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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

FreshBlood in the healthcare marketing world

Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Robert Finkel

Robert Finkel

Med Ad News had a conversation recently with Robert Finkel, former Kane and Finkel principal who opted to shutter his agency last year, about his new company, FreshBlood Health Market Consultants. Finkel outlined his new business model and what work he has been doing with clients.

RF: It’s been about a year since I wound down Kane and Finkel. I kept under the radar, and during that time, I’ve maintained a certain level of busyness while I put together my new concept for business, which is Freshblood Health Market Consultants. And so, during the year, I took the time to do my own form of market research combined with some soul searching, and decide what’s next, what do I want to do, what do I love, what does the market need, what does the market not need. And during that time, I’ve homed in on this concept, of a new type of company, a consortium of experts, which is in a sense a hybrid of the best of a consultancy and a boutique ad agency, with strong creative capabilities.

Fundamental to that is the concept that I am not in competition with either consultancies or agencies, in fact, I see them as potential collaborators, in some respects. And that’s something that I guess the world’s not used to but I’ve been in the competitive field my entire life and the way I am approaching this and the way Freshblood was designed, our purpose for it, it’s a different model, different attitude, it’s a different approach. I’ve elected to eliminate certain things that I think hold back agencies and hold back consultants, and build my own version of a blue-ocean strategy. That is the short version of what I’ve been doing right now.

MAN: Do you have a team with you right now? Did you bring along people from Kane and Finkel or did you strike out looking for new people?

RF: No, I didn’t actually. I don’t have employees, the people I am working with who are part of the consortium are other consultants and colleagues I had worked with in different capacities in the past. Some are ex-clients, who have gone off and started their own consultancy gigs, or people who I have hired on an outsourced basis. At this point in time, I do not have any ex-Kane and Finkel people working with me, which is part of why I think Freshblood is so fresh. I have nothing but deep respect for the people I worked with, but sometimes when you want to do something different you need to change the chemistry set, you need to mix things up. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t entertain the notion of working with some of those individuals again, but for the most part, it’s a clean, fresh start. I’m not employing people in the traditional sense, they’re collaborating on a contract with me through Freshblood, and I assemble teams specific to a client’s need. And there’s a lot of flexibility and adaptability in terms of what that looks like, in terms of size and scale, how long the engagement needs to be, and what are some of the qualifications that I am looking for in my colleagues and what my clients are looking for. At the end of the day, what I have is a group of people who are experts, or industry veterans, or people who remain passionate and positive about working there, in an atmosphere that’s flexible and productive and eliminates a lot of the fear that goes along with being employed in a traditional type of environment.

MAN: As a consultancy, what kind of work do you envision doing? How will Freshblood serve clients?

RF: As a consultancy, what we’re able to do is go in there and do some of the strategic work, that they may have already been doing with independent consultants. If you look at the suite of services on my Website, we’re coming in a lot earlier, these companies are usually in a preclinical stage, whether they’re deciding to commercialize or not, they could be in Phase II, or interim Phase III; that’s if it’s a biopharma company. For a digital health company, it’s less a clinical trial than trying to understand what the market is, and we work with them to do the analysis, the analytics, on understanding the market and building a commercial operation, the lead time scenarios they would need that would be affecting their market from a product and portfolio standpoint. Those are qualities and capabilities that from an agency, I for one never did as a principal of Kane and Finkel, but I’ve worked for other big agencies. Again, I don’t want to suggest that other agencies won’t say they don’t do that, but that’s not really what they do. I’m focusing more on working with the C-suite, some of this will be through IR, some of it with the commercial ops people or the CFO/CEO, and that gives us as a consultancy the ability to impact decision-making prior to promotion. I am not going to draw hard lines around an agency’s involvement, but agencies are generally handed plans, a lot of it is already baked, and it’s an executional arm. There is strategy involved for sure, but a lot of those decisions have been made and what I’ve done is enable us to be flexible enough and early enough into the process to impact some of those decisions and understand and shape those decisions prior to the switch being thrown. In any case, better synergies between what the company stands for and the brand’s distinguishing qualities and how are we are going to communicate that to stakeholders.

MAN: What’s your client list look like right now?

RF: I’m calling this a soft launch, I’ve been working under a different moniker up until recently, RFM Consultants, which is my LLC. FreshBlood is the dba And I’ve worked with different companies on a project basis, with no designs on leaving them anytime soon but at the same time what’s attractive to clients is that I’m not coming in asking for retainers or a management fee, whether they need me continuously or if they need me to do on and off projects of a certain type or size. So I’m able to assemble and disassemble my consortium and scale it as needed.

In terms of projects or clients, I’m getting started now I’ve worked with several different groups. Most recently, I’m working with Versartis, down in the South Bay in Menlo Park, and they have a product in clinical study that would be a global brand if approved, for growth hormone deficiency, it would be the first long-acting recombinant growth hormone drug on the market. I’ve worked with some other agencies as well. I’ve worked with wellness and healthcare companies, emerging biopharma and digital healthcare companies, and with agencies when they need the extra firepower. These are companies that I’ve worked with for generally discrete periods of time for projects, and they call me back as needed. I’ve worked with Optovue, and I’ve done some work with Anacor Pharmaceuticals. And on the agency side, I’ve been brought in to collaborate with these agencies. It’s been a different experience for me and for them. Agencies are forced sometimes to work together, in this case, we elected to work together. And when I am in front of that agency’s client, I am not promoting FreshBlood, I’m promoting that agency and that relationship, and my focus is on delivering what is needed for that task, and then moving on. And I did that with the Amgen brand for DDB, and in the case of Anacor, I worked with Klick. It was all very collaborative, it was all very civilized and respectful. It’s been great because coming from an agency background, it was always competitive, even if you wanted to collaborate it was difficult to manage that. Even though the client desires that, the agencies were all raised eyebrows, trying to figure out what was going on in the room. But because of the nature of the business I’m going after and how I elected to do this, I’m not a threat to agencies, or at least I would hope that I’m not a threat. I’m more of an opportunity.

So I come in, sometimes as a precursor for an agency when a client needs all-out firepower, all-out analytics, all-out knowledge but doesn’t really feel that they’re ready for the full-service commitment. FreshBlood is perfect for that. And in time, if there’s a determination that they need more, if they’re ready to scale up and need a lot more than what FreshBlood is geared to offer, then I’m in a position to either make recommendations or help to find those agency partners, because I feel I have a pretty strong handle on the agency world and who is going to be a good fit. There are a lot of good agencies, they’re not all my favorites, but that’s not the point, the point is to find the right fit for that client and that agency. So it’s beneficial on both ends.

And my role, at FreshBlood, is to be brought in as needed or to help transition that business at the appropriate time, whether I play a role or not. And I think that gives me more objectivity and I think it makes all parties pretty happy that I’m not trying to stretch my role beyond what it was designed to do.

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