Greater Than One (GTO) president Kieran Walsh looks back on a California road trip as one of his clarifying professional moments of 2018. Last August, during a presentation to Long Beach, Calif.-based skincare company Obagi, it became clear to him that GTO’s attempts to expand its purview into the broader realm of health and wellness was starting to bear fruit. “I had been the evangelist, saying, ‘Yes, we do have skills that transfer.’ That pitch was a validation that our story will travel,” he recalls.
GTO claimed that account the next month, then nabbed Alnylam/Europe and Foamix Pharma in short order. After that, it won the media AOR assignment for Rhythm Pharma, which Walsh characterizes as “a very cutting-edge formula for obesity, which targets a gene variant.”
By the time the books closed on 2018, GTO saw a nearly 70% jump in revenue, from 2017’s $32 million to $54.3 million. While 60% of the growth came from new clients, Walsh is just as proud of the organic growth: “Every one of our established AOR accounts grew in 2018.”
The agency received validation on the personnel front as well, enduring no major defections and hiring Ross Thomson away from Ogilvy Health to serve as chief creative officer.
Thomson’s arrival represented something of a coming-of-age moment for Walsh. “Enticing someone of Ross’ caliber, someone who has won just about every award under the sun, shows others just how much we’ve gotten our act together,” he says. The agency also added Bill Major, formerly of Harrison and Star, as director of operational excellence, and opened a London office.
“They’re all loving it here,” Walsh adds.
Walsh and his GTO teammates continue to hew to their traditional digital strengths. “The convergence of tech and healthcare continues to be astounding,” he explains. “It accelerates the scientific breakthroughs, access to real-time data and connective devices.”
At the same time, he notes the days when clients would ask for simple websites are long gone. “They’re coming to us for robust enterprise platforms and pretty significant digital ecosystems,” he continues.
At the same time, Walsh acknowledges an imminent threat in the form of 800-pound gorillas Apple and Google. “We’ve only begun to witness that impact,” he says. “Imagine what the next five years will bring.”
That’s why Walsh thinks it’s essential to look outside the healthcare universe for inspiration. “By necessity, our industry is coming to recognize the importance of customer relationships, of every experience and every interaction,” he says, singling out Amazon, Disney and Netflix as the current gold standards.
As part of its response, GTO has debuted a positioning and identity “meant to build awareness and provide a little texture around our competitive differences.” It doesn’t hurt that the company is operating from a position of strength: Walsh reports revenue is up 10% over 2018 levels in the year’s first few months.
Not surprisingly, work in and around the wellness space is fueling Walsh’s optimism. “It gives me the satisfaction of knowing that the world is a lot bigger,” he says. “We have limitless opportunities.”