The Player: After years of snack foods, Sokotch goes on health kick

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As the former exec VP-worldwide account director on Nabisco Foods' Oreo cookies, Chips Ahoy!, Lifesavers and Planters, Mel Sokotch had his hand in some of the tastiest accounts for Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.

But his background and his heart were in health care.

So when the chance came for him to return to the unit he helped create and run, Mr. Sokotch didn't skip a beat. On Jan. 4 of this year, he returned as the exec VP-director of consumer health care, based in the agency's New York office.

"I miss health care," he said. "It is today's growth industry, and given the growth of our population continuing to get older, the health-care industry will continue to grow over the next 20 years. As the baby boom moves through retirement, the demand will do nothing but increase."

In asking Mr. Sokotch to resume his duties as the head of the health-care unit, FCB was looking to apply its in-house strength with an ever-growing segment.

"At 14% of the gross domestic product, health care is the nation's largest industry and one in which marketing is increasingly important," said Jeff Tarakajian, president-CEO, FCB, New York. "So it's a sector [where] we are definitely deepening our investment of energy and resources."

Mr. Sokotch, 54, has an extensive background in health care. He began his career in 1973 at Ted Bates, where he handled accounts for Pfizer and Warner Lambert. He joined Grey in 1982 as VP-management supervisor, heading up the Smith-Kline Beecham account and working on products such as Aqua-Fresh toothpaste and Sucrets throat lozenges.

He joined FCB in 1991 as VP-management director, initially running the Colgate-Palmolive Co. business before starting the agency's direct-to-consumer unit.

"When I first got involved, FCB did not have any health-care business and DTC just started getted going in the middle `90s," said Mr. Sokotch, who helped found the health-care unit and ran it from 1995-99. "So we were really starting from zero. Then one of our clients, Merck & Co., decided to get into DTC with Fosamax."

Fosamax is a preventative and a treatment for osteoporosis, a drug that helps regenerate weakened bones. Based on the success the agency had with Fosamax, Mr. Sokotch helped spearhead other Merck introductions for Singulair and Varivax, as well as Knoll Pharmaceuticals' Meridia.

His focus now will be organic growth through health-care clients-Merck, Amgen, Alcon Laboratories, Eli Lilly & Co. and Organon-and facing the challenge that this particular industry offers.

"In the professional world, the doctor is interested in science and data. On the consumer side, the patient is much more interested in symptoms, quality of life and results," Mr. Sokotch said. "For the advertising to succeed, you have to understand both sides and present them well."

Fast Facts

Name: Mel Sokotch

Age: 54

Now: Exec VP-director of consumer health care, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide

Challenge: To find the right blend of advertising for consumers who are information active

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