For some agencies, such as CG Life, success in 2020 was not measured in terms of surging revenue or head count.

Managing partner Steve Johnson is forthright that 2020 was essentially a flat year by those measures. Staff size fell from 49 at the start of the year to 47 at the end of it, while revenue dropped from $9 million in 2019 to $8.8 million in 2020.

Instead, when Johnson ponders the agency’s biggest accomplishments of 2020, he focuses on structural achievements, such as the acquisitions of Philadelphia-based technical communications firm McDay and Denver-based digital marketing shop The Market Element. Susan Stipa and Chuck Miller, the former heads of McDay and The Market Element, will remain with CG Life; the firms have officially been rebranded as McDay, A GC Life Agency and The Market Element, A CG Life Agency.

CG Life

“From an agency standpoint, the acquisitions were seamless,” he notes. “We saw synergies right away.” Johnson adds that they were free of culture clashes: “Sometimes personalities get in the way in these situations, but we’ve had no issues with any of that.” 

Asked the same question, San Diego-based managing partner Erik Clausen cites the company’s response to COVID-19. “Yes, I know every organization had to deal with that,” he says, “but because our culture was so built around us being in the same space and working collaboratively, it threw us a curveball. We were able to maintain our culture and energy.”

Following what both Clausen and Johnson acknowledge was a rough Q2, CG Life rebounded in the year’s second half and entered 2021 with the wind at its back. “A lot of companies paused their marketing budgets. They pulled back waiting to see what would happen,” Clausen says. “But because it is life sciences and we were working with companies tasked with solving a lot of this, the recovery came sooner.”

CG Life works entirely on a project basis and counted around 80 different clients on its rolls in 2020. New assignments came from Twist Biosciences, Noveome, Servier, Aceto, AlivaMab Discovery Services and Seven Bridges, which join mainstays such as Celgene, AbbVie, PDI Healthcare and Abbott Diagnostics on CG Life’s client roster.

As for the clients involved in solving COVID-19-related problems, most operate in areas such as gene sequencing, reagents and instrumentation. One of them, PDI, focuses on infection prevention using sanitizing products — clearly a major area of interest for much of 2020.

“While they are not Pfizer or Moderna bringing vaccines to market, the companies we’re working with directly are creating the complementary and underlying technologies,” Clausen notes. “We can point back and say that in some small way we helped move the solution forward.”

As for what comes next, both Clausen and Johnson expect CG Life to remain in growth mode for the remaining months of 2021. “We were fortunate that we didn’t have to let anyone go last year, and now we see new business inquiries and existing clients expanding their business,” Johnson reports. “There are clients we worked with years ago that have popped their heads backs up. We are reengaging.”

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The idea I wish I had…

Allergan’s Elevator spot for Vraylar. It was a well-executed piece that used the perfect metaphor, an elevator, to align both visually and emotionally with the bipolar disorder patient. It is how many of them describe the disorienting spectrum of symptoms they experience. — Steve Johnson