Headliner: Ken Begasse, Jr. of Concentric Healthcare Advertising
Ken Begasse, Jr., a medical advertising client services guy like his father, got tired of being called "Junior." So together with his best friend, Michael Sanzen, he launched Concentric Healthcare Advertising, an independent New York startup. Now dad, who left Saatchi & Saatchi to become a partner at Concentric, goes by “Senior.” And Junior? Just call him Ken.
Senior got his son started in medical advertising, landing him an internship at Medicus when he was 19. He started in the art department. “I was fighting heredity,” says Begasse, who wasn't quite ready to follow in the footsteps of his father. At Medicus, he met Sanzen, and the two youngsters became fast friends. When Sanzen moved over to Cline Davis & Mann to work on the launch of Lipitor, he recruited Begasse to the firm. The experience, says Begasse, “made us realize that you don't need a 20-person team to do this.” Sanzen moved to CementWorks, while Begasse switched over to client services and worked on Viagra marketing until they set out to realize a mutual dream: to own their own agency before they turned 30.
Begasse is now 32, and Concentric, in its fourth year of business, boasts a full-time staff of 26, having had to vacate its original Empire State Building digs, relocating to the Masonic Hall on 23rd St. (Begasse recalls sharing an elevator car with a Mason holding a four-foot ceremonial sword). When this reporter visited, a brand team was poring over flow charts in the lobby.
Begasse, Senior and Sanzen operate as partners—Sanzen heading creative, Begasse leading client services and Senior, with his 32 years' experience, overseeing brand strategy. Their skill sets are complementary, allowing the agency to exploit Senior's high-level contacts at client firms while Begasse and Sanzen deal with the 30-something brand managers—their peer group.
The three partners agreed from the start that small is beautiful. Begasse points to the example of small but stellar shops like Mother, Anomaly and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. At a time of rapid consolidation in the agency world, when the buzz was about globalization, Concentric bet on offering clients better access to senior-level staff.
“Our first two years were all about breaking through,” Begasse recalls. “At the time, the industry was really going to these big conglomerates for all avenues of promotion. Now the pendulum is swinging back, and we were banking on that.”
Concentric has won substantial business with Pfizer (Cardura XL, Caverject Impulse and Men's Health) and Warner Chilcott (Talconex, Loestrin 24). “They were skeptical at first,” says Begasse of Warner Chilcott, “but we delivered and we were rewarded.” The firm recently managed simultaneous launches of campaigns for Cardura XL, Loestrin 24 and Talconex—proving, Begasse says, that they can handle the workload of much larger firms.
“It's really picking up for us,” he says. “The drought is almost over and business is picking up.” Concentric is pitching a lot of specialty products—most recently, J&J's Concerta. J&J stuck with the incumbent, but Concentric was happy to get a foot in the door. “For us, a four-year-old agency, to get through the procurement system is great,” says Begasse. “There are no more blockbusters coming down the pike. You don't need a primary care agency for these niche products coming out, and clients are saying, ‘I don't get the ideas I need out of my core shop.'”
Lack of global reach remains an issue though, as it is for all independents and boutiques. Begasse says he talks to larger agencies and would entertain an alliance of some sort, but vows Concentric will remain independent.
“It allows us to be nimble and to do more for clients.”
Begasse was raised in Danbury, Conn., and now lives in Port Chester. He shares a commute with Senior, and he's no longer the youngest Ken Begasse—his son, Ken III, or ‘Trey,' is 2 years old, and he's looking forward to teaching him to ski at the Vermont vacation home he owns with Sanzen.
“The two guys I work with are now the two guys I always had intimate conversations with about starting our own agency,” says Begasse.
Ken Begasse, Jr.
Partner, director, client services and agency operations
Concentric Healthcare Advertising
Cline Davis & Mann—most recently, VP, account group supervisor for Viagra