Pfizer opens review for global Lipitor account

NEW YORK: Pfizer has put its global Lipitor account up for review, two and a half years after it awarded the business to a consortium of WPP firms, led by Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller.

NEW YORK: Pfizer has put its global Lipitor account up for review, two and a half years after it awarded the business to a consortium of WPP firms, led by Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller.

Pitches are set to take place within the next few weeks, PRWeek has learned. Paul Fitzhenry, senior director of corporate media relations at Pfizer, confirmed that a review was underway, but would not discuss specifics about the account, WPP's work on the business, or the reasons for the review.

Lipitor had global sales of $11.58 billion in the 12 months up to July 2006, according to IMS Health, making it the world's biggest-selling drug. In late 2003, Pfizer asked the three largest holding companies, WPP, Interpublic, and Omnicom, to assemble cross-brand PR teams to pitch for its cardiovascular franchise, which included Lipitor, Caduet, and Norvasc.

Omnicom eventually dropped out of the running, and WPP won the business by creating a group called WPP Health Success, which was staffed primarily by C&W and Burson, but with help from Hill & Knowlton and Feinstein Kean Healthcare, as well.

This review effectively closes the chapter on WPP Health Success, as this business was its only client.

Considering the groundbreaking nature of Pfizer's move in 2004, few are shocked that it is looking again, even within WPP. "We weren't surprised," said C&W CEO Donna Imperato. "I think it would be very good for them to go with the single-agency model."

The current review is for Lipitor alone, not as part of the whole cardiovascular category. A source says that Feinstein Kean continues to support Caduet in the US and Burson supports Caduet globally, but Fitzhenry would not confirm this.

In September, PRWeek reported that Pfizer had handed the global account for its new Lipitor combination statin - torcetrapib/atorvastatin (T/A) - to Weber Shandwick after a four-way agency shootout. The firm would not be conflicted from competing for Lipitor, and a source close to the review says WS is pitching the business. Other firms are said to be Fleishman-Hillard, APCO Worldwide, and GCI Group. Fitzhenry declined to discuss agencies being considered.

Prior to the holding-company pitch, Lipitor was handled by Ketchum. The firm still works with the brand in the UK.

When the WPP Health Success win was announced, skeptics were doubtful that brands within the same marketing discipline - and part of the same holding company - would be willing and able to collaborate effectively with their competitors and share best talent and best ideas freely. But WPP has been a big proponent of intra-parent-company accounts, and, under the leadership of CEO Martin Sorrell, WPP was particularly vocal about its capabilities at that time.

Industry experts say these teams can work well, but the process has conflicts. "Potentially, it is a really fine idea that is fraught with executional challenges, including ensuring that you have a viable team effort from across different profit centers and eliminating any kinds of potential politicking that would potentially emerge," said Stephen Boehler, founder of Mercer Island Group, a marketing consultancy.

Personnel changes can also imperil accounts, and WPP's Health Success was not immune to those problems. The original account leader Kathryn Metcalfe, EVP and GM of C&W's healthcare practice, left the firm nine months after the account was awarded to take a post at Novartis. Ame Wadler, chair of Burson's healthcare practice and now chief strategic officer, took over the management of the relationship after her departure.

PR firms are facing an increasingly tough hiring market, particularly in healthcare. That combined with the tight procurement controls in the pharma sector make servicing these pieces of business extremely challenging.

"Healthcare is going to be the single greatest area of growth for the next decade," said Boehler. "I don't see any way around that kind of tension increasing."

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