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Novartis Tests the Agency Waters

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The latest player in the booming pharmaceutical category to launch a media review could be Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. The Swiss drug marketer has begun preliminary talks with several media agencies about consolidating its global media planning and buying. In the U.S., Novartis spent about $235 million on paid media from January to November of 2000, per Competitive Media Reporting.

Included in the evaluation is Novartis' Consumer Health unit, which includes Gerber Baby Foods and such well-known consumer drug brands as Triaminic, Ex-Lax and Maalox. The advertiser's veterinary medicine and Ciba Vision eyecare operations are not expected to be part of any consolidation.

Although the client is still doing due diligence on the subject of consolidation and has not yet issued an RFP, "they are putting together a [media consolidation]," said a source, "but this is not going to be rushed. If indeed they move ahead, and it looks like they will, it won't happen before this year's upfront [media-selling season]."

A leading player in the consolidation talks for the client, whose U.S. headquarters are in East Hanover, N.J., is Deborah Dick-Rath, an ad-industry veteran who recently joined the company as executive director/glo bal advertising from healthcare specialist CommonHealth. Dick-Rath was unavailable for comment.

Novartis' broadcast business in the U.S. is handled by MindShare in New York and Initiative Media North America in Chicago, which also does Gerber media. Integrated Communications Group in Parsip pany, N.J., handles print. Abroad, Novartis works with CIA Medianetwork and OMD, among others.

Its creative shops in the U.S. in clude Gerber shop Noble & Associates in Springfield, Mo.; Grey Healthcare and Ogilvy & Mather, both New York; and Quantum Group in Parsippany.

The talks follow several high-profile media reviews by drug marketers in the past year. GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Schering-Plough all consolidated their media assignments, which combined total more than $1.5 billion in billings. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. is reviewing its $275 million account after handling buying in-house for the past 30 years. And AstraZeneca has mulled consolidation for more than a year, sources said, though it has not launched a review.

Created in 1996 by the merger of Basel, Switzerland-based drug companies Sandoz and Ciba, Novartis' products include blood-pressure drug Diovan, diabetes drug Starlex, Exe lon for Alzheimer's disease, and drugs to treat epilepsy and breast cancer.