On the first day of lockdown in March 2020, with employees suddenly fanned out across the country, Greater Than One’s founder and CEO Elizabeth Apelles sent out an agency-wide email that began: “Good morning GTO! Day one of our new reality.”
The uplifting, affirming messages that followed stemmed from the agency’s confidence that, even amid unprecedented conditions, it was well aligned to weather the pandemic. “What we do better than anybody else is the integration of media, content, technology and data,” Apelles explains. “There is no agency of our size that has technology, media, data and full creative under one roof.”
Mike Hartman, who arrived from Intouch Group as chief creative officer just before the pandemic hit, agrees, adding, “We dug in from the points of view of infrastructure, talent, process and quality of the work, with the goal of making ourselves that much stronger,” he says. “We did our homework.”
Among agencies of its size, Greater Than One has a reputation for sticking to its guns, which played out in a high-profile manner during 2020. When longtime client Neurocrine secured $100 million for TV, the agency found itself in a tough situation. Up to that point, Greater Than One’s work had exclusively consisted of digital media.
“We don’t do TV. So either we could pitch for the whole thing and find a partner to do the television, or we could stick to what we do really better than absolutely anybody, which is digital media,” Apelles recalls.
Greater Than One bucked the usual approach. “We positioned it as, ‘Digital should lead and TV should follow,’ which I very much believe because the world has gone digital,” Apelles says. Ultimately, Neurocrine assigned the business to another agency, but Greater Than One doesn’t regret its decision.
“Other firms have a media partner sister agency, but having media is a core pillar of what we do,” Hartman says. “If you don’t understand the media, how could you possibly create the best content? Likewise, if you don’t understand the content, how can you create the right media? That synergy is extremely powerful for us.”
Greater Than One more than made up for the loss elsewhere, adding assignments from Soliton (on tattoo removal device Resonic), Bluebird Bio (on its gene therapy platform), Vitas Pharma (corporate work) and Oncopeptides (on multiple myeloma drug Pepaxto). The firm generated $25.8 million in revenue during 2020, up a tick from 2019’s $25.2 million. Staff size increased from 115 at the beginning of the year to 120 at the end of it.
Apelles attributes Greater Than One’s recent successes as much to its capabilities as the way it brings those capabilities together. “It’s about using data purposefully and, most importantly, being able to generate insights from it,” she says. “You could fill this whole building up with data. The question is what you do with it.”
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The idea I wish I had…
Moldy Whopper, which made us almost as green with envy. The stark contrast between flawless food beauty ads and where the Moldy Whopper took things was magical. No preservatives, nothing artificial — just such a clever way to really wake up the fast-food market. Authentic and as tasteful as it was disgusting, the beauty came through in a standout way. — Mike Hartman