The Top 75: ghg

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Grey Healthcare Group (ghg) closed out 2008 with two big wins—each delivering multiple brands—but lost a sizable account with Pfizer in 2009. The wins, with Johnson & Johnson and Colgate, will help to assuage the loss of professional duties for Celebrex, recently picked off by Cline Davis & Mann.

When the pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson halved its $150 million US advertising business into two holding companies last November, WPP, ghg's parent, was one of two big winners (the other being IPG). “J&J is a very important and visionary client—they really believed in what we sold at the pitch, which is a broad view of the future of pharmaceutical marketing,” says Lynn O'Connor Vos, CEO.

J&J work includes the CNS franchise, although John Dietz, who joined ghg from CommonHealth's shop Noesis after it was folded into Ferguson, says that regardless of where a particular brand is housed within WPP, the network takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to creative. “While some of the people at ghg are acting as the brand chemists for certain brands, we're also being called in on assignments for a number of other J&J accounts. We have a really interactive creative process…where multiple agencies get involved,” says Dietz.
The second win, professional work on Colgate's entire portfolio of dental brands, was another reason for big smiles at ghg. The assignment includes global work, as well as a chance to work in tandem with other WPP shops, including Y&R (consumer) and VML (digital), fostering “a very powerful relationship for us here at Grey,” says Vos.

Other wins include consumer work for Boehringer Ingelheim's Dulcolax line of products, including a line extension product called Dulcolax Balance slated for a US launch during the fourth quarter of this year. New spots for the revamped Dulcolax brand—tagged “Feeling Free”—are running on television currently, with ads in Germany and Korea as well. The agency is “doing a lot in the digital realm” for Dulcolax, says Dori Stowe, chief digital strategist, who joined the shop from Tribal DDB in 2008. In addition to the website and online ad campaign, Stowe says the agency is “pushing into new areas” that can't be discussed in print, for confidentiality reasons.

The shop picked up a group of brands with Strativa, in the supportive care area, and won DTC work as the AOR on Victoza, a Novo Nordisk diabetes product that will compete with Amylin and Lilly's Byetta in the US—if it's granted FDA approval. The shop  scored additional work with Genentech's Avastin, by way of expanded indications. The agency declined to report any losses.

Vos says the agency has done a nice job of diversifying its client base this year, a strength moving forward, as well as an excellent want to attract diversified talent. “We've added staff to address the changing model.” Vos says the additions of Dietz and Stowe served as magnets for additional talent. Key hires include Smith Thongrod, who came on board from Tribal DDB as chief technology director, and Sheri Mandry, an SVP on the consumer side leading Dulcolaz and Essilor of America accounts.

Vos says that when WPP acquired ghg in 2006, the most exciting thing was the enormous talent pool. “We've started collaborating with many of the people at WPP digital and we're a member of the advisory board there,” says Vos. “It's really a gateway to great talent for us.” Dietz adds that ghg is also a gateway for clients into all of WPP's capabilities. 

“We're extremely choosy about the type of people we bring in—they have to want to work in this model. If you come from Digitas you worked in a very straightforward digital environment,” says Vos. “People love the fact that we're starting with a big brand strategy, that we're thinking multi-channel and that we have the ability to collaborate—some of our guys in the creative department are working actively with our medical education companies, because med eds are going digital as well—so the ideas can come from anywhere, and the platforms can come from anywhere, and people are jazzed about doing this.”

For those employees working in ghg's New York City office, Google's East Coast headquarters is just four avenue blocks west, a convenience the agency has been putting to use for clients. “Our creative teams can go over there with an idea, and work with google to bring it to life,” says Stowe. “Our understanding of Google, and the search process, is absolutely integral to the strategy for our products and customers,” says Vos. “We would not consider making a recommendation on how to market a brand unless we truly understand what's going on online. And that's were our collaboration with Google is key.”

Vos says the one of biggest struggles the agency faces is persuading clients to climb into the digital and interactive rabbit hole with them. “Clients know they want to change, but it's difficult to leave the old and bring on the new. We're in a very interesting moment where they are transitioning, and our job is to just keep them ahead of the curve,” says Vos. “We've always prided ourselves in being forward thinking, and really having the oars in the water maybe a little too early, but I think it's really paying out beautifully now.”

Another problem the agency faces regarding new media initiatives, according to Stowe, is with medical regulatory teams on the client side. “Every client is saying, ‘bring me new and innovative ideas,' which every agency brings, including us. Clients want to be in some of the social media channels, but they are having trouble getting the okay,” says Stowe. Even so, Vos says the agency has a lot of client work in this area that she is not at liberty to talk about. “We don't limit ourselves to just thinking about websites, we're much more into thinking about where the consumer is online and how we can be there,” says Vos.

The agency launched (currently in beta), an “expert-guided” online community site owned by LLuminari in 2000. Vos says there are three major clients in on the site. “The opportunity for clients is to sponsor a community where issues can be discussed, and there's expert guidance around that discussion,” she explains. The downside of some social media communities, according to Vos, is that “there's a lot of misinformation and a lot of whining. If we can establish communities where discussions are held and there is mediation by an expert, we're probably going to be helping paitents get better faster, rather than just have a place to sit and stew on their condition.”

The firm is also partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The White House and Voxiva, a mobile technology firm, to launch Text4Baby, a new mobile health service. The service will “send well-timed messages to expectant mothers, mostly from an underserved population, on their pregnancy and the services they need during that pregnancy, and the first year after they deliver their baby,” explains Vos. “We think it's one of the first mobile health programs out there, and we're really excited about it.”
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