WCG, the public relations firm formerly known as WeissComm Group, has exploded on to the public relations scene over the past five years—it was named our Healthcare Agency of the Year in each of the past two years—and continued its impressive upward trajectory in 2009 despite the global recession, with fees increasing from close to $17 million in 2008 to in excess of $26 million (organic growth was about 27 percent, with the remainder coming from acquisitions). It is now one of the top seven independent public relations firms in the U.S., one of the three fastest-growing—no firm larger than $4 million grew faster—and walked away with our U.S. Agency of the Year award for 2009.
That growth took headcount at WCG to around 150, but it’s not the quantity that’s impressive; it’s the quality. The firm brought in more senior talent than many larger multi-service agencies, including social and digital media gurus Bob Pearson (former head of corporate communications at Dell, a social media pioneer) and Neville Hobson (a leading U.K. blogger); chief creative officer Paulo Simas (who joined through the January 2009 acquisition of his design firm, ODA; and global managing director Gail Cohen (formerly chair of the global healthcare practice at Burson-Marsteller). They join a leadership team that now looks exceptionally deep: Jim Weiss, formerly of Heartport, Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Genentech and GTFH, who serves as president and CEO; Diane Weiser, who joined from Ketchum; Jennifer Gottlieb, formerly of Cohn & Wolfe, managing director of the New York office; CFO Tony Esposito; biotech veteran Paul Laland; and San Francisco MD Angela Gillespie.
The past year’s additions indicate the two most significant developments of the past 12 months: a significant expansion into digital and social media that saw several new service offerings (tools to aggregate monitoring activities; encourage client-agency collaboration; identify leading online and offline influencers for specific brands, companies and sectors; and provide real-time brand analytics); and international growth, with the London office—which launched in 2008—making a significant contribution and Cohen poised to lead the firm’s expansion into additional key markets.
WCG continues to be defined primarily by its healthcare business, offering an exceptionally broad range of services to clients in the sector: clinical trial recruitment, communications strategy, corporate communications, investor relations, product communications, media relations, advocacy group relations, and of course first-rate creative. But while healthcare continues to account for about 90 percent of revenues—clients include Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Bayer, Boston Scientific, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, Medtronic, Pfizer, UCB Pharma and a host of smaller specialty pharma and biotech clients—the firm’s strength in social media has allowed it to pick up clients from other industries.
WCG has also introduced a number of proprietary products designed to ensure a consistent strategic approach: an issues management preparedness tool it calls ARMED (Anticipate issues; Respond quickly, Mobilize advocates, Evaluate impact, Determine next steps); an approach to engaging advocates that indentifies “mission matches” between advocacy groups and clients, develops appropriate platforms and educates patients on treatments, trials and issues. Articulate, a messaging process designed to ensure “one voice” communications; and WeissWatch, which provides clients with insights into the trends impacting the healthcare sector and their implications for specific businesses.
The other priority has involved culture-building, a challenging task at a time of such rapid expansion. But chief people officer Laura Torres has been helpful in putting together some exciting new initiatives: a leadership program to develop the next generation of senior talent, enhanced internal communications, an impressive internship program, an agency offsite in Las Vegas that helped with team-building and knowledge-sharing, various wellness programs, and a commitment to community outreach and social responsibility work.
WeissComm is an international healthcare public relations firm with its new London officer serving as the hub for European business, and a network of affiliates that extends its reach to markets including Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland.