The Top 40: Dorland Global Health Communications

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Dorland Global Health Communications restructured from three business units to two for efficiency's sake after the end of the first quarter last year. Revenues were up slightly to $23 million compared with $22 million in 2004, and Rita Sweeney, president and COO, believes the agency is well positioned for continued growth.

“It's a good time for an agency with our strategy and slant on doing business in an integrated way,” she says. “We're often called in as strategic consultants. It stands us in really good stead for following on communications, or PR, or whatever. We can offer different services as they are appropriate—we're not just ad people.”

Dorland is showing some PR muscle. The Holmes Group named it 2005 healthcare agency of the year, and it ranked 24th in PRWeek's 2006 Agency Rankings. The agency has become very selective about PR business because it is presented with so many opportunities.

Overall, Dorland reports a 65% win rate with pitches and retained 80% of its client base. “We did very well—not the explosive growth we had the two previous years, [but we] doubled our target growth,” Sweeney says. “We had to recalibrate because we had grown so fast.”

Among last year's wins were the Baxter Gammagard franchise (including the launch of the Gammagard intravenous immunoglobin), while organic growth sprung from Boston Scientific (new brands), Procter & Gamble (new assignment) and Johnson & Johnson (PR assignment).

The only bad news on the client front came early last year, when client Cytyc announced its decision to go “largely interactive.” The business wasn't awarded to Dorland.

Staff increased slightly (from 125 to 128), and there are about 10 open positions. “Talent is hard [to come by], especially on a growth spurt,” Sweeney says. “It's almost better to augment people with fairly good skills.”

The firm “augments” its staff through the Dorland Global Institute for internal training—a year-long, case-based program run by an employee who is also a business school professor. About 35-40 people are enrolled. “It's for them to understand the industry we're operating in and the philosophy of business as applied to the services we sell,” Sweeney says.

Sweeney is proud to have been involved with some “landmark” programs last year. One was with Bio05, an annual biotech conference. The other was a national patient education program involving a consortium of manufacturers, the FDA and a contract research organization. The agency also launched medical education company inRx in 2005.

“Ads are just a piece of the communications puzzle,” says Sweeney. “There is a movement toward patient or consumer education on disease and campaigns, whether it's direct, which could be interactive, or DTC, or grassroots. There's a lot more education going direct to patients and their families.” That, says Sweeney, is a good thing. “People who are educated tend to take responsibility for their own health.”

She's also glad that “like” health remedies, such as nutritional supplements, are being scrutinized more closely. “It's good because, for some, that's been a diversion to seeing healthcare professionals,” she says. “Especially for the elderly. It gets people back to bonafide health professionals.”

Sweeney notes that the competition for new business is so hot that multinational firms (“the usual suspects”) are often pitching across the board for different sized accounts. She remains unfazed, however, expecting this year's growth to be as much, if not more, than last year.

“We've been doing a lot more global work,” she says. “Everyday another PR opportunity comes our way. We're looking for new things to offer, developing products, [such as] inside analytics, an insightful way to map customer bases and to put promotion against it. Clients love it. My idea is always to brand [new products] so you have something to sell, something that has its own identity. It differentiates us.”

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