The new unit will be led by Ernestine McCarren, who has been named senior VP-managing director, a title she continues to hold at sister division Becker Consumer Health.
The new division expects to announce its initial client roster within a month.
Two or three current clients of Becker are "in the wings" for the new unit, said Ms. McCarren. One candidate might be American Home Products Corp.'s Wyeth-Ayerst division, for the anti-depressant Effexor.
While most DTC advertising currently targets men, Ms. McCarren said up to 80% of healthcare decisions are made by women, who are caregivers to children and elderly parents.
"We need to have a keen understanding of how to communicate with women, who process information differently," Ms. McCarren said.
DIAGNOSIS BY SEX
A report Ms. McCarren produced last spring found that women tend to be treated differently for diseases thought to be more "male," including heart disease, the leading cause of female death. A 1991 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found doctors referred 40% of men for heart tests if they had positive test results, but only 4% of women.
The new Becker division will not focus on products for women, but rather add female messages to broader campaigns.
"When I say FemaleFocus, people immediately think of osteoporosis or menopause," said Sander Flaum, president-CEO of Becker. But pharmaceutical advertisers "need to expand the breadth and reach of [their] product."