Q&A with Propel Health CEO Mark Fleischer

Med Ad News talked to Mark Fleischer, CEO of Propel Health, about why the independent network of healthcare agencies moved away from its HealthSTAR origin name and rebranded itself and what his expectations are for the relaunched business.

Med Ad News: What has been the process leading up to the rebranding as Propel Health since you came aboard HealthSTAR during 2021?

Mark Fleischer: At a certain point, after being in business for 20-plus years, there are certain times when you really have got to just kind of look inwards, and take stock of where the brand is, and does that meet the mission. What started out as a kind of “Let’s update the websites” type of conversation, rapidly turned into, “Hey, maybe this branding doesn’t really match up with who we are today and what we want to be both internally and externally.” So that’s what led to the idea of rebranding. And with Centron, our healthcare agency, we have those internal capabilities to do those types of exercises. So it was kind of fun to be able to do that ourselves, and really interesting.

Med Ad News: HealthSTAR was a long-established name; what propelled the rebranding?

Mark Fleischer: That was a big decision do that, because within a long-standing brand, or company name, you could argue there’s baggage. But also there’s a lot of good stuff, because it’s a great company, a lot of good successes, and what does that mean, walking away from that. But really, our discussions, our brainstorming sessions … we did this process, that we call it a “brand peek exercise” to really think about how we see ourselves on where we want to be. And then from that, we distilled out common themes, which led to a new name. One of the consistent threads in our discussions came to the idea of meeting people where they are, and helping them get to where they want to be. So that idea of moving forward – whether that was an employee, a customer, a brand, a partner that we work with – that idea became pretty apparent in our conversations. That’s who we are, we are a company that helps move things forward. And then as you start associating that activity with names, the idea of Propel and even the logo – of the domino effect moving the outside of the box – shows motion forward and that’s where we landed. Propel was that idea of really moving forward, and all the things that we do.

Med Ad News:  You have several companies within Propel Health – Centron as your creative agency side, Fusion as your med ed side, and Elevate Strategic Engagements for the speaker bureau. With the rebranding, will you be looking at expanding the number of companies under the Propel Health business?

Mark Fleischer: One of my initiatives, from a leadership perspective, is to continue to build on what we’ve created so far. Our core businesses are in good shape and doing well, so for me as the new CEO, I’m looking at how we tell a more holistic story, as opposed to agencies working in a silo. The Propel network of companies can do a lot of things for our customers. Then we’re starting to see where we want to go. As we mentioned in the press release, our focused investment is going to be investing more in digital transformation. Digital is a part of everything we do already, but we want to enhance our capabilities there and our ability to bring that kind of engagement to our customers. We also do a lot of patient engagement work in each of our agencies, but we’d like to focus more in on certain enhanced capabilities in patient engagement, as well. So those are probably the two key areas that we’re going to be focused on in expanding the business. That is going to happen organically within each business unit, because you can’t avoid those things in general, but also, for us at a corporate level to say, “OK, this is where the marketplace is going, let’s get out ahead of that.” As a company and this platform of Propel Health makes it easier for us to do that relative to adding capabilities under the Propel network, as opposed to just, you know, hoping to gain organic traction in a certain area.

Mark Fleischer

Med Ad News: So would you add on to those internal capabilities by shopping for external agencies?

Mark Fleischer: It’s going to be a combination of both, we are doing both things. We are actively looking at that. We could potentially grow through acquisition and add on agencies that fill gaps that we may have or may be looking to address. And we also are doing some internal investment by bringing in talent that adds capabilities to our current network of companies.

Med Ad News: What do you envision the rest of 2022 looking like for Propel Health?

Mark Fleischer: I don’t know that anyone has the answer on that question of what 2022 is going to look like, just because of what we’re coming out of. But we have some interesting indicators in our business of activity that gets planned out over the course of the year. So I see a lot of optimism from our customers about some type of return to a new normal, where folks are getting together in person, and really engaging in a way that looks a little bit more like it used to. Now there is still going to be a lot more virtual engagement. But for example, we’re seeing pretty significant planning of live events. Over the next few months around the country, for most of our brands that we work with on the speakers bureau side, we’re seeing a lot of engagement in our Fusion med comm agency where companies are looking at that peer-to-peer engagement process in a much more hybrid mode, so it’s not just swinging back to live. And it’s not just staying virtual, everything we do has a live and virtual component to it, because we think that there’s going to be this kind of back-and-forth swing. There’s going to be folks that like the virtual engagement, and there are going to be folks that really want to get back to live engagement, so we need to be able to address both. And then on the creative agency side, I think we feel just that general energy around – people getting back to work and being more creative and doing the things they need to do to take their brands forward. We know there’s a lot of activity in launching new biotech companies with their first brands, whether it’s a lot of the work being done in oncology or rare disease, a lot of activity there. So, we think 2022 is going to be a good year. I’m cautiously optimistic from a global perspective of what the world’s going to look like, but indications from our customers are that folks are really optimistic.

Med Ad News: Is Propel Health going to remain based in Mahwah, New Jersey?

Mark Fleischer: We’re much more of a virtual company like others. I joined in the middle of the pandemic, and we have a pretty robust infrastructure that allows us to work virtually as it is. So our plan right now is to not have a large footprint, office space, any particular area, but have smaller pieces of office space where people can come together and collaborate, without the expectation that folks will be 100 percent back in the office. We will be a hybrid company, where we’ll have office spaces in hub areas where a lot of our employees are, but also this has allowed us to, like other companies, hire all over the map as far as bringing people on that we wouldn’t have thought about before. So it’s really enhanced our capabilities to attract talent to the organization. So we do have our offices, but the footprint itself is shrinking and allows us to be more virtual company.

Med Ad News: Are any big announcements of new hires coming up?

Mark Fleischer: I don’t have anything imminent. I’m really happy with the talent that this organization has, I have been around the industry for what seems like 100 years, so I do know a lot, I have known a lot of the people here, and worked with some of them before, and competed with them in different roles that I’ve had. So I got to know this team pretty well before I even joined. I’m really happy with the management team, but to the point we made earlier about bringing in additional capabilities, I would fully expect that there will be some key hires made throughout.