SicolaMartin Mounts Comeback

Following two tough years of serving accounts in the tattered technology sector, SicolaMartin is gaining new business and additional work from existing clients.

Steve Martin, executive creative director and senior vice president at the Austin, Texas, agency said, “If you’re looking at where we were a year or two ago, that will take a while [to return to]. But we are now moving up and to the right.”

Last year estimated billings were down 22 percent and revenue was off 21 percent to $100 million and $14 million, respectively. Just the year before billings soared 98 percent and revenue jumped 96 percent to $128 million and $18 million, respectively.

“In many ways we were tracking the Nasdaq, so where we are has a lot to do with where we’ve been,” said shop vice president of business development Pete Hayes.

Last month’s loss of Novell’s estimated $30 million account toJ. Walter Thompson, New York, might have been the shop’s highest profile wound this year, but it was not the only one. A dropoff in spending from other major clients—Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Citrix Systems—has added to its problems. Citrix ultimately shifted its account to Gyro Group in Miami earlier this year.

To bulk up its client roster, SicolaMartin has taken steps to better handle project work, which it all but abandoned for full-service accounts in 2000.

The shop has downsized its operation, laying off half its staff, which now numbers about 50 people.

In addition, the agency has “gotten much better at scoping the work and costing it out appropriately,” Martin said.

The agency has expanded its focus from technology to general business-to-business. “The b-to-b world is huge and that’s one direction we are actively heading in,” Martin said.

To scale up for larger clients, the agency can get help from parent Young & Rubicam in New York, Martin said.

Sicola’s efforts have resulted in at least one recent win. The shop has been named lead agency for Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner Corp., which develops software for the healthcare industry, following a review against undisclosed agencies. Billings were not revealed.

“We are more agile than we used to be and that had a lot to do with [the win],” Martin said. “Plus we are aggressively pursuing new business and we were able to jump on this with a passion.”

Cerner spent $3 million on media last year, according to CMR.