Makovsky's head of health moving to Finn Partners

Makovsky's head of health moving to Finn Partners
Makovsky's head of health moving to Finn Partners

Gil Bashe, long-standing health practice director for indie PR firm Makovsky, is joining Finn Partners, where he will seek to unify the firm's diverse health resources and grow its business in the biopharma sector. The appointment, effective mid-June, was expected to be announced later today.

Like Makovsky, Finn Partners is independently owned, and is several times larger. The three-year-old firm's US revenue grew 12.5% last year to $48.4 million, according to figures cited by the industry trade publication PRWeek.

As managing director for the agency, Bashe is charged with uniting its roughly 30 employees working on diverse health-related teams, including CSR accounts.

“We have developed a strong healthcare practice spread throughout our different offices,” said Peter Finn, chairman and CEO, “but have not had a leader to bring that all together. That's the opportunity that having Gil join us represents.”

In preparation for the departure, this morning Makovsky announced a new leadership structure atop the health practice, with the appointment of Tom Jones and Alexandra Peterson, both SVPs, heading health, supported by Lee Davies, SVP, and Arielle Bernstein, group vice president, as an extended leadership team.

Jones is a former executive director of PR for Novartis. Peterson, who joined last year, worked at MSLGROUP, Ruder Finn and Emanate. “Over the years we have developed an excellent culture of client service and we're grateful to Gil for his many years heading the Health Practice,” stated Ken Makovsky in the announcement. 

At Finn, Bashe is tasked with mustering a group who are expert on the payer, provider and patient advocacy and policy segments at a time when access to care and cost of care are the major concerns for pharma.

“Adding that level of conversation around why medical innovation has value is important for [all those] groups,” Bashe told MM&M. “Not only will it help society achieve good patient care but it will help project wellness as an overall business mission.”

Finn is also looking to Bashe, whose background melds healthcare communications with private equity, to bring other healthcare shops into the fold. “We have been active in acquisitions and will continue to be active in them, and not just in the health sector,” Finn said. “I'm going to follow his lead in what he thinks are the best opportunities.”

The agency launched in December 2011 when it spun off from Ruder Finn. 

“When we first launched, we did not have much healthcare business,” Finn recalled. Since then it's pitched and won accounts, and been fairly acquisitive—half of its US business last year was due to acquisitions. One recent pick-up was New York-based gabbegroup's health and education practice in the fall.

These moves have brought in some significant accounts. The firm's roster includes MD Anderson Cancer Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, LifePoint Hospitals, Inc., American Kidney Fund, No More (domestic violence) and Hyundai Hope On Wheels (providing substantial grants to fund innovative pediatric cancer research)–but no pharma clients.

Finn cited the rationale that investing in a strong healthcare capability aligns with the firm's core values, one of which is to work as “citizens of the world.” Moreover, from a business perspective, he acknowledged the opportunity for the firm to move into pharma, as well as its steady climb up the ranks of US-based indies and its increasingly global presence.

“For any global firm to be credible and taken seriously, we have to have a serious healthcare practice,” the CEO said. On an international basis, its revenue grew 19% last year to $52.8 million, according to PRWeek.

Bashe, known as one of the sagest PR counselors in the healthcare industry, has left Makovsky in good shape. A highlight of his 12-year watch came last year when Makovsky's more than 20-member health practice was named Healthcare Agency of the Year by The Holmes Report.

He grew the firm's book of biopharma business substantially—the health practice contributed half of the 35-year-old agency's billings last year, PRWeek observed.

Among the agency's most well-known launches was for Alexion's blockbuster drug Soliris, approved for two ultra-rare diseases. It's widely held up as the case study in conveying the value proposition of an innovative biotech product, and newly instructive in the era of high-priced specialty medicines like Gilead's hepatitis-C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni.

Soliris costs more than $440,000 per patient per year (the price can go as high as $560,000), but the company has seen very little payer pushback, other than from some pricing authorities overseas. That's largely due to the company's ability to convey that the biologic, which is approved for use in very small patient populations, confers transformative benefits. These kinds of issues are becoming more critical for communicators.

“The conversation around innovation is transitioning more and more to a European system where approval and pricing are two parallel conversations,” said Bashe. “For medical communications, it's not just about positioning a product [anymore] but understanding we can work together to improve care.”

A big part of bringing on Bashe is his industry reputation. “I'm very much aware of his accomplishments,” said Finn. “It's huge for us that he's joining us, and I have no doubt that he will be able to take what we have and turn it into something more significant.”

He is the most recent health executive to depart Makovsky. Kristie Kuhl, JD, formerly EVP/deputy leader of the boutique health practice, left last year, joining Cohn & Wolfe's health practice

This article has been updated to correct which agency Finn Partners spun off from, which was Ruder Finn.