Marketing firm broadens offerings, narrows focus: Hetrick projects 20-percent growth on fewer clients

October 8, 2007

In the last year, Hetrick Communications has hired 10 employees, added a major new client, and changed its focus. What was once primarily a public relations firm is now also an advertising agency targeting health care and life sciences.

On the heels of the changes, Hetrick actually wants fewer clients.

"We want fewer, bigger clients," said Amy Ahlersmeyer, the firm's president and chief operating officer. "We want our growth to come absolutely in the health care and life sciences sector."

Hetrick hopes to pare its roster of 34 clients down to no more than 25.

"Fifteen to 18 clients would be an ideal number," said founder and owner Bruce Hetrick. He said no longtime clients-regardless of industry-will be cast out.

Hetrick expects major growth in 2008 as the agency becomes more selective.

"This has been a rebuilding year," Hetrick said from his office on Pan Am Plaza's eighth floor. "We have been focused on the agency's structure and people. I really expect things to skyrocket next year."

Not that business hasn't grown this year. Hetrick expects capitalized billings-and revenue-to increase about 10 percent this year. Next year's growth is projected at 20 percent.

Hetrick, with 26 full-time employees and $20.4 million in capitalized billings in 2006, ranks among the city's biggest fullservice advertising agencies. It's grown from nine employees eight years ago.

In Hetrick's early days, the agency did a lot of specialty public relations work for larger advertising and marketing agencies. That's no longer the case, and the firm does just about everything in-house except for some media buying.

With cold calls a thing of the past, Hetrick said his business now comes strictly from referrals and networking.

The firm's focus shift, Ahlersmeyer said, came after a period of "soul searching" about a year ago.

"We really wanted to stop trying to be all things to all people," Ahlersmeyer said. "We asked ourselves, 'Who do we want to serve?'"

There was a strong desire among agency leaders to specialize in one sector.

"There are logical reasons for this focus, and there are emotional reasons for this focus," said Hetrick, who writes a column for IBJ. "On the logical side, this niche is as wide as the Grand Canyon. It's also a big focus of the city and state. Emotionally, we can help facilitate the advancement and saving of human lives. There's something very rewarding about that."

The push into health care and life sciences also fit with the agency's previous work, Ahlersmeyer said.

"We've always been more about issues than selling a widget," she said.

Last year, Hetrick said, 30 percent of the company's business was related to health care and life sciences. He expects that percentage to grow substantially in 2008.

Hetrick shouldn't have difficulty finding sizable health care clients, said Tom Saccone, product manager for Bloomington-based Cook Medical Group, which has worked with Hetrick for several years.

"Their finger is truly on the pulse of the medical marketplace," Saccone said. "That has allowed them to come up with solutions even outside what we considered."

Cook gets pitches from marketing agencies almost daily, Saccone said, but few have been able to match Hetrick's offerings.

"And to have them local, that's a real value to us," Saccone said.

The agency just signed a deal with Bloomington Hospital.

Hetrick and Ahlersmeyer both formerly directed hospital communications departments. Many Hetrick hires have health care work experience. Last month, Hetrick hired the creative duo of Mary Hayes and Kevin Nelson from Roman Brand Group, a locally based agency with more than four times Hetrick's capitalized billings. The duo, Ahlersmeyer said, was key in winning the Bloomington Hospital account.

Hetrick already counts Cook, along with Purdue University and BSA Life-Structures, among its clients. Now Hetrick is aiming for regional growth.

There is considerable competition for this growing sector. Bloomington-based Finelight is a well-known health care specialist and Indianapolis firms such as Roman Brand and Cabello Associates have made a push in that direction.

"With the state behind the life sciences sector and initiatives from institutions such as Purdue, this is becoming a very strong niche," said John Scofield, Scofield Editorial owner and Indianapolis AdClub president.
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