AztraZeneca streamlines PR into quartet

NEW YORK: AstraZeneca ended its nine-year relationship with Ketchum when it selected Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Burson-Marsteller, and Signova to handle all PR responsibilities.

NEW YORK: AstraZeneca ended its nine-year relationship with Ketchum when it selected Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Burson-Marsteller, and Signova to handle all PR responsibilities.

The multimillion-dollar accounts entail working across entire disease categories, said Steve Lampert, AstraZeneca's senior director of public affairs.

Edelman won the company's cardiovascular and central-nervous-system business.

The gastrointestinal category, which includes the blockbuster drug Nexium, was retained by Fleishman, which had handled the business for the past eight years. Burson held onto oncology, which it has had for over a decade, and also picked up the respiratory business. Signova was selected to work on managed-care and drug-assistance programs. Formerly, Ketchum was managing the cardiovascular and respiratory categories.

"We're consolidating business to put ourselves in a better position to negotiate contracts with agencies," explained Lampert.

As part of a company-wide procurement initiative, AstraZeneca put its entire product PR business up for bid at the end of last year. Lampert said more than 10 agencies responded to the RFPs. The firms had to pitch for each brand separately, but Lampert said they were all made aware of AstraZeneca's intent to assign a single agency to whole categories.

"We were willing to consider dividing things up if an agency really stood out on a particular brand," revealed Lampert, "but it is important for us to form long-term partnerships with a select group of firms."

Of the four, Edelman picked up the biggest share of new business. The agency will handle US communications for four brands: Seroquel for schizophrenia, Toprol-XL and Atacand for hypertension, and its investigational oral anticoagulant, Exanta. The wins, added to the existing accounts the firm has with AstraZeneca's Crestor (for cholesterol) and Galida (for type-2 diabetes) treatments, make the drug company one of Edelman's top-five clients based on revenue.

Ketchum said it was premature to comment on how the loss will affect staffing.

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