Austin-based HC&B Healthcare Communications rebounded from client budget cuts in the fall to end 2008 at $5.2 million, up slightly from just under $5 million in 2007. Though it was a modest year for revenue gain, it was a great year in terms of work and increasing interest in the agency—from both clients and talent. Plus, a London office was established, and there were some big wins, including Medtronic (coronary and peripherals) and Alcon Labs (three surgical divisions and one consumer).
“It's been a steady climb since the dip in the fall,” says president and CEO Kerry Hilton. “We're very fortunate things are going well. People talk about the worst being yet to come with the economy—we're just not seeing that trend.”
Diversification has served the agency well, and digital and device work were big growth drivers. Digital gains include a global website for KCI that involved auditing content of 21 country sites and building a new, single site using a new platform and translations in a dozen languages. “It's one of the biggest web initiatives we've had, and it's given us a lot of credibility for other digital,” says Hilton.
The agency also worked on various device sites and a physician based website that will go live this year. Social media work is picking up, with requests coming in from insurance companies to device manufacturers. Nancy Beesley, EVP of account services, notes an overall trend towards interactivity. Work on advergaming programs for trade shows is also gaining steam, as clients such as KCI and Medtronic seek better ways to reach doctors.
Referrals from existing clients and interest from new potential clients increased last year and the trend is continuing. Long-time client Texas Oncology referred US Oncology, which awarded HC&B branding work. Additional referrals have come in since from US Oncology. Several new clients approached the agency about project work, and a branding assignment came in this year from a new client in Arizona that found the agency online.
Last June, the agency opened HC&B London, an 8-person office to support growing international clients. Hilton says it has helped land new business and is providing existing clients new opportunities. The new agency is involved with all the international business for KCI V.A.C. Therapy, and it worked on the KCI website.
The only losses last year were Encysive, after the FDA didn't approve Thelin and Pfizer acquired the company; and StemSave, which moved its account in-house.
There were no layoffs, and headcount currently stands at 40 (up four or five). Founding partner George Catlin left the agency after nearly seven years to consult. Shareholder and partner Lloyd Sheep has taken over account planning.
HC&B is hiring for three or four positions (copy, editorial, web and account management). Being in Austin has helped attract great people, including natives who want to come back from the Midwest and elsewhere.
“I probably get 20 resumes a day from people looking for a life change who have heard a lot of good things about us,” says Beesely.
In the industry overall, Beesely sees a return to basics as clients are thinking about how to best spend their money.
Hilton agrees and says: “We tell clients it's not about outspending the competition—it's about trying to outthink what needs to be done.”