other pieces of work at Lions Health. At Clio Health, its Hero Gene and Melanoma Monsters campaigns each won a Gold Clio. “Our clients definitely deserve huge thanks,” added Mellas. “It takes a lot of courage to do things differently, to take risks with edgy creative or an innovation that no one has done before. Our clients’ pursuit of innovative marketing and advertising in this typically traditional marketplace – and their trust in us – make it all possible.”
Structure & Services
Given that 65 percent of the agency’s project revenue comes from digital projects, management says it was imperative for Area 23 to enhance its digital and multichannel offerings over the last year. According to Mellas, “It really wasn’t enough for us to simply scale up our in-house development, UX, technical design, and project management staff to match the general growth of the agency. This aspect of our business pushes us to always ask ourselves if there’s a better way to deliver a better product.”
To this end, the agency made both quantitative additions, scaling up its digital-centric staff past the 50-employee mark, and qualitative additions as well.
“Our commitment to technology has led us to aggressively pursue top-level certifications in platforms like Veeva, as well as newer entrants in the CLM space like IMS Health’s Mobile Intelligence,” Hawkey says. “And our advanced Analytics offerings include a custom algorithm that allows us to reach U.S. HCPs with laser-like focus so that we can more successfully provide them with content that’s relevant to them and their needs.”
Another Area 23 department that has grown by leaps and bounds is strategic planning, executives say. Taking into account the group’s growth, Mellas and Hawkey have implemented new leadership, with Jeremy Vallimont and Rich Norman tapped to co-lead the department. Vallimont was promoted from within after being with the agency the past three years, and Norman was formerly the head of strategic planning at Medicus, having led HCP efforts for Abbvie’s Humira across all indications.
“Another thing we’re incredibly proud of this year is how the agency’s growth translated to individual growth for the staff,” added Mellas. “This year, we promoted 80 people, a true reflection of our added commitment to career growth and promoting from within.” Notable promotions include Brad Peebles and Latifa Alladina, both promoted to executive VP, group management director, and Michael Kizilbash, promoted to executive VP, group creative director.
Executives say Area 23’s engine of innovation, called “What If”, continued to drive its most breakthrough work last year. But the agency’s leaders asked themselves what’s next for this core element of Area 23’s culture. According to Hawkey, “We have no shortage of brilliant ideas, but if they don’t see the light of day, then that idea isn’t really worth anything, now is it?”
To that end, agency leaders put a model in place designed to increase the production of seemingly impossible ideas. At the core of this new initiative is The Flying Squirrel award, given bi-monthly to the account manager who is instrumental in shepherding a “what if” idea into existence. “Think about it… the flying squirrel by all accounts should not exist,” Mellas says. “But that little marvel defied all odds and obstacles, including Mother Nature herself, in order to exist. And it’s the spirit of the flying squirrel – resourcefulness, problem-solving, tenacity – these are the traits we encourage in our account management team.”
“Given that 2016 was Area 23’s biggest year of growth on record, readers may ask if the agency had any time left to continue in its tradition of philanthropy,” executives note. “On the contrary, the year was also its biggest year for pro bono projects.”
The agency continued its relationship with the Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation (Mollie’s Fund), and took on three additional pro bono clients – the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Miracle Flights, and Military with PTSD.
For Mollie’s Fund, creative teams produced two new campaigns. The first was an outdoor print campaign called Melanoma Monsters that depicts the hideous reality underlying many innocent-looking moles. The second is a TV spot called Mr. Sun that is currently running both nationally and in Europe. The 60-second spot follows a woman from her deathbed – all the way back through her cancer journey – to when she was a little girl basking in the sun. The haunting rendition of the classic children’s song “Mr. Sun” sets the morbid tone for the spot.
Early in the year, Area 23 struck a new pro bono relationship with an Indiana charity, Military With PTSD. According to Hawkey, “We were inspired by a heartbreaking problem, that combat veterans with PTSD are actually terrorized on the Fourth of July by the explosions of fireworks. These men and women who fought for our freedom can’t even enjoy the very holiday that celebrates that freedom.”
So agency teams went to work on the problem, and their solution was decidedly unexpected. Agency technologists developed a pair of augmented reality headphones, programmed to recognize the sounds of fireworks and translate those sounds in real time into calming and reassuring sounds. The headphones were successfully tested in field last Fourth of July, and a mini documentary about the project, called The Speaking Fireworks, is serving as the main driver for a fundraising campaign to manufacture the headphones en masse. Readers can learn more about the project at TheSpeakingFireworks.com.
So what lays ahead for Area 23? “As evidenced by this year’s explosive growth, only the advertising gods know!” executives say. One major goal will be introducing and socializing the evolved creative philosophy, called Never Finished, from parent company FCB Global. And the agency’s leaders will continue to focus on a year of slow and steady growth, with a main focus on culture and continued innovation. “And of course, more flying squirrels!” management adds.