For Kristin Cahill, global CEO of GCI Health, the year’s peak moment was both lovely and the tiniest bit uncomfortable. It involved a tsunami of congratulations and well wishes as she celebrated her 20th anniversary at the agency.

“I hate being the center of attention, but it was a great example of how exceptional this place is,” she explains. “I’m a Bulls fan, so the Chicago office all wore Bulls gear. I love new business pitches, so another team wrote a card in a pitch format.”

Cahill similarly relishes that the agency spent much of the past year working on some of the biggest stories in healthcare, including Walgreens’ ongoing COVID-19 response and Abbott’s traumatic brain injury campaign.

“It’s just a testament to our culture,” she continues. “Particularly coming out of the last few years, where we haven’t gotten to see each other as much, it’s amazing to enjoy what an incredible group we are.”

The WPP-owned GCI Health saw revenue rise to an MM+M-estimated $126 million, up 5% from 2021’s estimated take of $120 million. Cahill reports that the agency won roughly 70% of the accounts it pitched. In 2022, that meant new engagements with The Aspen Group (Aspen Dental, Motto and ClearChoice), Lundbeck (for product communications) and Harvard University (on a mental-health initiative for BIPOC students).

“Given a challenging year when we saw biotech struggle, pharma companies tighten their belts and a general conservatism [take hold] because of the economy, we’ve hit the next level in terms of what we can provide clients,” she says.

That’s included significant investments in clinical trial recruitment and medcomms expertise. Cahill also points to cultural marketing as increasingly important to many marketers, as well as a “huge uptick in assignments associated with ESG and corporate social impact. Healthcare companies realize that their corporate brands are as important sometimes as their product brands.”

GCI Health

Staff size grew from 329 full-timers at the start of 2022 to 347 at the end of it. Among the newcomers were chief people officer Nesa Johnson, who joined from NBCUniversal; SVP, head of diversity, equity and inclusion Dante Cunningham, from the Rue Gilt Group; global head of medical communication Glen Halliwell, from Publicis Health; and group SVP and paid media lead Jess Vanner, from Real Chemistry. 

Cahill acknowledges that integrating so many newcomers, especially at a time when great people remain hard to hire and retain, presents challenges. GCI has recently launched a series of initiatives to address them. For example, All Roads aims to bolster GCI’s appeal to individuals from outside traditional communications or health backgrounds. As for maintaining the balance between in-office and virtual work, Cahill and her leadership team have endeavored to give managers the tools they need to navigate the current workplace environment. 

That said, none of these challenges has diminished Cahill’s enthusiasm for what she hopes will be another 20 happy years at GCI Health. “The opportunities for storytelling are so expansive,” she says. “I believe communications has the power, perhaps even uniquely, to democratize health.”

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Our marketing role model…

Netflix is a masterful marketer that has successfully pivoted in the face of big business challenges. When its DVD rental business began to falter, Netflix repositioned itself as a global powerhouse for online streaming and original content creation. Its multichannel marketing strategy is spot-on because it uses data to align with its customers’ needs while reflecting pop culture trends, memes and humor. From leveraging the lived experiences of the Deaf community to enrich closed-caption viewing, to creating a platform where diverse races, cultures and viewpoints can tap into powerful storytelling, Netflix creates an inclusive, inter-active customer experience. — Cahill 

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