Given the sustained growth at the company they lead, Fingerpaint execs likely could have identified any number of brag-worthy moments from a successful 2019. But the one that sticks with them occurred during October, when group creative director Angela Harrison sat for a series of TV interviews around the agency’s Tackle Can Wait PSA for the Concussion Foundation.

As part of a push to limit children to flag football until they turn 14, Harrison spoke plainly about what she learned after donating her father’s brain to researchers. “It was a thrill knowing our work can make that kind of an impact on people,” says Fingerpaint partner Andy Pyfer. “And from a creative standpoint, it put us on the map in a bigger and better way than ever before.” 

Watching Fingerpaint’s work cross over into the mainstream was particularly thrilling for agency founder Ed Mitzen. “To see that ad discussed on Today or watch it debated on Fox News was really, really cool. And it shows again how healthcare has increasingly become front and center for everybody,” he notes.

Overall, Mitzen reports that 2019 was the best year in Fingerpaint’s decade-plus history. Revenue surged 14% to $50.9 million from $44.8 million in 2018. “We’ve grown all facets of the business,” he says, pointing to the success of the recently opened Cedar Knolls, New Jersey, office as particularly gratifying.

The agency added 31 assignments to its client mix, including work for Janssen, Bausch + Lomb, Zoetis, Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Irvine Scientific. They join Braeburn, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Endo and CSL Behring on Fingerpaint’s roster. 

To handle the influx, Fingerpaint jumped staff size by 55, ending 2019 with 255 people under its roofs. More growth came via acquisition: in February of this year, Fingerpaint snapped up 1798, a market access specialist based in La Jolla, California. 

fingerpaint Concussion_Legacy_Foundation

Significant new hires included three heads of account service for three different Fingerpaint outposts: in Cedar Knolls, Beth Beck (formerly a group managing director at Evoke Group); in Saratoga Springs, Lori Thatch (VP, strategic planner at Dudnyk); and in Phoenix, Kristie Troy (director, proposal management, enterprise client solutions at Covance). 

Asked about the challenges of building and sustaining this kind of growth culture, Mitzen says that it comes down to basic human empathy. He kinda wrote the book on it: Earlier this year, ForbesBooks published Mitzen’s More Than a Number: The Power of Empathy and Philanthropy in Driving Ad Agency Performance.

Up next amid the COVID-19 crisis: More growth, with Mitzen predicting that Fingerpaint will hit $80 million in revenue in 2020. However, he promises the agency’s people will always come first.

“We’ve never laid anybody off,” Mitzen says. “We’ve always said that if we have a rough patch, we can get through it together. Our staff knows that we’re going to do everything we can to take care of them, especially through these turbulent times.”

The best marketing we saw in 2019…

Johnson & Johnson commissioned a documentary called 5B, which celebrated a group of nurses in a San Francisco hospital early in the AIDS crisis. It was beautiful and so in line with J&J’s credo. I wish we had done it. — Bill McEllen, partner