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Making a case for an Agency union A Union that Celebrates People Corbett and Accel have joined forces to form Corbett Accel Healthcare Group. The goal is to attract top talent and leverage each other’s strengths to provide the service integration required by forward-thinking clients on behalf of their brands. Call it a union. Call it a symbiotic relationship. Call it a brain trust. Call it anything but a merger. Agency executives are very careful not to call the joining of The Corbett Healthcare Group, Chicago, and Accel Healthcare Communications, New York, a merger because this joining of forces is not predicated on bolstering the bottom line through a reduction in head counts, resources, or offices but on expanding capabilities based on a core commonality: talented people. “We share a real commitment to adding value to clients and creating a culture that celebrates people,” says Scott Cotherman, CEO of Corbett Accel. “We want to be a magnet for the type of talent that produces market-moving ideas and initiatives. We want to do business that produces business for our clients. Whatever differences between the two agencies, those core values are very much the same.” “This is not a merger in the traditional sense,” Mr. Cotherman says. “Mergers often connote one key player taking over a weaker player with a focus on cost savings and efficiencies through consolidation. The Corbett Accel union, on the other hand, is about attracting top talent and leveraging each other’s strengths to provide service integration required by forward-thinking clients on behalf of their brands. This is a union of two strong companies. Furthermore, this is about two companies experiencing phenomenal growth – two companies that share common goals and work cultures.” Both agencies are part of The Omnicom Group’s Diversified Agency Services (DAS) umbrella. The Corbett Accel company will have separate offices in New York, Chicago, and London. Each of the 10 business units within Corbett Accel will operate independently, pursuing and managing its own clients and brand assignments. (For more information, see box on this page.) Risa Bernstein, chairman of the new entity, approached Mr. Cotherman about seven months ago with the idea of a “supra” business model. “This idea had been forming for a long time,” Ms. Bernstein says. “When we started Accel, the goal wasn’t to become a really big agency. We wanted to be a great agency, doing great work and having a great roster of clients and employees. We were exploring strategies that would help us sustain our growth and expand our service offering. It became clear to us that the big agencies were winning because of their ability to service clients with a diversified offering.” Ms. Bernstein, along with Charlene Prounis, Andrea G. Seiden, and two other partners formed Accel Healthcare five years ago. For Accel to achieve its goals, a partnership was the ideal solution, but that potential partner had to be an agency that had similar core values, respected leadership, and complementary organizational synergies. “Risa called me one day on behalf of herself and her partners and asked if I would ever consider bringing these organizations together,” Mr. Cotherman recalls. “We always shared information about macro trends in the industry, and we thought the cultures were very similar as we talked about what each organization valued.” After months of intensive discussions, Ms. Bernstein and Mr. Cotherman took the idea to Thomas L. Harrison, CEO of Diversified Agency Services at Omnicom Group Inc., a global marketing and corporate communications company. “These are two companies that are very successful on their own,” Mr. Harrison says. “What I wouldn’t consider was the idea to bring two weak units together or one strong unit and one weak unit because that doesn’t meet any of our goals. But Corbett and Accel are two very strong units and from a strategic standpoint it made incredible sense. Corbett needed a New York presence and a more robust medical-education framework. And Accel needed more of a big agency underpinning to support what it was doing.” Both agencies have had explosive growth in the past couple of years. Since Accel’s inception five years ago, the agency has had double-digit growth every year. In the past two years, Corbett has doubled its growth and was pursuing options to expand the agency beyond its Chicago headquarters. “Part of our strategy for the last three years was finding the right approach to expand into the East Coast,” Mr. Cotherman says. “When the Accel leadership approached me, this became the perfect solution. Also, because of the growth on the advertising side, Corbett was not able to provide the breadth of capabilities that we would have liked in the medical-education area. Clearly, Accel has very strong capabilities in that area with its medical-education units.” A hybrid Agency Model “I spend a lot of time studying the historical data about the industry: what people have done and why they’ve done it,” Mr. Cotherman says. “I can tell you that this union is unprecedented within the Omnicom Group. Other agencies within the industry that are being put together and consolidated are doing so to create cost efficiencies and improve margins. This union represents two companies that are at the top of their game. That is the overriding fundamental difference between what we are doing and what everybody else is doing.” Both Mr. Cotherman and Ms. Bernstein say the fusion of the two agencies allows the organization to advance best practices from both entities to achieve a higher level of organizational excellence yet remain separate in day-to-day management of client brands. “This is a new business model,” Ms. Bernstein says. “We are looking for synergies across the top in areas of organizational excellence. We are developing best practices that everyone in the organization can benefit from. We want to have an integration of technology, human resources, and core capabilities, yet it’s extremely important to understand that the Chicago and New York operations are separate operating companies under separate leadership so they are free to pursue their own clients and their own brands. This structure will constitute true success for us in terms of our ability to continue to pursue independence among clients.” “For example, Accel has an enormous technology infrastructure that helps the agency manage competitive intelligence and relationships with thought leaders and others,” Mr. Cotherman says. “This is a capability that was never built up at Corbett. The opportunity to have this as a shared resource across the organization is wonderful. Accel benefits from Corbett’s state-of-the-art learning and development systems, which we have invested a disproportionate amount of resources in to attract, develop, and retain talent. Accel has immediate access to a well-established system that can be put to use in the New York operations.” Theoretically, Corbett Accel – New York and Corbett Accel – Chicago could pitch against each other, but according to Mr. Cotherman this is not an option. “One of the first things we did was establish a core list of integration principles,” Ms. Bernstein says. “One of the most important principles was to inspire cooperation not competition between the two locations.” Corbett brings credibility and strength in health professional advertising and promotions, with seven current or projected mega-brands ($1 billion in sales) on its roster, six of which are global assignments. Accel’s core portfolio includes health professional advertising and promotion services for midsize brands, plus a depth of experience with mega-brands on the medical-education side. The combined agency will benefit from each organization’s organic operational capabilities. “Corbett being in the Midwest and Accel on the East Coast does a couple of things,” Ms. Bernstein says. “One, it gives credibility to the separate operating company idea, because it’s more than a firewall; there’s real geographic separation. Also, Corbett had global capabilities. Accel didn’t. We now have the the opportunity to expand medical education globally.” The new entity also will explore the expansion of key disciplines such as interactive and direct-to-patient programs. And another area ripe for development, according to Mr. Cotherman, is in brand consultancy. A Culture Built on Talent One of the key drivers of this union was the common values that Corbett and Accel share in recognizing talent and nurturing a culture that encourages professional growth. “We talk about this as a celebration of talent,” Mr. Cotherman says. “Other agencies are trying to find ways to create a stronger competitive advantage through consolidating resources rather than expanding resources and developing great talent.” “We made sure that we had a new lexicon of language to define this union because the word ‘merger’ has its own connotations and they aren’t necessarily positive,” Ms. Bernstein says. “This is not a typical merger. It’s not characterized by layoffs. Collectively, we have to hire about 60 new people. This is about growth and opportunity. This is truly an integration of equals, an integration of cultures, and an integration of synergies at the organization level.” There may be differences that emerge as the two get to know each other better. But the leadership team is committed to assessing the best of each culture and advancing those values that will contribute to creating a magnet for the caliber of talent that can consistently produce market-moving ideas. “We are not jettisoning one culture for another,” Ms. Bernstein says. “We have a task force that is evaluating the best practices of both organizations. We are dedicated to advancing the best of both organizations to define a new common culture that works best for the combined entity – one of excellence, not mediocrity, and rejection of the ordinary. People come first because we know they are the keys to producing the work that clients depend on. We are dedicated to creating a company in which people can grow and thrive in their careers. This provides clients with what they want – people who are there for their businesses and brands over the long term.” “We like to talk about ‘enduring relationships’ with both employees and the clients they help to build brands,” adds Mr. Cotherman. The union also opens up career opportunities for everybody across disciplines, across locations, and across borders. “These types of opportunities keep people fresh,” Ms. Bernstein adds. “When people leave an agency it’s because they are looking for something new and exciting to keep them challenged and stimulated. Now, we’ve created more internal opportunities for them without having to go elsewhere.” “The commonality that is going to make this work from a cultural standpoint is that both organizations – Corbett, which was established 42 years ago and Accel five years ago – are passionate about people who do great work,” Mr. Cotherman says. “At the end of the day, that’s what connects us.” F PharmaVoice welcomes comments about this article. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Breaking it down Corbett Accel Worldwide Healthcare Communications – Chicago (health professional advertising and promotions) Corbett Accel – New York (health professional advertising and promotions) Corbett Accel – London (health professional advertising and promotions) Accel Medical Education – New York (non-CME medical education services) Accel Medical Education – Chicago (non-CME medical education services) Cerebrio, New York and Chicago (continuing medical education) Guidenz, New York (healthcare business informatics) Pragmaton Office of Medical Education (POME), Chicago (CME accreditation) Kinect, New York and Chicago (digital/interactive communications) Iris Global Clinical Trial Solutions, Chicago Corbett and Accel are two very strong units, and from a strategic standpoint, it made incredible sense to combine the two organizations. Corbett needed a New York presence and a more robust medical-education framework. And Accel needed more of a big agency underpinning to support what it was doing. Making a case for an AGENCY Union Mergers often connote one key player taking over a weaker player with a focus on cost savings and efficiencies through consolidation. The Corbett Accel union, on the other hand, is a union of two strong companies, both with the goal of attracting top talent and expanding core capabilities. This is a new business model. We are looking for synergies across the top in areas of organizational excellence. We are developing best practices that everyone in the organization can benefit from. Scott Cotherman Risa Bernstein Thomas Harrison