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OXY SKIN CARE AD JOB IS NO BLEMISH ON EAST AURORA AGENCY'S GROWTH

Walk into Cenergy Communications' East Aurora offices, and you can't miss the pink-colored Oxy skin care containers on the front counter.

This is, after all, an advertising and marketing firm. So when Cenergy was named "agency of record" for the Oxy line, it was not going to downplay the news.

This summer, Cenergy will roll out an ad campaign intended to revitalize the acne-fighting product's brand. Cenergy's leaders consider it a breakthrough deal.

The agency has accounts with nationally known clients, but in selected regional markets; Oxy is a national account.

"This is an agency-transforming kind of account for us," said Thomas Mooney, one of the firm's three principals, along with John Cimperman and Duncan Shaw.

Cimperman said of the Oxy win: "There's no more hiding for our agency."

Not that Cenergy was lying low. The 15-employee company has built a client roster that includes major-league sports teams, the NFL Network, and the TNT cable channel.

Cenergy Communications was officially born in early 2004, when two relatively new East Aurora firms decided to formally join forces.

Cimperman, a Cleveland native, was formerly a marketing executive with the Buffalo Sabres and Adelphia Communications. He had moved here from Los Angeles, where he had worked for the Kings hockey team.

In 2002, Cimperman started Cenergy Sports and Marketing, focusing on business deals such as sports partnerships.

Mooney, a Rochester native, and Shaw, who is from Australia, created the advertising firm Station C in 2001. Someone familiar with both Cenergy and Station C said the two might have some things in common.

The two companies began working together informally on projects, and even made a presentation to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club as a unified team. The Jays struck a deal with Cenergy to manage its ticket-selling relationship with Tops Markets. That arrangement shifted to Wegmans stores this year.

Cenergy's principals and staff were determined to win a national account, after they built experience and their reputation on other projects. "Having this kind of account was in our business plan," Cimperman said.

Meanwhile, Oxy needed help. The brand whose ads once vowed to "Oxy-cute" pimples had stagnated under its owner, GlaxoSmithKline, as its rivals grabbed more market share. Last December, Orchard Park-based Mentholatum, which is owned by Rhoto Pharmaceutical Ltd. of Japan, acquired the Oxy line and set out to re-energize it.

Cenergy was invited by Mentholatum to compete for the Oxy account. Cimperman said Cenergy's local connection -- the two companies are only eight miles away from each other -- helped get the firm a look, but it didn't seal a deal.

The firm's client roster gave Cenergy credibility in the Oxy competition, and there was good chemistry between Cenergy's and Mentholatum's people -- something that Mentholatum had said would be an important factor, Cimperman said.

"You want to work with people you know or like," he said.

Cenergy sought expert help to prepare its pitch: teenagers. Cenergy had worked with classes at East Aurora High School in the past, and asked a group of marketing students to act as a focus group for its preliminary ideas for Oxy.

When it was time to make the pitch to Mentholatum, Cenergy hosted it at the high school, and involved students. "I believe our rallying cry was, 'We're taking you where the pimples are,' " said Monish Bhattacharyya, group creative director for Cenergy.

Cenergy prevailed over two New York City-based firms for an account that was previously handled out of Boston.

Now the agency is concentrating on rolling out Oxy ads through outlets like the Internet, events marketing, and cable networks, including Spike TV, MTV and Comedy Central. Colorful sticky notes on the conference room window detail the launch dates, leading into the crucial "back-to-school" shopping period.

Employees such as Bhattacharyya represent another element of Cenergy's growth strategy: hiring people who have gained industry experience in places like New York City, and want to come back.

Bhattacharyya said he gets the benefit of living here while working on the types of projects he loves. "There's been no dropoff in opportunities moving back from New York City to here, which is very gratifying."

Cimperman said there is crossover and interaction between different departments, without the "walls" of a traditional agency. "We don't need to be too structured," he said. "We need to be organized."

The firm is about to grow. It is adding five people, and plans to take over another floor of the Main Street building where it operates. And thanks to Oxy, it gets to hang another panel with a logo on its lobby wall, illustrating the agency's roster of clients.

"As long as we keep filling up that wall," Cimperman said, "we'll be doing well."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com