Healthcare Success came into 2020 riding a wave of optimism. Revenue had surged 15% the previous year and the agency had filled out its management team with a few key hires. Reaching $10 million — or more — in 2020 revenue seemed within the realm of possibility.
Then everything changed. For a firm already in the midst of a transformation, the disruption of the pandemic was particularly destabilizing.
CEO Stewart Gandolf wasn’t even able to meet some of the new hires in person before lockdown, which made navigating the new working reality especially difficult. Luckily, while several clients paused their accounts, not many parted ways with the agency.
“Our thinking was, ‘We’re going to survive this,’” Gandolf recalls. To that end, the company reassessed its staffing needs and undertook a slight restructuring based on projected growth areas.
Overall, Healthcare Success was able to weather the storm without too much distress. Head count decreased by two by the end of the year, from 24 to 22, and revenue slid by 20%, from $9.4 million to $7.5 million.
“I feel like a lot of the pain and suffering is over and we’re hitting our stride,” Gandolf says. He expects that staff will return to the office full-time for a few months, before shifting to a hybrid schedule in order to remain competitive for talent.
But in some ways, the remote working environment was a throwback to the company’s roots. Fifteen years ago, Gandolf founded Healthcare Success “as an experiment,” he recalls. “‘Can you start an agency online?’ I wanted to see if I could have a virtual agency with no office space. Very few people did that back in 2006.”
A core component of Healthcare Success’ growth over the years has been driven by SEO-rich content marketing, which puts the company’s name out there and spurs inquiries from potential clients. Gandolf admits it’s a different approach, but it serves the company well in terms of new business. He compares it to “throwing a net into the sea — you never know what you’re going to get.”
Last year’s catch included Daviess Community Hospital, Phleetbo, Origins Behavioral Healthcare, the Illinois Dermatology Institute, Suntra Modern Recovery and a handful of doctor’s offices among the 15 new assignments. At the end of 2020, the agency counted 49 clients on its roster, all but one of which were AOR engagements.
Healthcare Success also engineered a soft rebrand, with the goal of bringing in larger clients — albeit perhaps on smaller contracts. Gandolf believes consumer brands are increasingly interested in the agency, attracted by its experience marketing to doctors.
SEO is another growth area at Healthcare Success, he adds. Last year, senior SEO specialist Naghmeh Jafarzadeh was brought on board to oversee a ramped up SEO offering. With a team firmly in place, Gandolf hopes to partner with more traditional medical marketing agencies that often farm out SEO efforts to generalists.
“We can bring those digital chops and street-level knowledge of working with providers,” he says. “We’re seeing that already.”
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The idea I wish I had…
I like the use of the color yellow in the Otezla television commercials. The psoriasis space has become very crowded and, with all the compliance language, finding a way to make the ad visually differentiating and memorable is challenging. Simple idea, effective execution. — Stewart Gandolf