ANALYSIS: Client Profile - Viagra fuels Pfizer's post-merger growth. Bolstered by its recent merger with Warner-Lambert, Pfizer is proving that bigger can also be better. Denise Mann reports on how the pharmaceutical giant is faring in a global mark

After a hostile takeover of Warner-Lambert, Pfizer set a textbook example of brand building with their handling of sildenafil - otherwise known as Viagra, the little blue pill for erectile dysfunction that made impotence a household word.

After a hostile takeover of Warner-Lambert, Pfizer set a textbook example of brand building with their handling of sildenafil - otherwise known as Viagra, the little blue pill for erectile dysfunction that made impotence a household word.

After a hostile takeover of Warner-Lambert, Pfizer set a textbook example of brand building with their handling of sildenafil - otherwise known as Viagra, the little blue pill for erectile dysfunction that made impotence a household word.

'In the past two to three years, clearly Viagra and the Warner-Lambert transaction were the two major public relations events,' says John Sullivan, partner at New York-based Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, Pfizer's agency of record for the past 10 years.

Calling the Pfizer/Warner-Lambert merger 'the largest successful hostile takeover ever,' Sullivan says a lot of time has been spent getting the two companies to come together as seamlessly as possible.

Pfizer did its bidding when American Home Products and Warner-Lambert had already announced a deal. After three months spent persuading all constituents that Pfizer was the better choice for Warner-Lambert - a public relations blitzkrieg within itself - Pfizer prevailed and the new Pfizer emerged.

'We launched an intensive, systematic and relentless campaign to explain the deal and the benefits of the merger to both Pfizer and Warner-Lambert shareholders, including ads in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal,' Sullivan says.

Pfizer estimates that total revenues for 2000 will equal about dollars 32 billion.

With 130 compounds in development - including some innovative cancer therapies, a half-dozen new drugs to treat central nervous system disorders and new indications for marketed products, such as an oral, liquid form of Aricept (one of a new class of drugs used to slow the progress of mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease) and a Viagra for female sexual dysfunction - the new Pfizer spends about dollars 4.7 billion on research and development. That's 8% more than R&D heavyweight Glaxo-Smith-Kline. And this newly formed company now has a market cap that is twice that of Coca-Cola and Lucent Technologies.



The legacy of Viagra

'We obviously got pretty famous pretty quickly on Viagra,' says Andy McCor-mick, VP of media relations for Pfizer in New York. 'We were trying to make (Viagra) understood as a medical product for a medical condition - erectile dysfunction - by focusing on the science behind the product.

'We helped educate the public about a hitherto taboo topic,' he says.

William Glitz, media consultant for the American Urological Association, agrees. 'Pfizer was certainly instrumental in bringing the topic of sexual dysfunction, in general, to the forefront of consciousness.'

Glitz says that Pfizer's PR efforts were right on target. 'Pfizer as a company, and especially the media relations people, were not pushy and they didn't force the impotence issue,' he says. 'They were smart enough to realize that Viagra and erectile dysfunction was a good story and they got out of the way and let the story and the science stand on its own.'

But that's not to say that the Viagra campaign was without its challenges.

After all, it's not every day that a prescription drug becomes fodder on the late night talk show circuit.

'From the earliest days of clinical trials, we received letters from couples saying that Viagra really has changed their lives for the better,' McCormick says. 'These letters were very moving and, in comparison, we saw the jokes as relatively frivolous.'

Sullivan agrees and credits Pfizer with sticking to its message.

'There were so many jokes and opportunities to get off track,' he says.

'But they stayed focused on the fact that this is a serious medicine for a serious disease.

'The legacy of Viagra is that men are now talking to their doctor more openly about erectile dysfunction and other disease,' Sullivan adds. 'That's a good thing.'



Global challenges

The success story of Viagra is not Pfizer's only legacy. Viagra was launched at a time when the Internet was booming and half-truths got instant global credibility.

'What we saw with Viagra was that literally you get a story on the wire and it travels across all borders and media markets, and we have to respond quickly,' Sullivan says. 'People may look back on Viagra as the place where healthcare went global.'

Kym White, Ogilvy's managing director, global health and medical practice, says she was impressed with Pfizer's PR operation.

'They rolled out Viagra in 90 countries in less than two years,' she says. 'You need a pretty sophisticated communication effort to make this happen. They've got the global thing down in terms of consecutive communication from market to market to create a brand. They are an incredibly well-oiled and sophisticated machine.' Ogilvy handles the Zyrtec account and has done some corporate communications for Pfizer.

Although the merger broadened Pfizer's product line, it also promised to bring a host of new image problems and challenges.

One challenge is how to blend two distinct corporate cultures into one.

And there is also the question of whether bigger is better. The answers to these questions depend largely on who you ask.

But Pfizer also faces potential legal troubles associated with the withdrawal of Rezulin (troglitazone), a Warner Lam-bert drug for Type II diabetes that was voluntarily pulled from the market because it was linked to liver toxicity.

As litigation is contemplated regarding Rezulin, McCormick says the new Pfizer will be forthright with the press and try to be available. Ogilvy's White considers this directness one of Pfizer's greatest strengths. 'Pfizer is not afraid to take a public position on a controversial issue,' White says. 'Pfizer has always been willing to stand up and be counted and not duck and hide behind the trade associations.'

For example, the company recently was criticized for trying to institute a program to provide Diflucan (fluconazole) at no cost to AIDS patients with cryptococcal meningitis in South Africa. HIV and AIDS remain a very charged political issue in South Africa where there is even some question about whether the HIV virus actually causes AIDS.

But Pfizer has not backed down. The company has contacted the Ministry of Health in Kenya to begin discussions aimed at developing a partnership program, and also plans to develop similar alliances in Asia and Latin America. Currently Pfizer donates the antibiotic Zithromax to five developing countries in Africa and Asia to combat trachoma - the world's leading cause of preventable blindness.



PFIZER

Internal PR: A team of four led by Andy McCormick, VP of media relations

External PR: A team of three led by John Sullivan, partner at Robinson Lerer & Montgomery

Budget: Undisclosed.





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