‘This isn’t my father’s business,” says Michael J. Hennessy, a second-generation medical publisher.
It certainly isn’t. For one thing, Jack Hennessy Sr.’s business never had its own television studio. The elder Hennessy ran Med Publishing in Jamesburg, and his three sons followed him into the medical communications field. But while Michael Hennessy started off publishing medical journals in the 1990s, today his firm, MJH Associates, does 80 percent of its business outside of the print medium. That’s why, when the company outgrew its headquarters in a series of buildings at 666 Plainsboro Road behind the Princeton Meadows Shopping Center, it built a multimillion dollar studio in its new location at 2 Clarke Drive in Cranbury.
MJH publishes Cure, a cancer magazine that can be found in doctor’s office waiting rooms. It also publishes a whole array of glossy trade periodicals that a physician might read to catch up on industry news: Specialty Pharmacy Times, American Veterinarian, Contagion, and about 30 others.
Those titles make up only about a fifth of MJH’s business, and the rest of it has moved online or to the hosting of medical conferences. An ever-growing portion of all that non-print business comes out of a green-screened television studio that would have seemed out of place in a publishing company a few years ago. It now has become a necessity as MJH has expanded onto the Internet to reach healthcare providers not just in waiting rooms, but on their iPads, phones, televisions, or anywhere else they spend a few moments between clients.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the studio was home to a taping of Medical Crossfire, hosted by Dr. Peter Salgo, a cardiologist who is also host of the PBS medical talk show Second Opinion. Salgo was there to moderate a discussion on value-based diabetes care with a panel of four physicians flown in from around the country.
Randy Rossilli Jr., studio manager, sat at the darkened control booth, manipulating color temperature, cutting between cameras, and generally organizing the show. After about two hours of shooting, the segment would go to an editing room for 10 to 15 hours of post-production, after which it could be posted to the Web and broadcast to pharmacists, who can watch the show for continuing education credits.
On most days, two or three such shows are filmed there. The studio is also available for other businesses that want to shoot their own content or commercials. There’s even a makeup room, where three people can work simultaneously, and a shower for doctors who like to jet in for talk show appearances on red-eye flights.
The studio is the fourth designed by Rossilli. In his early career, he was a teacher and school principal in Maryland. But the death of his hero prompted him to change his career path. “I was working in schools when Mister Rogers died,” Rossilli says. “I started crying like I lost my grandfather. He was one of my idols. He was the last man in America who told children they mattered.”
Rossilli decided to switch careers and produce children’s television in memory of Fred Rogers. He became a TV producer and eventually created his own production facility, Nightstand Studios, in Fairfield and produced shows like “The Adventures of Young Thomas Edison,” which won a New York Emmy. Along the way he was involved in building several TV studios.
Rossilli took a risk to switch fields once again and joined MJH because his background in studio construction and media production made him the perfect fit for what the company was trying to accomplish. “I truly believe that our CEO is committed to evolving into a real media outlet,” he says. “He’s supportive of taking entrepreneurial risks and developing new ideas.”
Rossilli has taken lessons learned from his old studios and applied them to the MJH facility. For example, the lighting is all LED rather than traditional incandescent bulbs. That means no hot lights and no sweaty performers. Also, many of the people who appear on MJH’s programs are medical people who are not used to being on TV. Not having hot lights reduces the intimidation factor of being on camera.
The studio is also more automated than a typical set, requiring only about five people to run during a filming. Rossilli says a traditional broadcast studio would need 14.
Although Medical Crossfire comes across as a fairly standard, buttoned-down show with talking heads, Rossilli has not let go of his creative side. A recent taping featured dancers in zebra costumes rocking out to Lady Gaga, as part of a campaign by the Rare Disease Report magazine to promote research and treatment of rare diseases. The campaign is a reference to the old medical saying, “If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”
Along with the new office and new TV studio, MJH has expanded its staff, doubling in size over the last two years. After its most recent round of 26 hires, it now has 350 people, and its new office space is completely full. During that same time period MJH has increased its footprint by acquiring other publishing companies. It’s now one of the biggest players in the field.
When a reporter visited the old Hennessy headquarters in 2014, she saw “labyrinthine cubicles stuffed with writers and editors.” The new office gives employees some breathing room. “The cubes in our old office were half the size,” says MJH vice chairman Jack Lepping. ‘It reminded me of ‘All the President’s Men.’”
In one section of the new office, editors work to assemble print publications, which are fact-checked by on-staff medical experts before publication. Much of the actual article writing is done by outside doctors who are experts in the field. Other articles consist of coverage of papers presented at medical conferences.
On the consumer-facing side, a recent issue of Cure addressed the potential of hallucinogens found in magic mushrooms to treat depression and anxiety, Joe Biden’s new cancer charity, and new screening tests for colorectal cancer. The cover story was about people who are forced to use crowdfunding to pay for their cancer treatments, using a dystopian Silicon Valley-powered “virtual safety net” in lieu of an actual social safety net.
In another wing of the building, staffers work on organizing medical conferences. This part of the business has grown exponentially over the past few years, going from 85 events in 2015 to more than 350 in 2017, overseen by Tom Tolve, formerly an executive at Novo Nordisk. Almost everyone in this section of the office had a photo of Patrick Dempsey hanging in their cubicles (the actor, who lost his mother to ovarian cancer, recently appeared as a motivational speaker at a cancer conference.)
The presence of Tolve shows one reason the company is located in the Route 1 corridor: there’s ample talent from the life science industry. Most of the staff have some sort of medical or biotech background. Hennessy says the company is staying in its current location for the time being, and there is room in an adjacent building for future expansion.
In another wing, the educational group is separated from the rest of the company by a locked door that can only be accessed by key-card. The barrier is a literal firewall between any kind of advertising and promotion and the education writers and editors, who are supposed to be completely objective by industry standards.
As the company becomes more digitized, the sizeable IT department becomes more important. But Hennessy doesn’t foresee the print division going away any time soon, despite the dominance of online media. He says the print business is actually growing too, despite its lesser size in relation to the overall business.
For Hennessy, the decision to rapidly grow his business was a fairly straightforward one. “We had the Great Recession of 2008, which in our industry lasted through 2012,” Hennessy says. “Folks were pulling back on spending, and at that point we made the decision to move forward and aggressively invest in the company. We took a page out of Marketing 101: when everything seems to be at the bottom, it’s time to invest because that’s when it comes roaring back.”
Aside from the recession, the industry was in turmoil in other ways. The Internet was pushing out print publications, although on that front, MJH was ahead of the game. The company was actually formed from Intellisphere, which Hennessy founded in 1999 to focus on new media and digital technology in healthcare.
Secondly, the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, was changing the entire healthcare sector.
The healthcare sector might be in for another shock if the Republican repeal of the ACA passes the Senate. Critics say the bill would throw the industry into disarray and leave millions more without health insurance, or with worse health insurance, than they had under the ACA.
Local market conditions also affected Hennessy’s decision making when he considered expansion. The Route 1 corridor healthcare industry underwent a period of consolidation, as biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies downsized. In 2012 life science firms received another blow when several major drugs went “off the patent cliff” and became available for generic manufacture.
All of these things were threats to the bottom line of MJH, which receives revenue from life science companies, nonprofit groups, pharmacist organizations, physicians, and many other groups all tied to the medical field.
In that kind of environment, expansion was a big risk. But it was one that MJH was able to take because of the nature of the company.
Because he owns MJH outright, Hennessy did not have to answer to investors who need a quick profit. “I’m an entrepreneur,” he says. “We do not operate the company on a quarter-to-quarter basis, and we do not report to shareholders.”
Despite its growing size, MJH is still very much a family business. Michael’s wife, Patti, designed the layout of the new office. Their sons are also involved in the company, with Michael Hennessy Jr. as president and Chris Hennessy serving as publisher. Michael Hennessy Jr., a Loyola graduate, got his own start in the business by working at his father’s company.
In a 2015 interview, Michael’s brother Jeff Hennessy says Jack Hennessy Sr. introduced all his sons to the healthcare communications industry. The elder Hennessy had started off in pharmaceutical sales and publishing, and decided to marry the two businesses together.
In the early 1990s, Mike Hennessy took the lessons he had learned from his father’s business and struck out on his own to found Multimedia Healthcare, a publisher of medical journals, and later partnered with California-based newspaper publisher Freedom Communications. He founded Intellisphere in 1999 while partnered with Freedom. In 2001 he bought out his partner’s side of Intellisphere and founded MJH.
Michael Hennessy Jr.’s two brothers are also followed in the family tradition in the publishing business although neither are involved in MJH. Jack Hennessy Jr. was head of Medical World Communications, which in 2001 reported revenues of $100 million. The company ran into legal trouble in 2002 over postage fees, and eventually settled the case with the Post Office for $3.1 million. He sold the company in 2004.
Jeff Hennessy founded Princeton Media Associates in 2001 in Millstone Township, and his company was acquired in 2008 by HMP Communications in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Jeff Hennessy became CEO of HMP in 2010.
Michael Hennessy says all of MJH’s efforts have gone towards the overall goal of helping patients by keeping physicians up to date on the latest information on diagnoses and treatments, and keeping them connected with one another.
The company’s connections with practitioners also helps MJH employees. Hennessy says he’s able to send MJH workers to some of the country’s top doctors when they get sick and need treatment.
Many of the MJH publications focus on cancer, to which Hennessy has a personal connection. Hennessy says that cancer has affected someone close to him, though he declined to elaborate. He believes his company has made a particularly strong contribution in fighting ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
“There are a limited amount of therapeutic agents available to patients, and in addition it’s an extremely difficult condition to diagnose,” Hennessy says. “What we have done over the last half a dozen years is provide quality, relevant information that gynecologists can utilize in their practices in identifying ovarian cancer.
“Just as important is encouraging pharma companies and biotech companies to accelerate development of agents that address ovarian cancer. What you have seen in the past two or three years is an explosion of different therapeutic agents that were not available six years ago, and that’s rewarding to look at.”
MJH Associates, 2 Clarke Drive, Cranbury 08512. 609-716-7777. Michael Hennessy, CEO. www.mjhassoc.com