In a year during which Red Door Communications grew 34 percent, continued to pick up awards for its healthcare public relations work, and saw founder Catherine Warne named Communiqué magazine’s Communicator of the Year, the biggest news was that the firm was sold to Creston Communications—parent of London’s Nelson Bostock Communications—for an initial £6.5 million in cash and shares and a potential £13 million based on future performance. It was an impressive deal, and Warne immediately created an Employee Benefit Trust to enable its people to share in the earn-out, but says that otherwise it won’t change the culture of the firm at all. The main reason she accepted the Creston deal—there were other suitors—is that it won’t be merging Red Door into some larger entity or interfering with day to day management. That’s good news for Red Door’s people and its clients.
Launched in 2000, Red Door quickly established itself among the thought leaders in healthcare public relations. In the firm’s first year, Warne (a veteran of GCI Health, Edelman and Shire Health) found time to launch the Healthcare Communications Association and serve as its first chair. In 2001, after picking up high profile assignments from Eli Lilly and Aventis Pasteur, the firm was a finalist for PR Week’s Best New Consultancy award. The next year, it picked up the Investors in People standard (recognition of its “culture of continuous improvement”), and helped launch the HCA’s evaluation toolkit—an attempt to provide guidance on ROI to pharmaceutical clients.
The firm’s impressive performance is rooted in a planning process that includes environmental research and issues identification—including analysis of opinion leader, customer and stakeholder opinions; the establishment of critical success factors; creative, original programming, and rigorous measurement. There’s also an emphasis on ethical training, particularly important in the healthcare realm, where regulations are constantly changing and patient groups are increasingly comfortable voicing criticisms of marketing and pricing policies.
The past year continued the pattern of growth, with fee income rising to £2.5 million in 2004, and headcount now at 32, with a key addition in Antoinette Shallue, a medical education veteran who will head the firm’s med ed business and its growing portfolio of international work. Recent programmes include a Communiqué Award winning effort to raise awareness of erectile dysfunction on behalf of Bayer (using Sir Stirling Moss as a spokesman); work on Astra Zeneca’s cardiology products, including Crestor; the creation of a pilot programme to increase live donation for a joint ABPI/Industry renal task force; and increased global work for Glaxo SmithKline, which awarded Red Door its HIV franchise and its smoking cessation product NiQuitin. New business came from Roche, Schering, and the Haemophilia Society—an addition to the firm’s growing roster of patient group clients.
The Creston acquisition is expected to help fund expansion in a couple of directions. First, with more and more ethical pharmaceutical marketers looking for consumer insights, Red Door can either partner with sister agencies or add consumer expertise in-house. And second, the firm can look at overseas expansion, with the U.S. market an obvious temptation. One thing is sure: the firm won’t be resting on its considerable laurels.