Revenue spiked 40% to $29.8 million
“We will continue to get on the map and grow our business. If everything holds to form, we should approach $40 million by the end of the year”
“Consumers will be more empowered than ever to make decisions. Meanwhile, many physicians won’t even see a drug rep. So we’ve got to find creative, unique, and authentic ways to reach people”
Agencies frequently speak to the value of looking after their people, but few follow through on this promise as much as Fingerpaint. Not only does founder Ed Mitzen claim he has “never laid anybody off,” but he also announced this year he would pick up the entire health insurance tab for his employees — which he says is a $1.3 million investment.
The commitment might be easier to make because Fingerpaint, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, has slipped under the radar to become one of the biggest success stories of 2016. The Saratoga Springs, New York-based independent boosted revenue by 40% to $29.8 million in 2016, adding brand-building and launch business from Alkermes, Iroko, Otsuka, Scilex, and Sun. It also added corporate assignments for Alamo, Colorescience, Galera, James Cancer Center, MIL Therapeutics, and SI Group.
Fingerpaint is handling more digital and social work, with a greater emphasis on strategy and analytics. Mitzen also notes an increase in PR and brand journalism.
“People don’t want to be marketed to anymore, so we’re figuring out ways of engaging them with the information they want — as opposed to ‘here’s a fancy sales aid,’” he explains. Most of the agency’s clients are medium-size, emerging companies looking to work with senior-level talent. In 2016, more than half of new business came from existing clients.
“We may start off with a client and have $500,000 of work, then we blow them away. Before you know it, they are putting us on the big boys,” Mitzen notes.
Fingerpaint bolstered its staff from 125 to 165 full-timers and added a fourth office in Columbus, Ohio, headed up by former GSW creative executive Bruce Rooke. In turn, he launched a dedicated innovation group, the Perpetual Ideation Machine, which Mitzen describes as a consulting-type model for “dreaming up” big technology-driven ideas.
“It’s not a billable model. We’re just trying to provide value,” he explains. “It’s fun and it gets clients excited.” Other notable hires included Bill McEllen, who joined from McCann Torre Lazur to run the Saratoga Springs office, and strategy guru Andrea Kretzmann, who previously headed up The Bloc’s West Coast office. Fingerpaint is off to a solid start in 2017, with three major wins under its belt. To that end, Mitzen is predicting another year of growth in the 30% to 40% range. It’s no surprise he reports taking calls regularly from suitors looking to acquire his firm.
So will he be tempted? “No, I don’t think so,” he responds. “We have somebody who only does philanthropy. If I ever sold, that would be the first thing they would cut. And I wouldn’t have the flexibility to not lay people off, or to offer free healthcare. It’s important to be able to do that.” Instead, Mitzen will seek more proof that taking care of employees translates into good customer experience. “I don’t want people missing Little League games and dance recitals,” he adds. “Life’s too short and you spend so much time at work. It shouldn’t suck.”