Grey Healthcare Group (GHG) felt the sting of FDA denial last year, which dried up work on a number of products, including Solvay/ Wyeth's Bifeprunox, Telik's Telcyta, and Johnson & Johnson's Zarnestra. Pfizer pulled its inhaled insulin Exubera in October, capping off a string of losses that were beyond the agency's control. Fortunately, about 30 new assignments (including five agency of record)
bolstered the roster.
“We're optimists, and in a lot of ways last year was exciting,” says Lynn O'Connor Vos, CEO worldwide. “We were able to focus on the most important trends in the industry—digital being primary. We've been enhancing our capabilities, and we reaped rewards. At the same time, FDA denials were tough to handle. It got us focused on what we're going to do in this changing environment. It may have hit us hard last year, but it can hit any agency going forward. We need to diversify in revenue targets so we're not stuck.”
Revenue was “slightly up,” and headcount held steady. Vos says there was “decent growth” in base business and “exponential growth in some acquisition companies,” which included Catalyst Online in Massachusetts, Osprey Communications in Connecticut, WG Consulting in London and CyS in Madrid.
“We're seeing a lot of assignments that are outside of traditional AOR,” Vos notes. “We had enormous wins in med ed and other projects, as well as ad assignments, but we're not allowed to report all of them.” Nameable wins include Forest/Almirall (COPD therapy); Genentech (oncology, consumer); Par Pharmaceutical (Megace ES); and Wyeth (hemophilia franchise, interactive).
Senior management has been “significantly enhanced,” and Vos says the team is driving alignment and integration. Last year Laura Fusco joined as EVP director of client services and GHG; Sharon Callahan was promoted to chief digital strategist; and Allen Singer was promoted to EVP of digital operations. John Dietz signed on this year as chief creative officer.
“The new model isn't about one-way conversation,” Dietz says. “We have to find a great ad sense and the ability to engage and tell stories through new media—not just in the print space. This business has always been about great storytelling, and that's inherent in new media. It's all about finding stories people want to pass along that create communities and advocacy.”
Vos adds, “It's really critical that access, professional, consumer and digital all live in the same ZIP code. We're making digital part of the frame in anything we do.” The agency invested in “digital boot camp” for employees, and about 50% have attended sessions. “The mission is to make sure that everyone raises their digital competency and understands trends so we can deploy that against clients,” Vos says. GHG is looking more broadly at the idea of health and seeking clients beyond its traditional pharma base. “[Many consumer] products have the potential for a healthcare angle,” Vos says. “The terrain from which we can pitch is broader—dental, animal health, food, devices.”