Initiative reels in $1.6 billion in new business while boosting organic growth
From Comeback Agency of the Year in 2019 to Media Agency of the Year for 2020. How did Initiative pull that off? Well for starters, the agency coined last year as its “Year of Us” during a time where human connection couldn’t have been more important. Amid the pandemic, the Interpublic Group of Cos. had zero layoffs due to COVID-19. To accomplish this, the leadership team took pay cuts and everyone in the 895-person U.S. agency went on a one-week furlough.
“The most important responsibility was to protect as many jobs as possible,” says Amy Armstrong, Initiative’s global CEO. “In the grand scheme of things, it [pay reductions] was an easy decision to make.”
Initiative also brought in an astounding $1.6 billion in new business over the year, adding new clients such as pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, Salesforce, El Pollo Loco, and most notably T-Mobile, one of the choicest pitches of the year, despite being the only non-incumbent in the hunt. Kari Marshall, VP of Media for T-Mobile, says the company was impressed with Initiative’s “fresh thinking” as it reevaluated its media partners post-merger with Sprint.
“The way [Initiative] translated data into a creative strategy, their use of data to define audiences and opportunities for growth for us, and their ability to apply the information into the marketplace definitely stood out to us,” Marshall says.
The agency also increased organic growth with 16 existing clients, and was overall able to pull off a 5% revenue increase in the U.S. behind successful campaigns for brands like Lego and Dr Pepper. (For the first, it created an Alexa alarm via Pandora of clicking Lego bricks to remind burned-out home workers to end their day and start getting creative.)
It also launched Initiative Health, a specialty division for its healthcare clients that now accounts for 33% of its revenue. For Merck, the agency says it doubled the company’s media savings target using an audience-first and data approach, and for Lego it outperformed sales targets by more than 100%.
This year, Armstrong became Initiative’s first female global CEO, elevated from her role as U.S. CEO, a title she held for over four years; the U.S. post is now held by former PHD exec, Stacy DeRiso. Initiative’s leadership team is 68% women.
Initiative has also looked to create an unbiased hiring process by establishing a committee that focuses on candidates’s characteristics and behavior traits. As a result, 54% of Initiative’s new hires and rehires in 2020 were BIPOC, a 10% increase from the prior year, bringing its total percentage of BIPOC employees to 37%.
To address the ongoing discrimination of Black and Asian communities, “We created toolkits to help educate our managers on things like white fragility and systemic racism,” says Kym Miller, chief experience officer in the U.S.
The agency also donated $100,000 to Campaign Zero, a campaign dedicated to American police reform.
Moving forward, Initiative is labeling 2021 “The Year of the Firebrand,” which is a mind state instilled across the agency as Initiative looks to “redefine what it means to be a leading agency,” Armstrong says.