The Top 40: Grey Healthcare Group

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Grey Healthcare Group had its best year ever, revenue-wise, said CEO Lynn O'Connor Vos—despite a pair of big losses and a tough new business climate. The WPP-owned company lost its professional advertising business on AstraZeneca's Crestor and P&G/Sanofi-Aventis' Actonel in DTC-led consolidations (Actonel to Corbett, Crestor to Publicis), but won 14 accounts, including the professional business for Wyeth's Rapamune, Boehringer Ingelheim's Aptivus and Avanir's Neurodex, along with new business from biotech Cytec. The firm is navigating an unforgiving new business climate by exploiting its diverse menu of offerings.

“We regard ourselves as trailblazers,” says Vos. “We created the market conditioning model in the '80s, and after that the single profit and loss structure. Now, we're developing a more multichannel marketing approach.” So are lots of agencies, but Grey Healthcare's will be different, says Vos. “The idea is that we can position ourselves as the brand steward for a brand, looking across all media to get the best possible adoption of a drug.”

Media neutrality has been a Grey Healthcare obsession for some time. Vos says its time has come. “It's an interesting moment in the industry, as [there] were less blockbusters launched this year and we are seeing heightened attention to how marketing dollars are spent. Clients are eager to explore the best possible model, as every brand is that much more important to the company.”
Grey Healthcare is gearing up for four launches, including that of Wyeth's Lybrel birth control pill, and continues its Exubera rollout. Grey Healthcare's 2004 Exubera global professional win, says Vos, was Pfizer's first-ever globally integrated professional assignment incorporating advertising and medical education, and possibly the first for any pharma firm. “It's indicative that clients are starting to look at this as a global entity, and they're interested in ensuring that they get the strategy right and do it in the most efficient way possible,” says Vos. “They're asking: How can I best align my resources?” Vos notes that she's seeing more pan-European assignments, where companies used to market their products country by country. “That works perfectly for Grey, because we have strong connections between agencies.”

Other big primary care brands serviced by Grey include Pfizer's Celebrex, Forest's Celexa and Lexapro, Boehringer Ingelheim's Viramune, GSK's Imitrex and Advair Diskus, and Wyeth's Premarin, Prempro, Rapamune and ReFacto. However, as the flow of drugs with blockbuster potential dwindles to a trickle, smaller and mid-cap companies like Avanir, Cytec and Essilor are becoming an increasingly important source of business, says Vos.   “What's exciting about working with some of these smaller companies is that they really embrace the multichannel approach,” says Vos. “They're willing to look at unique models because they don't have that many decision-making layers.”

On the med ed side, which comprises nearly half of Grey Healthcare's business, the company's Oxford-based Darwin Grey is now under the leadership of Richard Evans, formerly of Gardiner Harris. Evans is helping coordinate the firm's European med ed expansion. Vos says S&K Grey, a Freiberg, Germany-based shop Grey acquired last year, doubled its business. Grey also boasts med ed businesses in Japan, India, Malaysia and Australia.

In the US, the company operates two networks: New York-based Phase V and Stamford, Conn.-based International Meetings & Science Medical Communications. Phase V is becoming a major force in custom publishing, says Vos. International Meetings & Science is focused more on meetings and events, and includes the firm's CME Scholar med ed unit. Associated with the firm's med ed business are medical animation firm Hurd Studios and Summit Grey, which develops proprietary technology like HyperCD.

Hurd Studios unit did some “spectacular” work on a few big assignments including Gardasil, says Vos. “Newer products that have a story to tell in terms of the pharmacology are turning to Hurd,” says Vos. The New York medical animation business, which Grey Healthcare acquired in 2004, “is creating a whole suite of new media tools,” says Vos. Companies, she says, are “in tactical mode,” experimenting with new approaches, and Hurd Studios gives Grey Healthcare an edge in that department.

Search optimization, CRM and interactive are also growth areas for the firm, with Avenue Grey, which focuses on the patient-physician relationship, reaping the sudden demand for direct-to-patient programs. Avenue Grey is handling work for San Diego-based Avanir's Neurodex.

Jane Parker, group president for worldwide advertising, says that while clients aren't moving away from DTC, “We do see movement away from 60-second TV commercials. We're going to see much more targeted, segmented marketing, with more of a focus on reaching patients before they have that conversation with the physician, and more education of physicians on how to talk to patients.”

Avenue Grey and Hurd Studios collaborated on an innovative booth design for Neurodex at a Toronto convention, creating a three-dimensional environment viewable through 3D glasses.  
Grey Target Oncology, a virtual shop focused on cancer treatments, has been launched under the firm's acute and specialty care practice. The shop handles some Wyeth business in the US and European assignments with Schering-Plough. “Clearly, for the next 10 years at least, oncology is going to be where it's at in terms of business and patient opportunity,” said Parker.

The company is developing a managed care practice and this year appointed Lori O'Neill to lead it. Grey Healthcare also brought on David Hymson from Lowe to head up its substantial business with Wyeth, which saw additional assignments in the women's health franchise this year. Hymson is part of a cadre of senior executives intended to give major clients more high-level attention, including EVP Lyn Falconio of Nova Grey, which handles brands shared with Grey Worldwide, EVP and strategic services head Tom O'Dell and acute and specialty services head Steve Corwin, also recently bumped up to EVP.

The creative department saw a troika of appointments, installing directors of art, copy and design. The idea, says creative chief Ross Thomson, is to ensure mentorship of copywriters, artists and designers.

Thomson has implemented a “back to basics” approach in which work begins with artists sketching out rough ideas on tissue paper instead of sitting down at a computer and producing more refined work. That draws clients into the process earlier and generates a broader basket of concepts to work from. Grey Healthcare creatives also work from a seven-point checklist designed to ensure that the integrity of the concept survives the creative process.

Thomson takes particular pride in the “Shadow” campaign for Wyeth's ReFacto, in which shadows serve as stand-ins for the potential of hemophiliacs, as well as pro-bono work for The Helen Keller Foundation. The work aims to go beyond medical advertising clichés, says Thomson. “‘Safety, efficacy and tolerability' might as well be ‘raspberry, chocolate and vanilla.'”  

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