Jim Weiss
Jim Weiss

Fee income at O’Dwyer’s Top 50 ranked healthcare firms grew 30.5 percent to $910.4.M during pandemic 2020 as they scrambled to counsel clients on how to deal with the national medical emergency. The Top 10 firms boasted even heftier growth, soaring 34.5 percent to $760M.

Real Chemistry, the former W2O Group, tightened its grip on the No. 1 healthcare rankings spot as CEO Jim Weiss registered a robust 59.5 percent surge in income to $349.2M, driven in part by an acquisition binge that added seven firms to the San Francisco-based firm’s roster.

Edelman maintained its second position in the healthcare category as income rose 9.2 percent to $168.8M.

Ruder Finn took the No. 3 slot with income of $36M, up 15.4 percent from last year's performance

Finn Partners, up 10.3 percent to $34.2M, advanced to the No. 4 slot. The New York firm passed APCO Worldwide, which grew 3.2 percent to $32.6M, and Spectrum, down 2.9 percent to $32.9M.

Evoke KYNE (+23.5 percent to $31M), Crosby Marketing Communications (+20.5 percent to $28.2M), imre (+14.3 percent to $24.1) and ICR (+21.2 percent to $22.9M) round out the Top 10 firms.

Health is Everyone’s Business

Kirsty Graham
Kirsty Graham

Kirsty Graham, CEO of Edelman Public Affairs and global chair of its healthcare sector, said the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that healthcare is everyone’s business.

“From new partnerships across the health industry to new voices joining vaccine confidence efforts, even those once considered far outside the health sector now have a role to play,” she said. “Healthcare is a societal rather than personal responsibility, an explicit expectation and an opportunity that applies to individuals, organizations and communities alike.”

While the healthcare sector made record achievements in launching world-class vaccines, Graham said there is an urgent need to address the inequities in the system.

She noted that Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that globally, 62 percent agree that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are being unfairly burdened by the pandemic.

“This is an urgent call to address not only the symptoms and spread of COVID-19 but the flaws and inequalities it exposed in our healthcare systems and our coordination mechanisms in and across countries,” said Graham.

She said corporate commitments to diversity, inclusion and equity in healthcare must be rooted in public policies and backed by action.

Graham is encouraged to see healthcare companies getting their own houses in order—increasing diversity in their leadership and workforce, building relationships within their communities, and ensuring better representation across races and ethnic groups in clinical trials.

She said Edelman and its sister agency, Salutem, are proud to work alongside leaders from Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb and Eli Lilly and Company to support these important efforts.

“Our future achievements in healthcare will be rooted in trust—trust that an organization is sharing truthful information, trust that the benefits of science are available to all,” said Graham, who joined Edelman from Pfizer just before the COVID-19 outbreak. “The profile and importance of health issues will endure long after the pandemic, as will the need to ensure healthcare is treated as a right and not a privilege.”

Finn Keeps Double-Digit Growth Record Intact

Gil Bashe
Gil Bashe

Finn Partners’ healthcare group has achieved double-digit annual growth every year since it was launched in 2015.

Gil Bashe, who heads the unit, said the practice has grown from $5M in 2015 to more than $34M in 2020, which was one of the most challenging years for US business.

The practice champions product innovators, providers, patient advocacy groups, payers, and policy organizations—including Let’s Win for Pancreatic Cancer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Alkermes, Amgen, Amylyx, Biogen, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Sheba Medical Center, and other firms that are changing the future of health delivery.

Bashe noted the addition of Lazar Partners has helped the health group expand its offerings to include brand and corporate communications, integrated digital marketing services, investor relations, patient recruitment services, scientific writing, executive thought leadership, social media analytics and research, sustainability and social impact, and medical meeting support.

He also noted that the numbers given to O’Dwyer’s complement the larger collaborative role that the health practice plays within Finn Partners in generating fees and business for other practices and specialty services, which O’Dwyer’s tracks separately.

Finn Partners’ 2021 is shaping up to be an equally promising year, as the healthcare unit has added more than 20 new clients with $4 million in annualized fees.

M Booth Health Settles in during Pandemic

Tim Bird
Tim Bird

Next Fifteen Communications acquired Health Unlimited’s US arm and merged it into M Booth as M Booth Health just as the pandemic outbreak hit.

While the first year of any acquisition can be challenging in the best of times, M Booth Health CEO Tim Bird said staffers spent their start-up year working remotely at a new agency with new colleagues to build a new brand to position the shop as one the catalyzes conversation and connections that lead to better health.

Bird said the COVID-19 outbreak did provide his firm a boost. “As the world was shutting down, a new specialty in public health consultancy took shape at M Booth Health: COVID-19 communications for all our clients across the health spectrum of pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, government agencies, universities, medical societies, and advocacy organizations,” said Bird. His firm’s long track record in public health and issues communications gained it several highly prestigious clients working on COVID-19 such as the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, focused on containing the pandemic and educating the public about where this epidemic was heading.

He said the M Booth connection helped his healthcare unit land clients, which would have been beyond reach prior to the deal.

“Penn State University tapped us to develop a campaign to encourage students to wear a mask so they could return safely to school and keep campus open,” he said. “Within six weeks, our “Mask Up or Pack Up” campaign was launched across 24 campuses.”

It was a full collaboration with M Booth, landing on a message and creative execution that Bird knew from their research would resonate with those reluctant to wear masks.

“Booth Health is a growing and exciting agency, ahead of the curve and well-positioned in the new normal,” said Bird. “Our success is a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness demonstrated by our talented team working together.”

Remote Work is Second Nature at Sam Brown

Laura Liotta
Laura Liotta

Staffers at Sam Brown Inc. Healthcare Communications have been working remotely since Laura Liotta launched the firm 22 years ago, so while the PR world adjusted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was business as usual at O’Dwyer’s 15th ranked healthcare firm.

Sam Brown’s fees jumped 27 percent to $8M in 2020 due to organic growth and the addition of a slew of new innovative clients

Liotta said the shop helped Biohaven Pharmaceuticals take a digital-first approach to win FDA approval for the launch of Nurtec ODT, for the acute treatment of migraine.

The agency formulated and executed a far-reaching celebrity PR and media campaign for the drug’s launch, featuring Khloé Kardashian, Tori Spelling and Whoopi Goldberg.

A grassroots storytelling campaign featuring migraine macro-influencers in a variety of settings reached multiple audiences, raising the company profile among multiple key stakeholders.

Liotta said key wins for 2020 include Adverum, Axial Therapeutics, Code Bio, Graphite Bio, JSR Life Sciences, Neximmune, Passage Bio, Sensei Bio, Trillium and Zymeworks.

“These are among the broad array of innovative pharma and biotech companies who are on course to treat and cure serious diseases though their bold science in immuno-oncology, gene therapy, vaccine development, and other cutting-edge scientific fields,” she said.

McCabe Message Partners Counsels ‘Pandemic Pivot’

Patrick McCabe
Patrick McCabe

Washington, DC-based McCabe Message Partners represents nonprofits and philanthropies, including organizations that advocate for infectious disease experts, older adults, nurses, public health workers, emergency physicians, senior housing providers and hospitals.

Patrick McCabe said many of his firm’s clients were on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, so his firm had to quickly reposition communications plans to provide and maintain emergency responses to Covid-19.

“Account leaders stretched their consulting muscles by helping nearly every client through a rapid 'pandemic pivot' to ensure their messaging and strategies were appropriate and timely,” he said.

"MMP’s nonprofit healthcare clients have long focused on disparities, but 2020 meant looking at the impact of race, ethnicity, age and income in a new light. Events demanded more direct communication acknowledging and beginning to act upon painfully obvious inequities and racial discrimination in America,” McCabe said.

Working remotely challenged the MMP team to think more creatively and reimagine tactical implementation. ‘“We rethought events, trainings, even media outreach,” said McCabe. “In many instances we never would have approached client assignments the way we did in 2020 had it not been for the pandemic. In most ways the end products were even better, in part because they needed totally fresh thinking.”

During 2020, MMP invested in new team members to handle clients’ quickly evolving and expanding needs, especially in message development, media outreach, social media strategy and graphic design. Recruiting, hiring and onboarding team members via Zoom presented obvious challenges, as did sharing office culture.

McCabe said his firm experienced personal losses and felt the deep pain of nationwide angst. While MMP refuses to acknowledge "silver linings" when more than 550,000 Americans died from the virus, the shop learned a lot over the past year. “The gratitude team members have for clients and the meaningful work they do deepened. Our ‘old way’ of working was profoundly challenged and the agency was nimble, fast, and flexible in its response. As we return to the office over the next several months we will be challenged to marry ‘the new way’ with the old. To state the obvious, it is a challenge we eagerly look forward to."

LaVoieHealthScience Forges Tie with Omnicom

Donna LaVoie
Donna LaVoie

LaVoieHealthScience formed a global strategic alliance with Omnicom in early 2020 that fueled expansion of business with US-China company launches, social media and digital programming and IPO/SPAC strategy, preparation and execution.

The firm launched 12 new companies spanning gene therapy, ophthalmology, neurology, rare diseases and more—all with unique platform technologies that promise to advance the way these diseases are treated today, according to Donna LaVoie.

LVA moved its headquarters within Boston and launched a New York regional unit under the leadership of James Heins, senior VP/managing director.

“Our team came together remotely, building from both markets and adding team members from the South Florida and London markets,” said LaVoie. “We were tied together by our strong history of working together and our past success in building LHS and doing the right things for our health and science clients.”

JPA Health Rebrands

Carrie Jones
Carrie Jones

Carrie Jones said JPA Health spent the pandemic year rebranding the agency, tapping new talent, investing in professional development and launching new offerings.

“We also established specialist practice groups for our client segments: biotech PR, patient advocacy, public affairs, brand marketing, public health and federal government,” she said.

JPA's HR team expanded company benefits, including taking added steps to support working parents and caregivers and offering reimbursement for the cost of emergency backup care for children, older relatives and dependent adults.

This program was designed to help staff manage backup care needs, so they did not have to miss time at work.

The firm also changed its eight-hour workday policy to a more flexible work week policy in support of employees who act as caregivers or were facing challenges navigating these unprecedented times.

‘Watershed Year’ for Crosby Marketing Communications

Ray Crosby
Ray Crosby

Ray Crosby, who heads Crosby Marketing Communications, called 2020 a “watershed year,’ saying clients counted on the firm more than ever before for trusted counsel to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to educate and motivate consumers, patients, providers, payors, and policymakers.

The firm’s ability to rapidly develop content and deliver integrated paid, earned, shared and owned programs proved invaluable to drive important conversations and positive health behaviors,” he said.

The Annapolis-based firm handled the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ effort to connect with the American public about COVID-19 through social media; helped drive record online donations for Shriners Hospitals for Children; supported the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force through national media relations efforts; and created a business-to-business campaign for Kaiser Permanente that positioned its forward-thinking care and coverage to major employer groups.

Led by executive VP Denise Aube, Crosby’s health practice landed new clients including Refuah Health in upstate New York, the Santa Clara County California Department of Health, and a major contract to support the launch of Telehealth.HHS.gov to engage the consumer and provider community.

To support its growth in public health and commercial sectors, the firm added senior executives including Edelman alums Megan Humphries as an EVP and Julia Krahe as senior VP, as well as Julian Hernandez as a VP.

Crosby said one of his major challenges is finding exceptional talent who have a passion for working with health care brands and causes and are a strong fit for the agency's culture. “We are also carefully thinking through what the future of the workplace looks like while there are still so many variables at play,” he said.

Ruder Finn Helps Non-COVID Clients Get Noticed

Christie Anbar
Christie Anbar

Ruder Finn healthcare head Christie Anbar said the pandemic made it more difficult to capture mindshare for non-COVID related health issues and treatments, though they were equally important.

The firm’s rich healthcare heritage in biotech and pharma communications and digital first, "what’s next" mindset, was well positioned to help existing and new clients quickly pivot when the pandemic hit, according to Anbar. “From optimizing virtual medical congresses to dialing up digital and social storytelling, to going beyond Zoom for high-impact virtual events—Ruder Finn ensured clients' messages resonated with the right person at the right time, inspiring changes in mindset and behavior,” she said.

The 2020 acquisition of Osmosis Films, which specializes in innovative visual storytelling, further elevated the agency’s ability to break through the virtual health content clutter.

Anbar added that the firm's leadership has long understood that an agency is only as good as it is people and prioritizes employee well-being and job satisfaction by keeping a collaborative, supportive culture, emphasizing the importance of training and bringing in new clients that offer diverse, rewarding work across therapeutic categories.

“This priority never waned during the pandemic—from making sure employees had the right technology to support remote work, to hosting virtual happy hours and morning 'Coffee, Tea and Chat' sessions, to training staff on new technology platforms or regulatory processes to expanding the agency’s biotech and pharma client roster,” she said.

Anbar said RF's health group thrived in 2020 by partnering with an expanding array of clients to deliver on their business goals through powerful storytelling, which fueled team expansion and growth.