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Fingerpaint’s 2020 was not a quiet one. In February, it snapped up well-regarded market access shop 1798. A few months later, it launched Photo 51, a consultancy dedicated to work around gene and cell therapies. After that, it unveiled the Shift Performance Center of Excellence and its premier offering, a proprietary Actionable Intelligence Engine, to formalize a data and machine-learning operation around the 65 or so data scientists in its midst.

And then, only then, did Fingerpaint announce an even more substantial power play, in the form of an investment by private equity firm Knox Lane. The deal, announced in December, gave Fingerpaint the capital it needs to pursue an even more ambitious expansion agenda — like, say, by acquiring early-stage branding specialist Leaderboard Branding, as Fingerpaint did in March.

As a result, Fingerpaint is poised to enter the second half of 2021 as a vastly different organization than it was a year prior. “People take notice now when we’re in the room,” says founder Ed Mitzen. “A few years ago, we were thought of as a sort of boutique-y rising star. Now, we have a seat at the big kids’ table.”

The numbers back him up. Fingerpaint grew revenue by 67% in 2020, to $85 million from 2019’s take of $50.9 million. Staff size ballooned from 255 at the end of 2019 to 403 at the end of 2020 to 450 at the end of March; the company hired some 150 people during the pandemic. That staff growth came without any cutbacks to Fingerpaint’s famously employee-friendly perks, such as fully paid health insurance.

The agency similarly bulked up on the client front, adding work from Bristol Myers Squibb (on pipeline products), Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (a digital AOR assignment in the rare diseases space), Pear Therapeutics (for prescription digital therapeutics), Janssen, CSL Behring and Alexion. Mitzen is heartened by the shift toward higher-science assignments, even as they present a greater challenge than the allergy or asthma accounts of years past.

“To work on brands where I have to read the package insert five times to understand what they do — that’s just cool,” Mitzen says. “Instead of the seventh cholesterol drug, we’re doing HIV vaccines and traumatic brain injuries. It forces us to elevate our game.”

It should come as no surprise that Fingerpaint has no plans to take a breather during the remaining months of 2021. “As you grow, you don’t want to settle — not in terms of people or the work or anything else,” Mitzen says. He anticipates the firm will blow past the $100 million revenue mark by the time the year is out, likely to around $140 million. 

He and his Fingerpaint colleagues remain thrilled, and maybe even a little awed, that they get to do what they do in the health realm. “Fifteen years ago, I was jealous of my friends who got to work on Doritos,” Mitzen continues. “Now, no way. The plague and the vaccines reminded everyone of the great work this industry does. I’m incredibly proud to work in healthcare.”

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The idea I wish I had…

Zoom. The platform proved to be the catalyst that helped bring people closer together during a time when they were asked to stay physically apart. It fostered an environment where grandparents could safely see their grandchildren states away and families could eat holiday dinners together. It provided the opportunity for business continuity and the knowledge that you could still deliver great service while keeping your people safe; for an endless number of laughs from “you’re on mute” memes; and maybe most importantly, for the feeling of closeness when we were all so very far apart. — Ed Mitzen