Pfizer hands global Viagra work to WS consumer unit

NEW YORK: In the latest sign that the pharmaceutical industry's now heavy reliance on direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing has strong implications for PR, Pfizer has chosen Weber Shandwick's consumer marketing group to lead the global account for Viagra, its blockbuster drug that treats erectile dysfunction (ED). DTC efforts help drug companies market prescription medication directly to consumers. WS beat out incumbent agency Porter Novelli and Burson-Marsteller for the account.

NEW YORK: In the latest sign that the pharmaceutical industry's now heavy reliance on direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing has strong implications for PR, Pfizer has chosen Weber Shandwick's consumer marketing group to lead the global account for Viagra, its blockbuster drug that treats erectile dysfunction (ED). DTC efforts help drug companies market prescription medication directly to consumers. WS beat out incumbent agency Porter Novelli and Burson-Marsteller for the account.

The move comes as Pfizer is primed to face strong competition in the ED space from two new rival offerings.

The end of Pfizer's US monopoly on the ED market arrived in August, when Levitra, an ED treatment that works more quickly than Viagra, was approved by the FDA. Shortly thereafter, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Bayer, co-promoters and developers of Levitra, announced a sponsorship deal with the NFL to launch an educational campaign about men's health.

Members of WS' healthcare group will contribute to servicing the Viagra account, but the PR effort is now primarily viewed as a consumer branding effort. Gail Heimann, copresident of WS' global consumer marketing group, will lead the account, which under its previous agency, PN, had been run out of the firm's healthcare practice.

Michal Fishman, director of US pharmaceuticals PR for Pfizer, denied that the change of agency and the new consumer focus were in response to competing drugs. Rather, she said it was a new look at "a very ripe market."

"When you are the only drug on the market, you have the opportunity to raise awareness for your name. Now we have an opportunity to not only raise awareness for our name, but differentiate ourselves from the other ED medications," explained Fishman.

Neither Pfizer nor WS would disclose the terms or budget of the account, other than to say that WS will handle all PR responsibilities for the drug, across all markets worldwide.

"There are still a lot of under-diagnosed sufferers of ED out there. We need to continue to spread that message, and PR plays a critical role in reaching those patients," said Fishman.

Ogilvy PR, which won the global Levitra account in January 2002, continues to run that drug's business out of its healthcare group. Alan Taylor Communications, a New York-based consumer-focused PR agency, has also been retained by GSK and Bayer to work on the NFL campaign.

Eli Lilly's Cialis, which is said to last longer than both Viagra and Levitra, is currently approved overseas, and is expected to be launched in the US by the end of this year. MS&L's healthcare and consumer groups jointly handle the Cialis account globally, according to the firm.

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