The Top 50: Grey Healthcare Group

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Having notched 10 straight years of double-digit growth, Grey Healthcare Group wouldn’t seem among the most likely candidates for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the way it goes about its business. And yet that’s exactly the project that Grey undertook over the last 12 months.

Sensing a need for greater cohesion between online and offline and a demand from clients for access to top personnel, Grey flattened its structure considerably. “Over the years, many of the holding companies have expanded their offerings by creating new companies in various media specialties,” says CEO Lynn O’Connor Vos. “We took the opposite approach. What we needed to be was a single-minded organization that can look at marketing challenges from a single perspective.”

Many clients are now “owned” by a hands-on EVP/ creative director pairing. Vos says Grey can more quickly and ably bring to bear all the brand-building services in its arsenal on a client’s behalf. As for the structural overhaul, Vos argues that too few healthcare-marketing concerns view change as necessary.

“In the agency business, if you don’t recognize that you need to be constantly reinventing yourself, you’ll be left behind. Taking a hard look in the mirror on a daily basis should be more of a part of what we do,” she adds.

The changes bore immediate fruit. Grey scored big wins in the last few months: a Forest Labs launch in the pulmonary-medicine arena and AOR status for the AstraZeneca/Abraxis BioScience joint venture Abraxane. Other wins included a glut of med ed assignments and, in Europe, a smattering of dermatology projects, including one from Johnson & Johnson.

Grey has attempted to push the envelope in its use of new media technologies, developing what Vos calls “innovation proposals” for several clients. In conjunction with social-network expert Lifeworld, health-search leader Catalyst and others, Grey has been nudging clients toward a more enthusiastic embrace of the online space. “We’re a highly regulated industry, so we don’t expect anybody just to dive right in,” Vos says.

So far, Grey has attempted to educate rather than sell. The firm recently sent a team over to a client’s offices for a full-day session on new-media techniques.  She predicts that some big pharma brand will give a thumbs-up to a social-networking pilot program soon.

When one does, Grey will be around to hold hands and allay all fears. “We’re still working this out ourselves, but I imagine there would be concerns about how we’d monitor the network and maybe whether we’d moderate some of the conversations,” Vos says. “It’s only a matter of time. Really, how much longer can we stand outside the tent? It’s our responsibility to have more of a presence in these conversations.”

During the last year, the firm snapped up an agency in Madrid as well as Westaway Gillis, a market-access specialist based outside London. The goal: smart expansion, rather than expansion for expansion’s sake.

Her outlook, heading into the second half of 2007, is decidedly sunny. “There are enormous opportunities out there,” she says. “You’d think that with all the publicity and difficult times you hear about, there wouldn’t be so many. We’re feeling good about the future.”

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