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Finally . . . an Ad Sector That’s Hiring: Surging Billings Put Healthcare Shops Into Hunt for New Recruits By Beth Heitzma

CHICAGO – Integrated Communications Corp. in Parsippany, N.J., last year posted a 69% incr

And they’re not alone.
Advertising agencies like ICC which specialize in healthcare accounts are facing a flood of opportunities set in motion before President Clinton was elected, but spurred by Clinton’s dedication to achieving a massive overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
Revenues at the top 50 healthcare agencies grew by 14% worldwide and 16% in the U.S. in 1992, according to Med Ad News. More than 570 new jobs were added last year at healthcare agencies. By the end of next year, worldwide billings at the top 50 healthcare agencies are expected to reach nearly $6 billion, while the total number of employees at those shops will have increased by nearly 2,300 new jobs since 1991. By the end of next year, total employment at these 50 shops is expected to reach nearly 7,000 persons (see chart).
‘A good 25-30% of the listings we publish are healthcare,’ said Janis Brett-Elspas, president of Rachel P.R., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based company that publishes newsletters listing jobs nationwide and does career counseling. ‘It’s one area where ad agencies are hiring. Healthcare and high tech, which are very interrelated, are vying for the two fastest growing segments in terms of marketing and advertising employment.’
Driving the need for fresh talent is a movement at healthcare agencies to ready themselves for any changes in traditional accounts (marketing drugs to doctors) and to prepare themselves for new types of accounts prompted by the pending healthcare reform.
‘Our clients are going to be facing a tremendous amount of uncertainty as this reform package gets hammered out in Congress,’ said John F. Zweig, president/coo of Ferguson Communications/Parsippany, N.J. ‘The smart agencies are not going to wait and see what the reform brings. They are going to position themselves as flexible partners to help their clients navigate the uncertain waters.’
The smart agencies, it seems, have realized their bread-and-butter accounts – traditional product launches from major pharmaceutical companies – are going to change drastically as drug prices come under increased scrutiny. In the past, drug launches were targeted to a relatively small number of doctors by advertising in medical journals, direct mail and sponsoring educational symposiums.
‘Pharmaceutical companies have been responding for the past year to what they think will happen,’ said Glenn DeSimone, president/U.S. operations for Medicus Intercon, the world’s largest healthcare agency. ‘Their client base is shifting. The physician used to be king. But now there is going to be a whole new field of decision makers: big provider organizations, HMOs, managed care companies and even consumers to a certain extent.’
New specialized units are popping up at healthcare agencies to help clients shift into consumer advertising, public relations, educational marketing, biotechnology and medical diagnostics advertising.
Tom Lom, president/coo at William Douglas McAdams/N.Y., is a healthcare advertising convert. He spent 18 years at Saatchi & Saatchi/N.Y. running its over-the-counter businesses before making the switch to a healthcare agency. Lom cautions against hiring people from consumer agencies that don’t have the right credentials or interest in healthcare.
‘Healthcare advertising takes a special touch,’ Lom said. ‘You can’t just take someone who was working on a high-profile account like a beer and move them to healthcare. We also don’t want the C-team, in other words people who probably would have been eliminated if a layoff was coming. We need the best people.’
In her career counseling, Brett-Elspas works to remake job candidates to be competitive in the healthcare job market. Most agencies, she said, are looking for highly creative people who can take often-complex medical subjects and translate them into everyday language.
‘Get up to speed on the issues, stay on the edge of technology, pick an area of specialty and find out everything you can,’ she said. ‘If displaced ad people can adapt to this fast-paced industry, they’re going to be in demand. Agencies are fighting for good people.’
Table shows employment and billings for top 50 healthcare ad agencies.
Top 50 Healthcare Agencies
New Jobs
1992 573
1993(*) 785
1994(*) 903
Total Employment
1991 4,659
1992 5,232
1993(*) 6,017
1994(*) 6,920
Worldwide Billings in $ millions
1991 3.874
1992 4.420
1993(*) 5.127
1994(*) 5.948
Source: 1991 & 1992: Med Ad News; (*) 1993 & 1994 proejections: ADWEEK
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)