TCB | You recently identified three areas for growth: health care, branding and food. You’ve made acquisitions in branding and food. How do you plan to expand your presence in health care, and what are the potential pitfalls in doing so?
Lynn Casey: Each one of the practices we have surrounding an industry focus has growth potential, but not every area can grow and receive investments equally. We have decided to grow in the three areas you mentioned. In the health care industry, we have focused on finding someone who can focus on building the business throughout the country.
TCB | Tell me more about developing your health care business.
Casey: We recently hired Fred Lake, who is in our New York office. He is well rounded in health care. He started in insurance then moved into provider services. His last focus was in pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are new for us. Health care is already one of our largest groups. We have clients within the region, some with national footprints. His charge is to bring this to a national level and help us find national clients. Then we will see what the next step is. We don’t see many pitfalls except that we are not the only agency looking at health care from a business-building perspective.
TCB | So you are not actively looking for an acquisition in health care?
Casey: No, not at this time. We take our time integrating the acquisitions we make because culture and fit is so important to us.
TCB | Do you see any challenge integrating FoodMinds into your corporate culture?
Casey: No. We have been delighted at how well we play together, which is partly due to working together the past four years on our Hass Avocado Board account. You could say we dated for four years.
TCB | Obviously your revenues have grown tremendously through your recent acquisitions. What about your profit levels? Is this a tough balance to achieve, particularly in an employee-owned (ESOP) firm?
Casey: We don’t set our growth goals as high as other firms with different types of pressures. We can take a couple of points less in profitability if we want to make an investment. We started as a well-run firm and that has served us well. As our revenue grows, so does our income. We try to maintain steady profitability because I am not a fan of wild swings, and it’s not a good way to run a business. Our profits determine when we make big investments. When we invest, the entire company knows exactly why we are investing and what is occurring. We have a very open-book policy.
TCB | What other challenges are you facing right now?
Casey: One of the most challenging areas for CEOs who run communications organizations is technology—staying ahead of the curve while avoiding the flash in the pan. Communications is an industry that has already become technology-dependent. There is an array of new products that could be purchased and products that should not be purchased. The challenge is being able to take the appropriate risk so you are not following a dead end or realizing a new trend too late and suddenly you are behind the investment curve. But some of this is a crapshoot.