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Our 2018 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada.
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Winners were unveiled at the 2018 North American SABRE Awards, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York on May 1.
Finn Partners has enjoyed considerable accolades in its first six years since founder Peter Finn led the spinoff out of Ruder Finn: it has grown consistently, with fee income last year up by about 6.5% to almost $82 million, and it has earned both Agency of the Year and Best Agencies to Work For recognition from this publication. But even amid all that broad-based success, the performance of the firm’s healthcare practice stands out.
At launch, Finn had essentially one healthcare client — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, led from the firm’s Michigan office — and when healthcare public relations veteran Gil Bashe joined in May 2015, having most recently led the health practice at Makovsky, healthcare fees were less than $1 million. Today, healthcare accounts for $17 million in fees, with Bashe having leveraged his own industry expertise, and the collaborative nature of the Finn Partners culture (partnering with colleagues who bring tech, consumer, and social impact expertise), to establish the health practice in 12 of Finn’s 16 offices around the world.
The core strength is not only pharma — the traditional big budget business in this arena — but a balanced portfolio that spans patients (advocates and caregivers); providers (physicians and hospital systems); product innovators (in biopharma and health tech); payers (procurement and PBMs); and policy makers (public health). To bring that ecosystem together, Bashe has recruited a leadership team that includes US pharma team lead Kristie Kuhl, formerly of Cohn & Wolfe and Makovsky; Michael Heinley, who leads health tech sector work; and Chris Messina-Boyer in Washington, DC. Finn works with companies such as Allergan, Bristol Myers Squibb, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Merck, and NextGen as well as the Galien Foundation—known as the Nobel Prize of the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries —globally, and mHealth, one of the world's largest health technology associations. — PH
Biosector2 (Syneos Health Communications)
With much of the discussion around health in recent years focusing on relatively weak new drug pipelines, budget pressures, and a somewhat formulaic approach to communications, it was good to see the sector resurgent in 2017. Biosector2 not only benefited from the broader industry comeback — the firm’s 15thanniversary year was its strongest in some time, with fees up 6.5% and a significant expansion of the client base — it actually led the way, at least in terms of delivering a more creative approach to pharma PR.
Two its campaigns are among the finalists for our pharmaceutical industry SABRE Award this year: one a bold new campaign designed to cut through the sea of pink ribbons and slacktivism to amplify the voices of patients with metastatic breast cancer under the confrontational “Kiss This” banner on behalf of Novartis; the second “Be Vocal” Speak Up for Mental Health,” a campaign for Sunovion Pharmaceuticals that brought together singer Demi Levato and five leading advocacy organizations to develop a documentary film, a photographic exhibit and ultimately a social media movement to confront the continued stigma of mental health issues.
Originally founded to focus on biotech and specialty pharma, Biosector2 has become the largest and arguably to best-rounded PR operation in the inVentiv (now Syneos Health) portfolio, boasting longstanding client relationships with the likes of the American Migraine Foundation, Melinta, Merz, Novartis, Ortho Dermatologics, and Sunovion. The partnership with other Syneos companies is also beginning to pay dividends in terms of research-driven insights, and behavioral analytics. And the values-driven culture has stayed strong, with turnover in single digits percentage-wise—a stability clients appreciate. — PH
RxMosaic (MMC/Omnicom Group)
Absorbed into Omnicom's Marina Maher Communications in 2014, few expected big things from RX Mosaic, a small healthcare firm that was struggling with senior leadership changes and considerable staff turnover. In the years since, though, the firm has emerged as a specialist healthcare player that positions itself as a lab focusing on innovative approaches to sectoral communication challenges.
Under the leadership of MDs Michele Schimmel, Jane Petrino and Lisa Talbot, revenues have doubled since 2015, with headcount up 18% in 2017 to 33 people. More importantly, perhaps, the firm is no longer reliant on a single client; a transformative 2017 means it now has an impressive stable of accounts that includes Teva, Quest Diagnostics, Roche, Pfizer and USP, along with new business from Foundation Consumer Healthcare, Braeburn, N.O.R.D., Takeda, Cooper Surgical, LEO Pharma and Novartis.
Much of that growth can be traced to an approach that aims to help healthcare companies experiment with non-traditional forms of storytelling. Accordingly, there is specialist talent in the form of digital and creative healthcare expertise, and a flair for work that encompasses patient engagement, HCP communications, disease awareness/branded communications, advocacy, corporate reputation and public health education. The offering also includes a proprietary ‘advocacy in motion’ engagement tool that aims to marry the needs of patients with cutting-edge communications methods.
If the firm’s work is any indication, the approach is paying off, including an IN2 SABRE Award for best use of video for Teva Neuroscience. There were other standout campaigns too — a $50k campaign that helped drive boomer action around hep C awareness; inspiring women to demand better birth control on behalf of Paragard and Teva; and, increasing sales for Pfizer’s top pneumococcal pneumonia brand. — AS
In keeping with its recent history of annual double-digit growth, healthcare consultancy Spectrum in 2017 reported $24m in revenue, up 20% from the year before. Wisely, the firm has opted to use that momentum to take stock of its progress, including a particular focus on how to best manage growth in such a way that would secure Spectrum’s long-range viability — while retaining its focus on telling 'science stories'.
That exercise is reflected in a range of the year’s initiatives, including the launch of Spectrum’s proprietary analytics dashboard, Galileo6, which provides real-time views of campaigns, conversations and channels as they evolve across paid, earned, shared & owned channels. Having brought 22 new hires onboard, increasing its headcount 28% in a single year, Spectrum also strengthened its talent management policies, giving employees considerable freedom and unlimited vacation in a bid to reaffirm the firm's emphasis on flexibility, accountability and responsibility.
In turn, Spectrum in 2017 demonstrated the power of its approach to telling science stories via highly impactful behind-the-scenes work and public campaigns, whether for new clients like Vertex and Arbor Pharmaceuticals, or existing ones such as Astellas, Medtronic and Dermira. Among Spectrum’s hallmark endeavors was its own marketing campaign, Wired by Nature, Swayed by Science, which detailed the science and emotion that go into Spectrum’s shrewd ability to tell science stories in ways that increase brand loyalty. Also standing out was the agency’s strategic communications program for the second year of Astellas Oncology’s C3 Prize, a challenge aimed at inspiring novel, non-treatment and non-medicine based ideas to change cancer care. — DM
Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)
Weber Shandwick’s eye-catching consumer work and its pioneering digital capabilities have received the most attention in recent years, as the Interpublic-owned agency has outperformed its peer group, but the healthcare practice has arguably been the most consistent performer in the US, recording double-digit growth in recent years (including 2017, when the rest of the business fell victim to the industry’s slowdown) and reaching a point where it now accounts for about a quarter of Weber Shandwick’s North American business.
The story last year was one that combined both longevity (50% of the top 20 clients have been with Weber Shandwick for more than a decade, including Roche Genentech, Gilead, Merck, and Boehringer Ingelheim); healthy organic growth (Merck, Lilly, Sunovion and Daiichi Sankyo); and impressive new business performance (Sanofi Regeneron, Illumina and — most notably, perhaps — Novartis). Beyond those leading pharmaceutical clients, the practice also works with industry trade association PhRMA, Merck for Mothers, and The International Fund for Agricultural Development (leading its hunger and malnutrition efforts).
President of global healthcare Laura Schoen, an 18-year veteran of the firm, has built a formidable leadership team that includes New York health practice leader Jamie Dowd and Frank Orrico (one of 16 PhDs on the full-time staff) who leads Element Scientific Communications, the specialist science team. And with 500 team members, Weber can deliver an astonishingly wide range of work in the healthcare sector, from efforts to strengthen the connection between GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Excedrin brand and headache sufferers to the bold “F*ck Without Fear” safe sex campaign for the Los Angeles LGBT Center to employee engagement advice for Boehringer-Ingelheim to crisis management and disaster relief efforts for Sutter Health. — PH
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