EDITORIAL: Consumer boost for health at WPP

WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell rarely tampers with his brands. In fact, his famously hands-off approach to acquisitions has been a major lure for many of the big name agencies that have entered the fold. Which means there has got to be a pretty good reason why he has decided to move the Shire Health brand under the Ogilvy &Mather umbrella.

Sorrell has been fairly forthcoming about the lacklustre performance of his PR and public affairs offerings to date, but judging by this year's Top 150 league table, in which Shire Hall registered 25 per cent growth, healthcare may not be the gravy train it once was, but it is still in relatively good shape.

The most pertinent spur however for bringing together WPP's healthcare PR and broader marketing services expertise, lies in the increasing liberalisation of legislation around pharma promotion. The European Parliament may have just rejected proposals for relaxing DTC regulation on selected therapeutic areas - diabetes, asthma and HIV - but this was purely on the grounds that it was discriminatory against patients with conditions that lay outside the scheme, and it has signalled an overall need for better information on all medicines.

At the same time, the Medicines Control Agency has also just launched a proposal to remove UK restrictions on advertising non-prescription medicines in a whole range of new disease areas.

To take advantage of these opportunities, it will be necessary for pharma companies to work with every marketing tool at their disposal to build a more direct relationship with their 'consumers'. In this context, a joint PR and marketing services healthcare offering looks worth the intervention.

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