ANALYSIS: Profile - Roger Fischer: healthcare’s tough cookie. Roger Fischer always knew he was going to be a star, so it’s a good thing he ended up in Los Angeles. He’s described as having a laser-like intensity about the healthcar

Straight out of the trenches and decompressing over beer and quesadillas at a Los Angeles sports bar, the senior staff of Fischer & Partners collectively inhales at the mention of a planned interview with their boss, Roger Fischer.

Straight out of the trenches and decompressing over beer and quesadillas at a Los Angeles sports bar, the senior staff of Fischer & Partners collectively inhales at the mention of a planned interview with their boss, Roger Fischer.

Straight out of the trenches and decompressing over beer and

quesadillas at a Los Angeles sports bar, the senior staff of Fischer &

Partners collectively inhales at the mention of a planned interview with

their boss, Roger Fischer.

Side-glances are exchanged - a Hollywood take if ever there was one.

As PR pros, they immediately spin their response in a positive light:

’He’s intense. You should have fun,’ they say.

With that kind of setup one expects a stern, gray-complexioned

taskmaster wearing years of competitive battle on his brow. Instead,

Fischer appears fresh-faced and full of vim and vigor. His intensity is

the Wall Street caffeinated variety. He lets you know the trajectory he

wants the discussion to take, and he rings the starting bell.

Fischer, 42, knows how to sell, promote and talk the party line for his

clients, and in this moment his agency is the client. After a few

moments he settles into a comfort zone, and his story begins to emerge.

It has a distinctly LA plot line.

Valley boy

Roger Fischer is a San Fernando Valley transplant from Staten Island,

NY. His father was a jeweler whose ill health required he move his

family west. Fischer’s first introduction to the City of Angels was a

Sunset Boulevard hotel during the infamous Watts riot. ’It was complete

bedlam for a week,’ he remembers.

Eventually the family settled into an idyllic suburban rhythm. Valley

high school days melted into campus life at University of California

Santa Barbara. Ever the good son, he wanted to become a lawyer. But in

the last few months before graduation, Fischer decided to take one day

and investigate other options.

’It occurred to me that I didn’t know why I was so focused on being a

lawyer,’ says Fischer. He spent an entire Saturday at the Cal State

Northridge career placement library pouring over every company and

industry binder in the stacks. ’I was completely disgusted,’ he

remembers. ’I couldn’t find anything, not one thing that interested me.’

At a quarter-to-five, he literally stumbled over the pea-green O’Dwyer’s

directory. In that 15 minutes, his life changed. ’I was mesmerized by

these companies, their descriptions of themselves,’ he says.

Fischer selected those listed in the Los Angeles area and went knocking

on doors. He didn’t get an immediate offer, but three months later, he

got a call from Jim Bardwell at Rodgers & Associates (R&A), one of the

top PR shops in town at that time. Fast-forward 20 years, and Bardwell

now works for Fischer. ’Roger always knew he was going to be a star,’

says Bardwell, SVP of agency development.

So how did Fischer explain his career choice to his parents? ’It’s

always impossible to explain what we do to people, it was even harder

then,’ he says. Fischer finally explained it in the form of a parable.

’I said, ’Remember Mom when I was little and I came and asked you for a

cookie, and you said no, and I came back later and asked you for a

cookie and you gave me six? Well, that’s what I do.’ ’ Fischer says to

this day, his mother introduces him as such: ’This is my son. He’s in

the cookie business.’

After only four years of agency experience, Fischer decided to start his

own PR firm. In 1983, Fischer and a buddy from R&A, Frank Pollare, began

Pollare/Fischer Communications. They had two IBM Selectric typewriters,

a stack of business cards and a short list of client contacts. Pollare

says he was attracted by Fischer’s intensity for the business. ’As

partners, in many ways we were soul mates,’ says Pollare, who now works

as director of public information for Computer Sciences Corporation.

As fortune would have it, their first client was a pioneer in

ultrasound, so the two carved an early niche in medical devices. Though

they marketed their firm as a generalist shop and won a plum assignment

as agency-of-record for the western division of American Express Travel

Related Services, a healthcare PR focus began to emerge.

In 1994, Pollare left the partnership to explore a personal family

venture, and Fischer re-christened the agency Fischer & Partners. By

then, American Express was his only non-healthcare client, accounting

for 25% of agency billings. At a time when the rest of the industry was

just beginning to specialize or develop target practice groups, his

agency had already developed a solid track record in healthcare PR.

Fischer says he spent a full year pondering the pros and cons of

resigning the account to make a full commitment to healthcare.

’It was the most gut-wrenching decision I’ve every made,’ says Fischer,

whose eyes almost mist when he describes the day he flew to the client’s

Manhattan office to resign the business. ’It did strike me as a very

gutsy move at that point,’ says Pollare, who adds that Fischer did not

consult with him on the decision.

In the four years since he re-positioned the agency, Fischer has grown

the staff from 15 to 35 and has transformed F&P from a boutique shop to

a mid-sized national player with only 10% of its client list from the LA


To swim with the ’fisches,’ as he calls his staff, he hires only agency

people - yet another agency anomaly at a time when rivals are scouring

corporate, academic and media seas to find employees. ’They need to know

how to work on deadline, bill client hours, build plans and really work

in a client service environment.’

Fischer says the agency will bill dollars 3.4 million this year -

roughly double what he brought in four years ago - and expects fee

income to increase to dollars 4 million in the year 2000 based on

current contracts. Much of this increase is due to new work for Ernst &

Young’s healthcare information services division and Wellpoint, a

NYSE-listed managed care organization.

Reeling in an acquisition

A stranger to inertia, Fischer says he wants to expand his geographical

presence, a plan that may come as a pleasant surprise to staff that have

to work on East Coast hours. He claims to be actively pursuing

acquisitions in New England, but he is also looking to buy a firm or

open an office closer to home. ’We really need to raise our profile in

California,’ says Fischer. ’Our profile is national, but we’re hardly

known in our backyard.’

It may sound strange that a shop of his size will talk openly about

gobbling up other agencies. But then again, no one ever got rich by

underestimating Roger Fischer.

ROGER FISCHER - Founder, CEO Fischer & Partners

1979-1983: Account executive Rodgers & Associates

1983-1994: Partner Pollare/Fischer Communications

1995: CEO, Fischer & Partners.

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