Global Healthcare PR Agencies of the Year 2018 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2018 Global Healthcare Agencies of the Year

The 2018 Global PR Agencies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 450 submissions and face-to-face meetings with the best PR firms across North AmericaEMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Analysis of all of the Winners and Finalists across specialist categories can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below. Winners are announced at the 2018 Global SABRE Awards, which take place at the PRovoke18 Global PR Summit in Washington, DC, on the evening of 24 October. 


Winner: Narva (Sweden, Ahead Group)

Narva — named after the Swedish army victory over a Russian force three times its size — has always embraced its positioning as a challenger brand initially within the financial communications space (from investor relations to IPOs and other transactions to annual and sustainability reporting) and more recently in the broader media relations, public affairs and CSR space (via the 2015 acquisition of consultancy Rewise) — and in the healthcare arena, where the firm bought Mix PR in 2012 and Heart three years later, and in early 2016 hired former social affairs minister Göran Hägglund as a senior advisor. In 2017, meanwhile, the firm expanded to Gothenburg, under the oversight of life sciences head Therese Lange.

Under the leadership of managing partners Daniel Bergsten and Johan Molander, Narva's performance reflects that is positioning is paying off, with constant currency growth of 29% taking it to around $9m in fee income, making it the market's fifth-biggest player, and one of its fastest-growing. There were significant new assignments from industrial player Sandvik, IBM and asset manager Amundi, along with growth from such clients as Bausch+Lomb, SAS, Systembolaget, Coop, Allianz  and Telia Company.

Maintaining its tradition of innovation, the firm continues to lead when it comes to social media in the highly-regulated healthcare industry, and in terms of a superior insight-based planning capability. Its senior ranks were bolstered by the arrival of corporate head Christian Lundgren, while there was standout work for the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation and Roche. — AS


Finalists

Cohn & Wolfe (EMEA, WPP)

Cohn & Wolfe’s healthcare team has fully embraced the wider company’s transformation from an agency with an earned heritage to an integrated marketing agency. Since 2015 the division has doubled the size of its business and team (revenue has increased by 18% in the past year alone), diversified its client base to include Gilead, Pfizer, Sanofi Consumer Health and Novo Nordisk (the latter two during 2017), and broadened its talent pool.

A team of more than 60 people in Cohn & Wolfe’s London office now work on healthcare in one form or another, including from the central digital team and the consumer and corporate practices. In a globally-acknowledged healthcare comms talent drought, the agency strengthened its senior bench with the hire of Tamsin Tierney (former MD at Tonic Life Communications) as deputy MD of health. It also added new specialists including Ben Hickey (advocacy) and Maria Simson (digital transformation).

The company wins and works across the marketing mix; its work for Boehringer Ingelheim, for instance, covers brand comms, advocacy and corporate reputation, and the team supports Pfizer on areas including consumer marketing, market access and digital transformation. The agency also has a strong record of organic growth, adding new therapeutic areas for clients including Gilead, where it began with HIV and added Hepatitis C, launching seven products in two years, and growing its Pfizer vaccines work from one product to the entire vaccines portfolio. It also doesn’t shy away from tackling some of the most difficult healthcare challenges of our age, from obesity to liver disease. — MPS


Finn Partners (US, Independent)

Finn Partners has enjoyed considerable accolades in its first six years since founder Peter Finn led the spinoff out of Ruder Finn: it has grown consistently, with fee income last year up by about 6.5% to almost $82 million, and it has earned both Agency of the Year and Best Agencies to Work For recognition from this publication. But even amid all that broad-based success, the performance of the firm’s healthcare practice stands out.

At launch, Finn had essentially one healthcare client — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, led from the firm’s Michigan office — and when healthcare public relations veteran Gil Bashe joined in May 2015, having most recently led the health practice at Makovsky, healthcare fees were less than $1 million. Today, healthcare accounts for $17 million in fees, with Bashe having leveraged his own industry expertise, and the collaborative nature of the Finn Partners culture (partnering with colleagues who bring tech, consumer, and social impact expertise), to establish the health practice in 12 of Finn’s 16 offices around the world. The agency is now working with five of the world's innovative pharma companies on health brands in the antimicrobial, cardiovascular, diabetes and immuno-oncology sectors on patient advocacy, science-support and disease-awareness campaigns.

The core strength is not only pharma — the traditional big budget business in this arena — but a balanced portfolio that spans patients (advocates and caregivers); providers (physicians and hospital systems); product innovators (in biopharma and health tech); payers (procurement and PBMs); and policy makers (public health). To bring that ecosystem together, Bashe has recruited a leadership team that includes US pharma team lead Kristie Kuhl, formerly of Cohn & Wolfe and Makovsky; Michael Heinley, who leads health tech sector work from WebMD; Chris Messina-Boyer in Washington, DC and Nicole Cottrill in Nashville. Finn works with companies such as Allergan, Bristol Myers Squibb, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, Merck, and NextGen as well as the Galien Foundation—known as the Nobel Prize of the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries —globally, and mHealth, one of the world's largest health technology associations. — PH


FleishmanHillard (Asia-Pacific, Omnicom Group)

Healthcare public relations is seen as a recent growth driver among many of the major multinational agencies operating in the region, but there is nothing new about FleishmanHillard’s emphasis on the sector, which has been a key component of its regional business since it expanded into Asia more than 20 years ago. Its capabilities have expanded from pharmaceutical marketing to include market access, regulatory and legislative issues, clinical trial work, and technical medical communications across the full lifecycle of products from drugs to devices.

The firm has strong healthcare teams in Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and also collaborates with other Omnicom-owned healthcare-focused agencies to deliver an even broader array of services across even more markets. More and more of that work involves engaging directly with consumers, as they look for information themselves rather than blindly following “doctor’s orders,” leading to increased demand for digital and social content.

Fleishman’s healthcare business was once again the star performer among its regional practice groups in 2018, up 24% for a client roster that includes Amgen, Reckitt Benckiser, GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer’s oncology portfolio. And that growth was underscored by SABRE-nominated work for J&J, which addressed diversity and inclusion in India. — AS


GCI Health (US/EMEA, WPP)

Still only 10 years old, GCI Health has established itself not only as one of the best healthcare PR firms in the US — it won Healthcare Agency of the Year in 2017 — but one of the best midsize agencies of any kind. Another year of 25% revenue growth brings the firm close to the $50 million mark, and GCI now has a team of 160 people globally—more than 140 of those in the North American market. New business came from Abbott’s nutrition and diabetes care divisions, Bristol Myers Squibb, and a number of new Pfizer brands — GCI now works for eight of the top 10 global pharma companies — and smaller passion projects like Cohen Veterans Bioscience, which is helping veterans address PTSD.

At the heart of the agency’s success is the patient-centric approach it developed three years ago, which uses both traditional research and its own immersion in client communities to understand consumers’ whole lives, not just their conditions or treatments. That has led to some innovative work in the sector, whether it’s a corporate storytelling campaign for Pfizer humanizing its CSR work fighting neglected tropical diseases; an influencer-driven strategy for device-maker Abbott and its Freestyle Libre diabetes technology; an unusual media partnership with IHeartRadio to encourage patients to “tune into AFib” for BMS/Pfizer. The firm also has its own media partnership — with Redbook — promoting women’s health.

As should be evident from all that, GCI Health is a very “mission-driven” company — something that global CEO Wendy Lund and president of North America Kristin Cahill have continuously encouraged — resulting in one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the industry and regular appearances on our Best Agencies to Work For lists, voted on by employees.

Meawnhile, at only four years old, the London business of GCI Health, WPP’s only specialist healthcare agency, is in fine fettle. It grew to 19 employees in 2017, and revenue rose 60% to £2.5m, smashing targets and successfully competing for work with much bigger agencies in a year where a huge global talent shortage for healthcare comms professionals became evident. The currently all-female agency has a formidable leadership team – joint MDs Kath Kerry and Rikki Jones, client services director Hannah Morris, director Claire Martin and associate director Caroline Burtt – who are rightly proud of the progress they’ve made this year in navigating the business out of boutique territory and firmly on course to be a mid-size European healthcare agency. They’ve done this while maintaining a caring environment that encourages flexible working and treats everyone like a grown-up, leading to 96% staff retention. — PH/MPS