Agency translates health products for many audiences.
GSW likes to say it “speaks people.”
That is important for a healthcare communications agency navigating complex topics for diverse stakeholders ranging from medical professionals to patients.
From a base of operations in Westerville, the company has managed to adapt and thrive over 40 years in an ever-evolving and highly regulated industry.
GSW early on landed an advertising campaign for global pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca plc, and in the decades since has worked with the biggest players in pharmaceuticals, biotech and health and wellness.
The company's work varies widely, with some commercials following a familiar template in television advertising for pharmeceuticals. But in one recent video advertisement, GSW uses goldfish swimming through tubes to simulate how blood thinner Pradaxa works to prevent blood clots.
“In healthcare there's such a wide range of knowledge and understanding and science, and all these different aspects that our customers have to understand—whether it's a patient or a caregiver, or physician or researcher,” says Matt Mizer, the company's executive vice president and general manager of marketing and new business. “At GSW we have the ability to understand all of those different facets and communicate them in just the right way and actually bridge them all together. So to ‘speak people' is more than just simplifying complex things, it's being able to say the right things at the right time to the right person—and then connect them.”
The agency was founded in 1977 by Bob Gerbig, Chris Snell and Rick Weisheimer—representing the “G,” the “S” and the “W” in GSW.
About 20 years into the history of the company, Blane Walter, the son of Cardinal Health Inc. founder Bob Walter, took over leadership duties. GSW under his watch landed work with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., which is still today the largest client.
Walter began implementing a vision to take the agency beyond just advertising to a full-service communications company dealing in public relations and medical education.
It really came to fruition seven years ago when GSW became part of inVentiv Health Inc., a provider of outsourced clinical development, manufacturing and sales for the pharmaceutical industry. The Boston company itself completed a merger in August with publicly-traded research firm INC Research Holdings Inc. of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“And we're excited about that because the combination of these two organizations, inVentiv and INC, brings even further opportunities for us,” GSW President Dan Smith says.
GSW's own evolution comes as the industry undergoes a drastic shift from print to digital advertising, and amid changing consumer preferences and legislation.
“Probably the biggest change is that not long ago, most healthcare marketing meant marketing to physicians—they were the gatekeepers to patients. Today the big shift is we are all directly marketing to patients,” says Bill Balderaz, founder and president of innovation consultant Futurety, who lectures on the topic. “Regardless of what happens with that (Affordable Care Act) legislation, I think that was a domino, you can't stop that train now. We're never going to go back to the black-box form of healthcare.”
Of course, as GSW and others speak to new audiences in innovative ways, they must do so in the context of a heavily regulated healthcare space.
Smith says some people view that as restrictive. He sees it differently.
“I actually think it dials up the creativity, because you do have to be creative within a set playing field that's established for the safety of the audience, which are the patients,” he says. “The thing I love about it is you're promoting for what's best for the patient, for patient access to information.”
More than half of GSW's 444 employees are based in Columbus. And while the agency may operate in a radically different environment than it did 40 years ago, executives feel Columbus is the right place to be.
“We're super proud of the fact that our founders are from Columbus,” Mizer says. “So we go toe to toe against agencies from New York, Chicago, to battle for brands that are global, billion-dollar brands. And we do it because of the values we have in Columbus—it's work ethic, it's treating people the right way, it's being honest and just embracing the creativity and the energy that's in Columbus right now.”
Evan Weese is a freelance writer.