Healthcare PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report

2019 Healthcare Consultancies of the Year

Our 2019 EMEA PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 200 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Winners will be unveiled at the 2019 EMEA SABRE Awards dinner in London on 22 May. Analysis of all Finalists across 20 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Winner: Kyne (Independent)

Kyne was founded ten years ago by David Kyne in Dublin on the belief that communication is a powerful health intervention that can save lives. The agency serves public and private sector clients, bringing together stakeholders to address some of the world’s most pressing public health challenges, from increasing flu vaccinations to eradicating Guinea worm disease.

Kyne has offices in New York and Los Angeles, and recently opened an office in London led by new MD Joanne Wunder, who is also head of Europe and also oversees the Dublin HQ, serving KYNE’s European-based clients.

The firm also has senior consultants in Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, South Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe, with a partner network that extends its capabilities to Latin America. The team comes from diverse backgrounds, from many different countries and speaking multiple languages, and have deep experience working within the markets it serves, ensuring its work is targeted, locally-sensitive, relevant and effective.

On the heels of a year of record growth in 2017, the firm continued to grow in high-single figures in 2018 to fee income in excess of $10m, while also expanding its network and enriching its offering, including developing its digital and media expertise in response to a shift in the way stakeholders seek and digest health information. Senior appointments in this area included Julie O’Donnell as global head of digital – bringing more than a decade of experience in health-focused digital and marketing strategy, including senior roles with Publicis D and Lundbeck – and Alexander Petti as VP, media strategist.

Much of Kyne’s client list and work is confidential, but good examples of its work include partnering with social media influencers to raise awareness of lung cancer’s impact on women for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation and supporting patient advocacy initiatives for several pharmaceutical companies.

New assignments in 2018 included developing advocacy programs for Alnylam to strengthen patient communities in rare diseases, and strategic communications to empower the Parkinson’s disease community.

The work may be serious, but the team culture isn’t: energy is high, laughter is frequent and egos are checked at the door. The agency has a wide range of initiatives to support its 48 employees, including professional development, exchange and volunteering opportunities, mentorship, physical and mental programmes and an annual company-wide offsite. — MPS


GCI Health (WPP)

At a time when the healthcare sector is going through unprecedented transformation — mergers and acquisitions, vertical integration, new CEOs — the gulf between patients and physicians and the industry that serves them has never been wider. For companies like GCI Health, which serves the entire range of healthcare companies, from pharma to biotech to medical tech to health IT to the payer/provider sector, that means facing new challenges and more complex assignments while maintaining a laser-like focus on the core values that define and differentiate them.

That was why GCI made the decision three years ago to talk about putting patients at the center, and why it decided last year to talk about “people at the center,” reflecting a more holistic view of those individuals but also acknowledging the need to reach out to physicians, pharmacists and other influencers. It’s also why the firm launched the Healthiher movement, a platform developed to address the fact that 50% of women put their spouses, children and parents ahead of themselves when they’re thinking about health.

That wholehearted commitment to practicing what it preaches has helped GCI Health establish itself—just five years after opening its London office—as a significant player in the UK healthcare space. After impressive 36% growth in 2018, the firm now has a team of 35 in London, led by managing directors Kath Kerry and Rikki Jones, supported by senior director Hannah Morris, who leads European client development. New in 2018 were deputy managing director Kim Walker, former head of Liberation Unlimited; and directors Bex Hibble, from Ruder Finn, and Zoe Fleming, from Edelman.

Long-term clients include Acelity, Bayer, Biogen, ElectroCore, Gilead, Qiagen, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA, and MSD, while there was new business in 2018 from Astellas; Jazz Pharmaceuticals; and Vertex. Highlights included the European launch of Yescarta for Gilead—the first CAR T therapy for adults living with non-Hodgkin lymphoma—dominating media share of voice versus a competitor at launch; and supporting global external and internal communications for Vertex as the company continued to innovate with its portfolio of cystic fibrosis medicines. — PH

Golin/Virgo Health (Interpublic Group)

As with many of the networks, healthcare was one of the strongest growth areas – and offers – for Golin last year, as it announced its new “progressive” positioning. In London, Golin moved Virgo Health, the specialist it bought in 2012, into the Waterhouse Square offices with the rest of the agency, enabling the teams to share creative services, including digital and design, and integrate operations teams.

Golin and Virgo Health’s increasing global pharma business hubbed from the UK, diversification into corporate and an increased global focus have all contributed to growth. They are also benefitting from the introduction of Golin’s impressive new bespoke data, analytics and measurement tools, built by global head of data and analytics Jonny Bentwood and his team and being rolled out to clients and prospects across the network. Notable new clients included Merck, for which Golin won the global brief to develop its corporate narrative, and Shionogi 's OTC and pharma portfolio. There was organic growth across the top five clients, including Santen, Roche and Ipsen, and pharma comms overall grew by 29%.

Virgo Health, co-founded in 2003 by Sarah Matthew and Angie Wiles, has become a leading international healthcare communications agency. Matthew stayed on as chair after the integration period ended in 2015 and helped to appoint Neera Chaudhary as global president of healthcare in 2017.

The UK Virgo team is headed by managing director Ondine Whittington, who leads a team with a track record of solving business challenges through strategic communications campaigns for the pharmaceutical, consumer healthcare and not-for-profit industries, including market access and brand communications, corporate communications and employee engagement, and medical education. Golin also reinforced its healthcare offer across EMEA, including introducing a new healthcare practice in Germany, where it has bought on board health comms expert Dr. Thomas Nisters as executive director, and, in London, Sarah Gordon as an executive director at Virgo, bringing experience in data, regulatory and science storytelling.

Golin has become a modest giant in healthcare, quietly ahead of the curve with an integrated offering of patient engagement, scientific communications, digital health and medical education across the Golin Health and Virgo Health brands. The teams’ healthcare work is also known for being bold and creative, with two SABRE-shortlisted campaigns including the Twinkle Twinkle Little Heart campaign for charity Tiny Tickers, which raised awareness of babies and small children with heart conditions by making the Christmas lights of Covent Garden flicker in time with the heartbeat of two-year-old patient Billy, and Bayer’s digital-first Tackle TD campaign that significantly raised awareness of testosterone deficiency and directly contributed to patients seeking help. — MPS


Hanover (Avenir Global)

Hanover’s healthcare practice has gone from strength to strength in recent years and is now one of the standout performers in the group: it had international and in-market business growth of 30% in 2018, in all areas of product and corporate communications, policy, advocacy and market access, and now represents around a third of Hanover’s revenue.

The team, led by MD Andrew Harrison with support from a senior team including Brussels healthcare lead Emma Eatwell, works with more than half of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies as well as health technology businesses, trade associations, charities and healthcare providers.

The offer has evolved from its policy and corporate roots, in line with Hanover’s own background, into product and brand communications; it’s been a game-changing move, as the team is now winning big healthcare clients ahead of the global networks. Its broader expertise also means it can take a creative tangent from straight public affairs briefs; it persuaded Roche, for instance, that the best way of raising awareness of haemophilia among young men was to embrace social media and work with Ladbible and influencers on an Instagram campaign that yielded 6.7 million impressions and won an internal award for innovation across the whole of Roche/Chugai UK.

In line with the wider firm’s current focus on organic growth, the healthcare team is aiming to provide multiple services across multiple markets to almost every client: more than half of its proposals are already for work with more than one specialist team in more than one geography.

As with all healthcare agencies, finding talent to support rapid growth is a challenge, so to address this Hanover has launched an award to find the next generation of healthcare communications professionals. The Mackay Award – named after Hanover co-founder Gregor Mackay, who died in 2005 eight weeks after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – offers one winner a six-month development programme, with the expectation of becoming a permanent member of the team. The programme includes time with Hanover Health’s communications and policy teams in London, Brussels, Dublin and the Middle East. — MPS

Pegasus (UK/Ashfield Healthcare Group) 

Acquired agencies are rarely a recipe for continued growth, but Pegasus has bucked that trend in each of its first two years since it was acquired by Ashfield Healthcare Group. In 2018, the firm was up 13% to £12m, a similar uptick as 2017, reflecting that life as part of a bigger offering is hardly slowing the firm’s prodigious ability to keep expanding. Based in Brighton with offices in Macclesfield and London, Pegasus now counts 135 staffers working for such clients as Astellas, Bayer, Novo Nordisk; GSK; CSL Behring; Boehringer Ingelheim and Network Rail, while notable new assignments included a global consumer and healthcare professional campaign for Raisio’s Benecol brand; a healthy eating campaign for Kellogg’s; and a global strategy programme for human & animal nutrition company DSM.

Last year also saw MD Simon Hackett promoted to lead a new Ashfield Healthcare business unit comprising Pegasus and Ashfield Digital+Creative. Pegasus unveiled a new leadership team of 14 directors, including Jo Spadaccino (head of client partnerships); Helen Pattison (director of business development), Corrina Safeio (director of strategy & insights) and Stuart Hehir (creative director). 

The firm’s partnership with University College of London’s Centre for Behaviour also remains a distinguishing feature, helping it develop a proprietary framework based on behavioural change. That mindset was put to good use for its multi-award winning ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ campaign for Network Rail and the Samaritans, while Pegasus also developed new research into the health attitudes of Gen Z. In addition, 2018 saw the firm expand its influencer marketing capabilities, via new hires and software.

All of which continues to ensure that Pegasus’ campaign work is some of the best in the business, making 2018 its best ever year for awards. Highlights included You vs Train, which helped improve safety for Network Rail; the successful Locum’s Nest product launch via app technology; and a Manuka Honey launch for Holland & Barrett, which delivered a sales uplift of 72%. — AS