The Top 60: Kane and Finkel Healthcare Communications

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It was a breakthrough year in terms of DTC work for San Francisco shop Kane & Finkel (K&F), which enjoyed “very manageable” 11% growth overall. After making a “conscious effort” to win DTC, John Kane, managing director, and Bob Finkel, chief creative officer, are pleased to report consumer strength is rounding out the agency's professional heritage.

“We've proved our DTC capability and are no longer in the situation where anybody has to feel like they would be a guinea pig,” Finkel says. “It gave us a lot of growth opportunity, and we're leveraging that.”  
K&F ended last year up two accounts after gaining six and losing four. One of the biggest wins came from UCB Pharma, which awarded the DTC portion of its epilepsy drug Keppra, plus Keppra XR, and corporate work. Other 2007 wins include European work for Astellas Pharma's Advagraf and assignments from Roche Molecular Diagnostics;  FzioMed; Titan Pharmaceuticals (which will include a DTC component); and Dendreon Corp. This year, the agency picked up another win from UCB (a pre-launch epilepsy agent).

Last year's highlights include the launch of Gilead's Letairis, which Kane says was “maybe the largest launch for the agency ever.” It wasn't easy—the drug got a black-box warning and required multiple submissions. Plus, K&F had originally won the business from Myogen, and Gilead acquired Myogen mid-launch, which resulted in a lot of internal reworking. “They lost the original marketing team,” Finkel says. “We became the linchpin and brand historian.”

Employees worked in shifts around the clock for nearly three months to launch Letairis. “We literally never closed,” Kane says. “Our team did a tremendous job, and we can't give them enough credit.”
Overall, clients treat the agency as a partner rather than a vendor. “We're never ‘vendorized,'” Finkel says. “We're relied on heavily to act as a direct extension of in-house marketing groups. We thrive in that position.”

Headcount held steady at about 70. To cultivate talent (and for the fun of it), Finkel teaches a copywriting course at San Francisco's Academy of Art University. He's also on the board of directors of the Healthcare Communication & Marketing Association.

“Looking at the economy in general, there's a lot of fear,” Finkel says. “People are worried about security. We've been incredibly secure. More people have contacted us about employment.”  
Regulatory restrictions and unknowns have challenged both the agency and clients. “Being creative and strategic and approvable has been an ongoing challenge,” Finkel says. “We've increased our internal review process without trying to squelch new, creative ideas. Nobody wants vanilla—there's still desire to find never-been-done ideas, but in a regulatory environment with more restrictions it's more challenging. We're learning to work around it. Client expectations haven't changed. Reality has changed. We're like marketing alchemists—turning something that's pretty basic into the next gold standard.” 

Modest growth is expected again—neither partner is interested in being the biggest agency. Both enjoy the open culture that independence allows.
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