The Top 40: Kane and Finkel Healthcare Communications

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We're sold on the concept of “independent” more and more every year, says Bob Finkel, Kane and Finkel principal and chief creative officer. “Clients want integrated thinking, not just integrated offices. If the thinking isn't integrated, it doesn't matter if you have 12 employees or 200 offices.”

Kane and Finkel grew more than 40% from 2003 to 2004, and last year revenues hit $20.7 million (up from $16.3 million). The San Francisco-based agency opened a small office in Boston to capitalize on opportunities around Cambridge. Staff increased only slightly to 65 people (from about 61 in 2004) because it had “staffed up” prior to 2004 in preparation for new business.

Last year, the agency handled five drugs new to the market, including Amylin's diabetes drug Symlin. It was awarded FzioMed's Laresse, the first all-synthetic dermal filler (launching in Europe this year); and Depomed's Glumetza, an oral treatment for type II diabetes. From Myogen came corporate work and three brands—Ambrisentan for pulmonary arterial hypertension (slated to launch early 2007); Darusentan, a phase II therapy for patients with resistant hypertension; and Flolan, a pulmantory arterial hypertension treatment (licensed from GlaxoSmithKline). Client Astellas awarded the agency global work for a new immunology product, while CollaGenex's Oracea (for rosacea), won in 2004, is pending launch.

Finkel noticed that requests for consulting increased last year. “Companies and clients that aren't ready to engage a full-scale agency effort asked us to work with them in early stages trying to commercialize the company and put together strategy, platform and flagship brands,” he says.
One client brought the agency in to help with acquiring a brand from another company. “We've been a conduit for business development,” says John Kane, principal and managing director. “We do a top-line strategy analysis and paint the vision for where the brand could go in an effort to entice.”

Most new business is organic or comes from recommendations, and Kane and Finkel are selective about new business. “A lot of agencies go after business based on the monetary value,” Kane says. “Our criteria is to work with clients that share our values. As an independent company, we can make those decisions.”

Pharma mergers and acquisitions tend to blur client focus. This requires patience, and the agency has benefited from such situations. “We've acted as advocates and consultants,” Finkel says. “Sometimes, we're the legacy. We've got the archives on brands. It's critically important for a marketing department that may have cleaned house. It can be very good for an agency. We may have lost our loyalty based on people leaving the company, yet we reinstate ourselves at a higher level. We can impress on them a lot more than a tactical idea.”

Finding talent is always an issue. Retention is important, and the agency invests in training and development. “We look for people [who are] passionate about medicine and who understand that we do help people,” Kane says. “Our industry sometimes gets a black eye.”

Finkel looks forward to moving into regenerative medicine, specifically, stem cell research. A “sprawling community” has emerged three blocks from the agency. “We're several years from seeing what that becomes. It's a major advancement for San Francisco and hopefully for medicine. Hopefully, we'll see the point is to find new treatments for modifying disease, controlling disease progression, rather than symptomatic relief.”

Currently, the agency is preparing for several new pitches and in the final stages of four launches. The principals want to ensure a productive, healthy culture.

“The Kane and Finkel brand is as important as any brand,” Finkel says. “We're trying to build a culture of people who have similar values. We're very conscious of keeping our reputation positive. It's never been a race. We're focused on doing a good job, maintaining positive relationship[s], and being able to sleep at night.”

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