2021 Healthcare PR Agencies of the Year, North America | PRovoke Media

2021 Healthcare PR Agencies of the Year

The 2021 North America PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 150 submissions and 50 virtual meetings with the best PR firms across the US and Canada. 

Winners were unveiled at the North American SABRE Awards ceremony, at which Zeno was named Overall Agency of the Year and Bully Pulpit Interactive won Specialist Agency of the Year. Analysis of all winners and finalists across 13 categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or here.

Separately, you can find the 2021 SABRE Awards North America winners here.
 

Winner: Evoke Kyne (Huntsworth)

In 2019, Huntsworth’s Evoke Group bought health communications specialist Kyne, PRovoke’s 2019 EMEA Healthcare Consultancy of the Year, in a $17.4m deal creating a 100-strong global healthcare agency, Evoke Kyne.

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Headquartered in Dublin with North American offices in Philadelphia, New York City and Los Angeles.

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Evoke Kyne operates 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 Covid-19 and cancer to promoting flu vaccinations. 

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One of the world’s largest health communications agencies, Evoke Kyne grew even bigger in 2020, with fee income rising to $30.9m, up 23% from 2019. Headcount rose to 139 from 107. Evoke Kyne scaled and diversified its client roster, which grew nearly 25%, with more than 15 new clients and organic growth from long-term clients such as pharmaceutical company, Insmed.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Evoke Kyne prides itself on having a team-based culture where people are encouraged to share their ideas and every person is valued. The firm’s 85% retention rate over the past two years is a testament to its inclusive and collaborative nature, with more than 80% of employees noting they are “satisfied” or “highly satisfied.” Internal offerings include professional development, the opportunity to spend three months in another location, donation matching and mentors. The firm also fosters personal connections through weekly mindfulness sessions, incentivized challenges and more.  When Covid hit, Evoke Kyne doubled down on internal communications with weekly CEO emails, multiple employee surveys and a new bi-monthly DE&I newsletter.

The firm’s commitment to DE&I led to the establishment of a dedicated, cross-office and cross-functional working group in 2018, which is now driven by a more than 40-person global committee, strategic framework, and sub-committees, with the goal of building and nurturing a culture of inclusion. To further expedite the efforts, Evoke Kyne recently named Chanta’ Stewart VP and head of DE&I. Under her leadership, the agency is further prioritizing key initiatives and actions. Other senior appointments last year include Kate Callan as executive VP, head of social; Michael Grela, executive VP, head of reputation & social impact; senior VP Nate Bliss, who leads global R&D oncology communications for a large pharmaceutical client; and senior VP Sandy Nissenbaum, who oversees strategic internal and external communications for several clients.

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2020’s key work included partnering in the US with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases to raise awareness of the importance of flu and pneumococcal disease vaccination through its Annual Influenza/Pneumococcal News Conference held in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite the conference being virtual, the effort achieved unprecedented national news coverage with more than 600 media placements garnering more than 2.7 billion impressions, broadly disseminating critical public health information — up from roughly 1 billion in 2019.

Evoke Kyne also co-founded the Pandemic Action Network (PAN) alongside Panorama and partners including CDC and Facebook, to advocate for policy changes and increased resources to ensure countries are prepared to prevent and respond to pandemics. In April before the CDC or WHO had fully announced their mask policies, PAN catalyzed a campaign for face coverings through its #MaskingforAFriend campaign. The group’s #WorldMaskWeek campaign in August reached 3.5 billion people in just one week, with 2.7 billion social media impressions from 117 countries and 655 million media impressions in 32 countries. The firm also established a new partnership with BMS and GRYT Health, a digital health company, to create the Covid Advocacy Exchange (CAE), a new, entirely virtual platform to share expert-vetted information between patient advocacy communities. This first-of-its-kind community includes a platform for live, interactive discussion sessions where patient voices are heard, and a virtual exhibit hall so that participating organizations can share resources and learn from one another – all available 24/7, at no cost. 

Diana Marszalek

 

 Finalists

GCI Health (WPP)

Initially reporting into WPP’s Cohn & Wolfe, GCI Health was able to build a strong identity for itself as the giant holding company’s only healthcare-focused public relations firm, and—now reporting to BCW—has established itself a global leader in healthcare PR.

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Headquartered in New York, GCI Health has a strong national network (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, DC) as well as a Toronto office, an established presence in the UK and Germany, and a growing Asia-Pacific operation.

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GCI Health is focused exclusively on healthcare communications, but that hasn’t prevented the firm from diversifying its operations in recent years, as health PR has taken on new challenges, including more integrated digital and social campaigns, content creation, and more public health and social impact work. The firm has also added public affairs in recent years, and is gaining more corporate and employee engagement work for its pharma clients.

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While other industries were struggling with the pandemic, the healthcare sector was enjoying a year in the spotlight, and there was plenty of business: enough to drive GCI to another year of double-digit growth, with fees up by about 28%. Some of that was driven by expanding assignments for long-term clients such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, and Sanofi into the corporate realm, while there was new business from Abbott Diagnostics, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CareCredit, Eisai, offering corporate communications and support for their insomnia franchise, Ionis Pharmaceuticals, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

There was a big change in November, when Wendy Lund—who spent more than a decade as CEO—moved in-house to Merck’s women’s health spinoff Organon and North America president Kristin Cahill stepped up to take the global reins. In addition, Sherry Goldberg, Kath Kerry and Rikki Jones were promoted to regional president roles for North America. Elsewhere, new talent emphasized the evolving nature of the firm’s work, with new senior VPs such as Dawn Christian, working on inclusion, equity and diversity; Stefanie Gunning (creative); and Kristin Ryan (digital co-lead). The firm’s commitment to diversity included a “cultural fluency” learning initiative and an emphasis on diverse perspectives in campaign work.

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It was interesting to see the blend of Covid-related work (supporting the introduction of Covid-19 tests for Abbott, managing milestone communications during the vaccine approval process, a content-driven campaign for Walgreens around social distancing) and other assignments, such as SABRE-nominated work for Pfizer on arthritis and eczema and Bristol Myers Squibb on cancer. The firm also worked with The Trevor Project on issues related to mental health in the LGBTQ youth community, and public policy issues related to the diagnosis and treatment of older patients for Sanofi.

Paul Holmes

Goodfuse (WPP)

Founded in 2016 as Y&R Public Relations, and initially focused on healthcare exclusively, the firm rebranded as Goodfuse last year.

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Goodfuse is headquartered in New York, but it added four new offices in 2020: three in the US (Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington, DC) and one overseas (London).

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While healthcare remains a significant part of Goodfuse’s business, the firm is focused on what it calls “human-to-human” communications, an approach it is more than happy to apply to companies in other sectors. It has capabilities in the consumer and technology sectors, and corporate and public affairs realm, as well as digital expertise.

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The rebrand appears to have energized Goodfuse, because 2020 was a strong year, with growth of around 10% (the firm now has about 40 people) and new business from the likes of  IONIS and Novocure (both assignments covering product and internal communications), Kura Oncology and Health Monitor Network (for digital communications), and AHIMA Foundation (for corporate communications and national media relations). They join a client roster that includes Allergan, Archer DX, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Owens Corning, Pfizer (Goodfuse represents 12 brands in the oncology space) and YouthBuild.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

Goodfuse is led by Olga Fleming, CEO (formerly of Cohn & Wolfe), and Courtney Walker, managing director (formerly of W2O). The firm’s “humans first” philosophy is embedded in its culture, which came to the fore last year as employees were forced apart by the Covid crisis and brought back together by a series of fun initiatives from “sacred Mondays” (no non-essential meetings) to “walking meetings” (encouraging employees to get out and exercise) as well as sending snack boxes, holiday-themed packages and various adventure-themed packages to employees throughout the year.

aoy-leadership-iconThought Leadership & Work

Goodfuse has put a lot of thought into its “human 2 human” approach, which includes a process designed to emphasize empathy, to understand people and forge meaningful relationships. The philosophy is reflected in work that ranged from creating a radio station to talk about mBC for Pfizer to launching two new television shows dealing with beauty issues for Revance. The firm also worked with Allergan as it introduced a new treatment for glaucoma and with non-profit YouthBuild on a global rebranding.

Paul Holmes

JPA Health (Independent)

Carrie Jones founded JPA Health 14 years ago in an attempt to improve client servicing, patient outreach and, perhaps most ambitiously, global health. Fast forward to 2021, and JPA appears to be fulfilling all of those goals, helping its healthcare client base adapt quickly to the unique demands of the pandemic by blending public relations, marketing and advocacy. 

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Washington DC (HQ) and Boston.

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JPA’s focus is on specific healthcare segments — pharmaceutical marketing, pharmaceutical advocacy/PR, public affairs, public health and international — while its client base spans biotechnology, medical devices, non-profit, government agencies and professional organizations. The firm also benefits from its proprietary Gretel research and insights tool, which was upgraded last year to better test message functionality with key audiences. 

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JPA’s healthcare expertise paid off handsomely in 2020, with fee income up 44% to almost $15m from a team that grew headcount to 75 from 53 in 2019. New business included Alkermes, Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, Applied Therapeutics, AstraZeneca, Glaukos, LUNGevity Foundation, Nobelpharma, Oncopeptides, PROCEPT BioRobotics and Sage Therapeutics, joining an existing roster that features American Kidney Fund, American Liver Foundation, CSL Behring, LUGPA, The Leapfrog Group, NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Medicines360, Melanoma Research Foundation, Merck and Sanofi Genzyme.

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Carrie Jones oversees a leadership team that includes COO Michael Sloan, MD Stephen Piotrowski, and research/insights head Ken Deutsch. Growth was further reflected in the expansion of the firm’s JPA Labs in-house creative, digital and research team with specific hires in paid media, design, art direction and digital development. To handle the surge headcount, JPA developed a remote onboarding process that included internal systems training and the creation of the JPA Elevate Institute to oversee professional development. The firm also stepped up pandemic support to working parents and caregivers, while replacing its 8-hour workday policy with a more flexible work week approach.

JPA Health partnered with Tidal Equality this year to deepen its focus on equity and inclusion, benefiting from an evidence-backed tool that helps to reduce bias and make key decisions more inclusive and equitable. 34% of the firm’s employees are non-white (15% are Black), while 59% of VP and above are women — and the firm has achieved 100% gender pay parity. 

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For the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, JPA helped create the successful "Up to Here" campaign to create awareness around thyroid disease symptoms. Meanwhile, for AstraZeneca, the #MyFollowThrough effort partnered with celebrities to reach non-small cell lung cancer patients. For Medicines360, JPA created the #NotAwkward campaign to highlight the challenges women face when trying to access birth control while, for the Physician’s Foundation, JPA helped to raise awareness about the physician suicide epidemic. And, Jones served as the interim head of corporate communications for client Oncopeptides for four months to help the company build out its US presence in preparation for a potential FDA drug approval.

Arun Sudhaman

Weber Shandwick / ReviveHealth (IPG Dxtra)

Global agency Weber Shandwick has formidable healthcare communications capabilities under its own brand, while ReviveHealth—which it acquired in 2016—has unparalleled expertise and experience working with healthcare payors and providers.

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While Weber Shandwick has national and global offices, most of them with some healthcare communications capability, ReviveHealth is headquartered in Nashville, with additional offices in Santa Barbara, Boston, and Minneapolis.

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Weber Shandwick’s healthcare expertise includes extensive work with government agencies and public health organizations, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and more, while Revive is the premier agency for hospitals and health systems, having worked with more than 375 hospitals and health systems across 48 states.

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Healthcare was one of the best performing practice areas for Weber Shandwick in 2020, with work for clients such as Boehringer Ingelheim, Moderna, Merck, Novartis, Sanofi, GSK and trade association PhRMA and an expanded assignment for the Centers for Disease Control in the face of the Covid pandemic. ReviveHealth, meanwhile, enjoyed an outstanding year, with revenues up by 23% for the year, with new business from the Henry Ford Health System and CHI Franciscan, as well as the American Hospital Association, a win it shared with its parent company.

aoy-people-iconPeople & Culture

ReviveHealth is led by founder Brandon Edwards, who continues to serve as chief executive, and by president Joanne Thornton, who has been working with Edwards for more than 25 years. Other members of a long-tenured leadership team include Shannon Hooper, chief growth officer, and Sasha Boghosian, executive VP/insights. Revive has been a perennial fixture on our Best Agencies to Work For list, and has maintained its distinctive culture post-acquisition, with last year seeing everything from “open forums” giving employees the opportunity to meet with leadership in small groups to frequent care packages for employees working at home.

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The two firms found themselves in the forefront of the communications challenges presented by the Covid pandemic. Highlights of Weber Shandwick’s work ranged from helping the CDC deal with misinformation about vaccine safety to supporting the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's initiatives in support of nurses. Revive, meanwhile, worked with the American Hospital Association on a campaign to encourage mask wearing. It also worked with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on a “Kids Can” brand campaign to support families navigating the challenges of the pandemic.

Paul Holmes