DEFECTORS MAY TAKE LOWE'S XENICAL ACC'T; ROCHE TO MAKE DECISION THIS WEEK ON WHICH AGENCY GETS BUSINESS

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The five key executives who exited Lowe & Partners/SMS' direct group earlier this month to form their own agency could snag one more piece of Lowe: client Roche Laboratories' Xenical, a pharmaceutical account valued at up to $60 million in media billings.

Though Lowe issued a release Oct. 7 saying Lowe & Partners, Lowe Direct and Lowe McAdams Healthcare had won the account, an official contract was never signed, said Xenical Product Director Philippe Burnham.

Mr. Burnham was quoted in the release, explaining why the Lowe units had been selected.

MAY EXCEED $60 MIL

He now says a decision will be made this week on the account, an anti-obesity treatment that will command $50 million to $60 million in billings and an undisclosed amount in direct marketing, which initially will form the bulk of the work.

J. Robert Lieber, formerly Lowe Direct chairman-CEO, left the shop with Paul Levett, Harry Koenig, Carmine Farese and Loreen Babcock to form New York agency Lieber, Levett, Koenig, Farese & Babcock.

"Right now, we still haven't assigned the business officially, though we've conveyed our intent," Mr. Burnham said. "We're in the process of finalizing our decision . . . In absence of all those people, Lowe has taken swift efforts to restaff and they're coming back to us with the restaffing plans."

Some Lowe insiders acknowledge that if the account were to move, the agency would consider legal action. "We would certainly think about our options . . . if we felt something wrong" was being done, said Bruce Kelly, general manager at Lowe & Partners/SMS.

Ms. Babcock denied rumblings the new agency was pitching or had been in contact with the Xenical marketer. "We have not been in conversation with Roche," she said.

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