Heading up the biggest brand in online health has its benefits. “When I tell people I work at WebMD, they smile and tell me how the site has helped them,” says Wayne Gattinella. “That makes me feel really good.”
Gattinella is president, CEO and director at WebMD, to which his former Medco colleague, WebMD chairman Marty Wygod, recruited him in 2001. That year, the firm lost $70 million and was “dangerously close” to joining the ranks of defunct dotcoms. Gattinella spent his first three years “mostly selling” and improving the site (a task aided by WebMD’s acquisition of Medscape in 2001). The company has since flourished. This year’s Q1 total revenue rose 12%, while online ad revenue was up 16%, record traffic (61.6 million unique monthly users—more than four times 2001 traffic) and 1.5 billion page views.
“We benefit…as many large pharma companies consolidate ad spending,” Gattinella says. “In the past, online marketing has played a small part in overall budget and strategy, and I see that changing now. It’s not only a good idea, it’s necessary to build a new model to reach physicians and consumers.”
Building new markets and extending the brand through international and mobile channels are priorities now. In late 2007, WebMD partnered with Medcenter to launch Medscape in South America, Mexico, Spain and Portugal. WebMD is partnering with Boots to launch a UK consumer health information portal later this year. Gattinella calls it “an incremental opportunity,” and says the company plans further offerings abroad.
Last November, WebMD’s introduced a free “symptom checker” application for the iPhone that’s racked up 500,000 downloads. A free drug reference application for doctors launched in May.
“There’s a lot of advertiser interest in the mobile platform,” Gattinella says. “We need to get the user community built. No doubt, mobile will become more important for on-demand information.”
For all the noise about WebMD’s battle with EverydayHealth, Gattinella says he views traditional channels as WebMD’s main competition.
“The majority of marketing spend still goes to traditional channels,” he says. “On the consumer side it’s TV and print. On the physician side it’s sales force meetings and industry events. As we’re building a more effective approach to reaching customers, the business models we’re working against are these traditional ad, promotion and educational channels. That’s really the competition. There are sites that are good and legitimate. We’re OK with other sites. We own and operate our own websites, control and produce editorial, create a consistent user experience and deliver consistently high quality audience.”
Medscape’s CME distribution grew to 5.2 million completed programs in 2008—up from 3.1 million in 2007 and 2.1 million in 2006—but Gattinella worries that drug companies are questioning the value of sponsoring CME programs, regardless of how they’re marketed and delivered. “When they’re cutting back, it’s because of a lack of data that demonstrates impact,” he says. “We have lots of third-party data that irrefutably demonstrates the value of CME.”
A Philadelphia native, Gattinella is an avid snowboarder and amateur musician. He attended Berklee College of Music before B-school and says the creative discipline he learned through music helped make him an effective leader in evolving businesses.
Gattinella sees increased use of video and demand for personalization on the consumer side. On the physician side, he sees continued development of “totally measurable and targetable” online models that will replace communication traditionally delivered by sales reps.
“It’s not effective anymore to push information to people,” he says. “They want it when they’re ready for it. They come to the site on their own, and we lead them to what’s most relevant. That’s the time you introduce commercial messaging.”
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