PM360 2020 Trailblazer Awards Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Gil Bashe

Gil Bashe, Managing Partner, Global Health, FINN Partners

On June 10, 1982, in the middle of a battlefield near the village of Sultan Yacoub during the Lebanon War, Gil Bashe had an epiphany that would not only shape his career over the course of the following 38 years, but the future of health communications. As a paratrooper medic, he had a moral obligation to care for both comrades and enemy combatants, because once someone is no longer able to hold a gun then they’re no longer a combatant. They’re just a broken person.

“When I came upon these people, they were obviously terrified, and even though I didn’t speak their language they saw through my actions I was there to help,” Gil explains. “I recognized in that moment that healing is in itself a language. It needs no words, it is a profession that transcends nationalities, religion, and race. Soon after that I decided to go into health communications, because I realized nothing is greater than connecting people who need to be healed with people who seek to heal them.”

Gil as a senior combat medic in the Israeli paratroopers taken the morning following the Battle of Sultan Yaacob in Lebanon from 1982.

That idea of health communications as a bridge serves at the core of everything Gil does—and the key to his success. During his time as the lead of health practices within Sutton PR, Medicus PR, Hill & Knowlton, and Makovsky, all were named as “Most Admired Health Agencies” by The Holmes Report/PRovoke. And FINN, where he currently leads the Global Health Practice, was named recently the nation’s “Healthcare Agency of the Year” by the Health IT Marketing and PR Community (HITMC).

“Gil is always reminding us it is our purpose and privilege to help improve the human condition,” says Michael Heinley, Senior Partner, FINN Partners. Those values have also created a gravitational pull that attracts both staff and clients to keep coming back—including Heinley. “I’ve been both a serial client of his at Merck, J&J, and WebMD as well as a two-time employee, and it’s not only because he’s an amazing professional, but his core values of making a difference for patients and his unwavering empathy toward others.”

The Emergence of a New Discipline

When Gil entered the field of health communication in 1986, medical advertising and health public relations were still evolving disciplines. But the 1990s saw the very first biotech products introduced and the corresponding “coming of age” of direct-to-consumer advertising. Gil had a seat at the table while all of this was happening, and while he wasn’t alone, he did bring a unique perspective.

His experience as a combat medic and lobbyist meant he was among the few people in the industry at the time with a background in health and public policy, rather than marketing, sales, or journalism. He combined his knowledge of medicine and policy with the creativity of his colleagues to work on campaigns to help launch early therapies for arrythmia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, cancer, and more.

For example, in the early 1990s, Medicus worked on the very first national gathering of patient advocacy communities using satellite technology to connect four different locations: New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Famed neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sachs served as a keynote speaker, while a panel of experts addressed questions from the Parkinson’s patient groups about DuPont Merck’s new treatment option Sinemet CR. A few years earlier, while at Sutton PR, they used a live satellite press conference in Washington, D.C. to go along with satellite and radio media tours to introduce the organ preservation solution Viaspan. It was the first time this technology had been used to introduce a health product, and it provided massive coverage that allowed transplant hospital centers to learn about this new breakthrough that preserved donated livers long enough to reach urgently in-need recipients.

“It is our responsibility around the world to create compelling, accurate information that enables people to make informed decisions,” Gil says. “It’s not just writing, designing, or posting something. Ultimately it must amaze the marketplace, from an integrity standpoint, from a regulatory standpoint, in each part of the globe we touch. And when the best of health innovation can reach people, then we are succeeding.”

A Leader Who Listens

Gil not only succeeded in helping to grow the health communications discipline from its early beginnings, but also many of the companies leading that charge. Of course, Gil is quick to point out he had the fortune of working with inspiring industry leaders such as Glenn DeSimone of Sutton Healthcare Group (which would be acquired by Medicus); the late Howard Pastor of Hill+Knowlton; and most recently Peter Finn, Founding Partner of FINN Partners—just to name a few. But Gil’s impact on these companies cannot not be overlooked.

For instance, Hill+Knowlton had a massive health practice that fell apart due to reputation issues, and then Gil was brought in to turn things around. Under his leadership, not only did the health practice become the largest within Hill+Knowlton, but also its first global one. This was before the internet, email, and even modern cell phones—when most practices were just regional. Parent company WPP then moved him into the role of Group Company CEO of CommonHealth, which was the world’s largest integrated health marketing company.

Then after going into the private equity industry as the CEO of Health!Quest Global Communications, a portfolio company of GTCR, he decided he wanted to get back to working with clients and build a new health practice. He was given that opportunity at Makovsky, which he joined after 9/11 when the country was in the middle of a recession. It wasn’t long until the health practice became number one in the country. It’s a similar story when Gil joined the then five-years-old FINN Partners, which had an aspiring health practice comprising 15 people who were responsible for about $5 to $8 million in business. Today, it’s a global practice across three continents with 140 colleagues, and is responsible for about $35 million in business.

“Gil has the unique ability to build teams across geographies and sectors and acknowledge each team member’s contributions,” says Kristie Kuhl, Managing Partner Health, FINN Partners, who first met Gil at Makovsky. “A firm believer in composite IQ—collective wisdom—Gil encourages discussion and spirited conversation to drive to ideas that build brands. We are making an impact because he invites us to lead along with him.”

Gil visits FINN colleagues in Nashville, where “Music City” is also a national health provider and services hub.

Making the World a Better Place

“I have never met anyone as hardworking, passionate, and committed as Gil,” Peter Finn says. “He jokes that he gets a full eight hours of sleep every night in the four hours that he actually sleeps—yet somehow he manages to have enormous energy every day. One of the things I value most highly in Gil is that he is driven to use his professional abilities to make the world a better place, and time and again I have seen him put this value into practice.”

Gil does this both in and outside of work. Goel Jasper, Managing Partner, FINN Jerusalem says that while Gil helped him transform the Israel office into a healthtech hub and the top international health communications firm in the country, he also spent hours of his time advising young Israeli startups that had not yet raised enough funds to hire an agency—without any strings attached.

Outside of FINN Partners, Gil currently serves on the CNS Summit Leadership Council, Galien Foundation, Let’s Win for Pancreatic Cancer, mHealth Israel, and Marfan Foundation advisory boards. And he previously was on the boards for the American Heart Association (AHA), Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation, and American Academy of Pain Medicine Foundation. Make no mistake, Gil joins these boards ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work making an impact.

Michael Weamer, President and CEO of The Marfan Foundation and former EVP of the AHA, has seen first-hand Gil’s impact. For example, Gil co-chaired the 100th anniversary of the AHA’s New York organization and helped raise $1.6 million—the most successful fundraising event for the organization at that time. More recently, when COVID forced The Marfan Foundation’s annual event HeartWorks to go virtual, Gil and FINN Partners helped HeartWorks at Home go on without a hitch and raise $100,000. But it’s more than just about fundraising for Gil.

“There’s not enough truly great people in the world, but Gil is one of them,” Weamer says. “He helps countless people during their most difficult moments. Not a month or two goes by that Gil doesn’t reach out to connect me with an individual or family, and he always circles back to make sure that the person has been helped.”

That’s because for Gil, there is no greater honor than hearing how health innovation has improved the lives of people with health concerns. That’s why he spent a career building successful health communications practices. That’s why he speaks to members of Congress to make sure the National Institutes of Health have the necessary funding. That’s why he is also a rabbi who visits people in hospitals and hospice, even when the only thing left to offer them is spiritual comfort. That’s why despite the fact he has accumulated a lifetime of achievements, he is not done yet.

“We cannot tolerate the status quo where people die from disease and we’re not advancing innovation,” Gil says. “My passion is spending time with people, patients, and companies pushing for more research and innovation. That is something I will always be involved in.”

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