Ray Crosby, president and CEO of the agency that bears his name, doesn’t mince words when asked about the possibility of expanding its roster to include a type of organization coveted by roughly 99 members of the MM+M Agency 100. “We do not do pharma work,” he says plainly.

As unimaginable as it might sound to other agencies, Crosby doesn’t need to. The firm has long been a reliable and trusted partner to health systems, government organizations, nonprofits and advocacy groups. For example, its relationship with Kaiser Permanente stretches back more than two decades.

“We tend to bond well with a certain type of organization,” Ray Crosby says. “We’re a mission-driven agency. We want to inspire actions that matter.”

In 2020, that proposition resonated in the form of new assignments from RefuahHealth, the Cybercrime Support Network, the Santa Clara County Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The latter handed Crosby a $1.5 million contract to help launch the Telehealth.HHS.gov website; the agency also collaborated with HHS on COVID-related digital and social media outreach programs, including one around mental health. 

The additions helped spur 19% revenue growth during 2020, driving the sum to $29.1 million from the $24.5 million generated in 2019. Ray Crosby is proud to announce that the agency’s 99 full-timers shared in the successes, and not just in a great-teamwork-everyone way: “We paid record-level bonuses and did profit-sharing with all of our staff members. If we win, everybody wins.”

That could be the challenge for Crosby going forward. Now that it has transcended its regional roots, the agency finds itself competing with larger firms for clients and talent. The former doesn’t especially worry Ray Crosby: “We can do heavyweight work, but we have the feel and the deep personal commitments that you usually associate with small or midsize agencies.”

But even as Crosby has been able to fill three key roles in recent months — with SVP, experience design Lee Gaspel; EVP, government practice Megan Humphries; and director of digital design Sam Borowy — talent acquisition remains as vexing to Crosby as it does to pretty much every other A-list firm.

“You’ve probably heard this before, but we don’t need to hire people; we need to hire the right people,” Ray Crosby says, adding that the pandemic added a layer of difficulty to what was already a challenging task. “In the market right now, talented people have some hesitancy to make switches when they aren’t quite confident in what’s going on in their lives and in the world in general.”

While Ray Crosby expects 2021 to be another growth year for his firm, he wonders if the post-vaccination ebullience may be causing the industry to overindex on longer-term optimism. “Everybody still has plenty of balls up in the air,” he says. “Lots of companies are coming out with proclamations about what will happen going forward, but we’re still in the middle of this book.”

. . .

The idea I wish I had…

A two-minute video by the SickKids Foundation takes viewers on a mother-and-son 363-day journey through cancer treatment, showing the gut-wrenching lows and highs along the way. It’s inspired storytelling and filmmaking that hits the heart and positions the organization in an authentic, powerful way. — Ray Crosby