Merck selects Burson for its first-ever image effort

WHITEHOUSE STATION, NJ: Merck has tapped Burson-Marsteller to launch the PR component of a wide-ranging corporate image campaign.

WHITEHOUSE STATION, NJ: Merck has tapped Burson-Marsteller to launch the PR component of a wide-ranging corporate image campaign.

Len Tacconi, executive director of corporate communications for Merck, explained that the "fully integrated" campaign, to take place in the early fall, would aim to share Merck's history and educate patients about its drug-assistance programs.

The effort, billed as the first image campaign in the company's history, will combine media relations, point-of-sale educational materials, radio spots, and grassroots outreach.

"As a 114-year-old company with a proud history, we're suffering from a lot of misconceptions and concerns that are related to a lack of information," Tacconi said. "It's a story that needs to be told."

Although Merck is still embroiled in the after effects of what is arguably one of its largest corporate crises in re-cent memory - the Vioxx recall - the company maintains that the campaign has been in development for more than two years.

Messages from the campaign will focus on how Merck helps patients as one of only five large drug companies that still develops vaccines; through its Merck Manual, a textbook on diseases and therapies; and through its patient assistance programs.

It will promote the company's heritage, particularly founder George Merck's philosophy of putting patients first. It also will focus on the unbranded informational material the company puts out solely to educate the public - not to sell products.

"Most of the communications is not traditional corporate communications," Tacconi said. "It's not self-serving in any way."

He noted that about 60% of the campaign would center on "active" stakeholders who are making healthcare decisions for themselves and their families. The rest of the effort would focus on helping to connect eligible individuals to drug-assistance programs.

Ame Wadler, chairwoman of the healthcare practice at Burson and leader of the Merck account, declined to comment on the campaign ahead of its rollout in the next few weeks.

Merck launched the advertising component of the image campaign in June with another WPP agency, Ogilvy & Mather.

Billings were not disclosed.

Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as trade group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, are also undertaking image-enhancing initiatives.

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