The Top 75: Kane and Finkel Healthcare Communications

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Kane & Finkel (K&F) ended 2008 up 8%. Principal and chief creative officer Bob Finkel says the year was about stability. Not that it was a static year—the agency lost some, won a lot and created truly outstanding, innovative programs.

“We were even in terms of clients lost and gained,” says John Kane, principal, managing director. “Some went dormant. Some were acquired. We picked up new business and a client that had previously been dormant came back.” Among losses were UCB Pharma's epilepsy drug Keppra after its DTC budget was eliminated, and Gilead Sciences' Flolan, which it stopped promoting. Work on CollaGenex Pharmaceuticals' Oracea evaporated when Galderma Laboratories acquired the company. Clinical trial recruitment went dormant for PDL BioPharma, and K&F parted ways with Questcor after a management change.

Wins include a medical food for Alzheimer's disease patients from Accera (Axona); two brands of implanted hearing devices from Cochlear; and a multifocal intraocular lense for cataracts from AMO (acquired by Abbott). Onyx assigned medical information work, and nonbranded work started after Dendreon, an oncology focused biotech, had positive clinical trials.

“The economy in general put everybody on edge,” says Finkel. “We've seen other agencies go belly-up. It was such a scary thing for people. We had to communicate with our staff that the agency is stable and has a clear plan for the future.”

Staff was trimmed slightly (down six from about 80) last November to align with the business forecast. Finkel says there's a lot more talent available now, though finding “the right caliber staff” that fits the culture is still a challenge.

Two major initiatives were developed for the US transplant division of long-time client Astellas—the Transplant Expo and the Transplant Experience Ambassador program. Astellas also awarded corporate communications business for Europe. The Transplant Expo debuted at this year's American Transplant Congress in Boston. Finkel describes it as a “touring museum” that salutes transplantation and the people and science behind it.

“Clients are looking at novel ways of communicating messages that help build understanding and support of the overall brand but not with a direct sell message,” explains Finkel. “The marriage of corporate communications and brand marketers helps to build franchise awareness. It's a new and growing angle for pharma companies that are being held to more restrictive promotion activity. If you're a category leader it makes perfect sense.”
The agency celebrated as Astellas' transplant drug Prograf, which it's handled for over five years, hit blockbuster status at over $1 billion in sales last year.

Business looks good this year (revenue was up 4% in Q1). Kane says resources are being devoted to growing digital, interactive and alternative media.

“Clients are less interested in cookie-cutter traditional programs and tactics, and that's good,” Finkel says. “We're focused on leading the charge. Innovation is our best tool. There are new and different ways to move a brand forward. We're not going to wait for things to happen. We're going to help find new opportunities for clients and the industry, and in that regard we control our own destiny.”
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