“I was taking on the role of president, but only myself and CEO Elizabeth Apelles knew. One-third of the agency was gathered in Boston for a project, and we left to visit the client,” he recalls. “On the way there, we found out we were being dismissed because the [client] company was hemorrhaging cash.”
At that moment, he resolved to draft a strategic plan that would commit resources toward the goal of becoming an AOR-led organization, rather than one that was just as content to accept project work.
Whatever Walsh and company did worked. GTO enjoyed one of its best years in company history, with revenue surging 40.4% from $22.8 million in 2016 to $32 million in 2017. Staff size jumped from 100 to 115, with more hires to come. Notable additions included global CFO Jim Plattner (from Laird + Partners) and director of tech Ken Winell (from Doublespace).
GTO also expanded its social practice to include PR and corporate comms and added a specialty around enterprisewide IT.
The challenge, then, becomes sustaining the agency’s momentum. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, but better,” Walsh says.
To that end, GTO increased its number of AOR engagements from four to seven, with the number of project-based assignments dropping from eight to six. “The company used to be a media operation and project shop,” Walsh notes. “While we actively seek AOR-type relationships, we’re selective. We don’t go crazy with new business. We want to get into organizations and develop long-term, sustainable relationships.”
GTO transitioned a few project clients to AOR status and won six accounts last year, including digital AOR duties for Alnylam’s TTR amyloidosis drug Patisiran. Another addition to the AOR roster was Neurelis, manufacturer of a drug that treats epilepsy. Mainstays include Merck, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, and Celgene.
Existing clients accounted for 75% of GTO’s growth, with new ones responsible for 25%. The agency lost one account, AcelRx’s Dsuvia, owing to a change in management on the client side.
Asked to discuss other work of which he is proud, Walsh points to a recent DTC campaign for Grifols designed to educate COPD patients about alpha-1, an incurable genetic condition that can cause lung disease. He also notes how GTO was able to launch Portola Pharma’s blood thinner Bevyxxa on an “aggressive” five-month timeline.