Having been in operation for more than three decades, GCG Healthcare projects an image of stability to clients and to employees. That has helped the Texas firm hold onto both during an otherwise trying year for companies and their agencies.

“We’ve been able to retain staff, which has allowed us to adequately serve clients,” says president Neil Foster, who has logged 15 years with the health practice.

And that has meant no account losses or major setbacks this past year. On the other hand, performance is flat and should come in about the same as 2008.

“Clients have had to scale back this year, some worse than others,” says Foster. “It’s one of those things every agency is feeling with every budget. We’re doing well but not necessarily aggressively growing our business right now.”

Helping offset the decreases, the independent agency has gained business from a mix of new and existing clients. Existing client Medicis brought professional communications for two of its acne-related brands, cream Ziana and oral antibiotic Solodyn. The wins add to professional-communications work GCG already does for Medicis’ topical corticosteroid Vanos. Another standing client, contract development and manufacturing organization DPT Labs, handed over corporate website and e-marketing work.

“This year is one of those [in which] you’re just trying to tread water,” Foster says.

Branded medical education has helped buoy the firm, as well—“it’s been consistent from where we were a year ago; we haven’t grown but haven’t lost.”

Business may not be booming, but Foster doesn’t lament the situation. The challenging financial period has brought with it opportunities to change the way the agency works, for the better. One change has been in the composition of GCG’s business. Interactive and search engine optimization (SEO) now account for roughly half of agency billings. In turn, print advertising budgets have decreased quite a bit. “There’s also less spend on direct marketing, direct mail and collateral,” he observes.

Foster hopes this shift positions his group to capitalize on the continuing migration among pharmaceutical companies toward interactive dialogue. “We are very aggressively shifting our business tactically to digital communications,” he says. “That is very much a push on our end, to move further away from just conventional communications and into digital. We are small and nimble enough where we can do that fairly easily.”

This may involve shepherding clients into largely uncharted, not to mention unregulated, territory.

“With conventional media, we’re used to controlling our message,” he says, “and with social media, you’re not completely controlling that message. You’re embarking on a whole new world that conventional marketers aren’t used to.” Foster welcomes clients to accompany him on that journey and wants to make the trip as safe as possible.

In line with the potential of web-based automation to reduce costs, GCG’s location in the Dallas-Fort Worth market presents another economic advantage. “You can get more for your money working with us,” he says. “Our hourly fee is less than that of expensive markets like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.”

GCG prides itself on pro bono work. It launched a national campaign for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation, helping the group raise $3 million for research. The agency’s design and marketing consultation for a local AIDS outreach center has helped the center, through its Annual AIDS Walk, to raise
$1 million to continue its work.