CG Life managing partners Steve Johnson and Erik Clausen spent hours upon hours creating a 20-slide presentation for the 18 employees they had hired during the pandemic. The thinking was that they would share everything they could about the organization with the recent arrivals, who hadn’t met any of their new colleagues in person.

But when Johnson and Clausen were done, they realized their presentation wasn’t clicking. They hit delete and started over, and the revised presentation had only two slides. The first was titled “care” and asked the newbies to care about their co-workers, clients and work output. The second slide simply read, “Don’t be an asshole.”

Johnson and Clausen say the past two years taught them what truly matters, personally and professionally. Previously, they’d obsessed about their physical office space, regarding it as ground zero for agency culture. A large part of the company’s budget had been devoted to ensuring that locations in San Diego, Denver and Chicago were welcoming to employees and designed to facilitate collaboration. 

Their pandemic takeaway? That offices have little to do with what makes CG Life a rewarding place to work. Rather, it all comes back to a state of mind — and, specifically, populating the company with people who treat each other well, work hard and look for the fun in their every endeavor.

“What we do is healthcare and science marketing, but we aren’t doing healthcare with a patient on the operating room table. What we do, frankly, is fun,” Johnson stresses. “Let’s enjoy it. You can be more creative and collaborative. It actually makes the work better.”

The first few months of 2020 were full of changes at CG Life, but Johnson and Clausen had no idea that the decisions they made during that time would help them respond to the challenges of the looming health crisis. The agency hired its first VP of human resources and formalized its recruiting process, and created several other new VP positions across departments for additional leadership.

For instance, the VP of business development was the company’s first. CG Life also acquired McDay, a Philadelphia-based science communications shop.

These developments laid the groundwork for big things in 2021. Agency revenue surged by 43%, to $12.6 million from $8.8 million in 2020, while staff size grew from 47 at the start of the year to 62 at the end of it.

When asked what attracts clients to CG Life, Clausen points to the company’s deep scientific expertise.  Many team members, he notes, arrive straight from the lab environment. New additions to the client roster during 2021 included Amazon Web Services, Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Reify Health, Elegen and Agilent.

“One of the biggest compliments we get is when a client moves jobs and brings us to their new organization,” Clausen says. “We’ve benefited a lot from working with the same folks over the years, some who are on their fifth company with us. That says something about the relationship.” 

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Work from outside pharma you admire…

We enjoyed Coke’s partnership program over the holidays with Cameo, which offered free chances of personal video messages from Santa. It not only strengthened Coke’s ties with Santa, but it also recognized the trepidation of many families to visit crowded malls during the pandemic. — Johnson