Omnicom agency makes Pfizer bid a three-way race

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A dark horse has emerged in the review to consolidate the estimated $738 million Pfizer and Warner-Lambert media buying and planning accounts.

Creative Media, New York, an Omnicom Group media agency within its PHD division -- a collection of boutique media shops -- has joined incumbents Aegis Group's Carat USA and WPP Group's MindShare, both New York, in the quest for the coveted account. Creative Media is expected to tap into the combined resources of its PHD partners, as well as the larger buying capabilities of sibling shop Optimum Media Direction, New York, in its presentation to the client.

OPTIMUM MUSCLE

According to executives close to the review, Optimum Media, which does not have a planning department, is viewed as adding the muscle Creative Media needs to be considered for the account. Optimum Media refused comment at press time, and Creative Media did not return phone calls.

Pfizer is one in a string of big media consolidations especially among pharmaceutical companies. Grey Global Group's MediaCom is believed to have recently won the estimated $178 million media business for Pharmacia Corp., formed in the merger of Pharmacia & Upjohn and Monsanto Co.; AstraZeneca is in the early stages of a review; and the yet-to-be-official Glaxo SmithKline, the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham, might go that route as well. A person familiar with the Glaxo situation, however, said nothing has begun.

For Pfizer, the Creative Media wild card is expected to further postpone a decision in the review, which has proceeded with Carat and MindShare making presentations in mid-August. Also delaying the review is the fact that the client, through consultant Alvin Achenbaum, is asking the agencies to prepare for another Pfizer pitch in the coming weeks. Whether or not this second round of presentations has anything to do with the emergence of a third party was unclear at press time.

Another holdup appears to be the decentralized nature of Pfizer now that its takeover of Warner-Lambert has been consummated. No one person is in charge of the review, and disagreements between executives from Pfizer and those from Warner-Lambert have resulted.

A Pfizer spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

SOMEWHAT OF A SHOCK

Word that Creative Media has entered the fray was somewhat of a shock since Pfizer characterized the review as a shoot-out between Carat and MindShare. Carat had handled all Pfizer's media business, while MindShare had absorbed the buying and planning duties for Warner-Lambert that had been handled by J. Walter Thompson USA, New York. Warner-Lambert's planning work had been split between MindShare and Bates USA, New York, which will lose Pfizer's $200 million planning account (AA, Aug. 7).

Though it is still expected that the review will result in the massive account being housed at one shop -- yielding volume discounts and streamlined operations -- some speculation has bubbled up that executives might opt to keep the account split at Carat and MindShare. That would likely place the direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical media business at Carat, along with animal health, and the over-the-counter consumer products business at MindShare.

On a temporary basis, Carat has been handling all print buying duties for Pfizer. Other duties remain split with MindShare.

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