SmithKline unifies online buying

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In a nod to the growing importance of the Web to healthcare marketers, SmithKline Beecham has tapped a Jordan, McGrath, Case & Partners/Euro RSCG unit for a consolidated $10 million online media buying account.

JMCP Touch Interactive will buy banner ads, sponsorships and other promotional opportunities across the Web for all of Smith-Kline Beecham's pharmaceutical and over-the-counter brands. Products include the prescription antidepressant and anxiety medication Paxil; Rx diabetes drug Avandia; smoking cessation OTC drug Nicorette; Geritol; and Aquafresh.

JMCP Touch won the account after a review that was believed to include units of Grey Worldwide and Ogilvy & Mather, both New York, along with several smaller shops specializing in interactive.

Previously, the Jordan McGrath unit handled online buying only for the brands on which the agency handled creative such as Nicorette, Nicoderm, Oxy and Tagamet. And SmithKline Beecham agencies such as Grey handled the buying for the same brands for which they had creative responsibilities.

As online buying consolidates at JMCP Touch, agencies like Grey and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, will still hold creative and planning duties for their brands.

At Jordan McGrath, the creative and media directors have offices side by side, so communication between both camps is easy. And the agency trumpeted its focus on cooperation during the pitch.

COOPERATIVE FOCUS

"One of the approaches we take in this area is that it is very important for the media people to know what the creative people are doing," said Robert Moorman, Jordan McGrath's exec VP-director of strategic communications and planning.

Jordan McGrath said if it won the business it would open lines of communication between JMCP Touch and other creative agencies through Euro RSCG's StarLink system, a sort of closed-circuit Internet where media plans and creative ideas can be posted and easily accessed by the involved parties.

SmithKline Beecham's consolidation was driven by two principal goals: to maximize buying clout and centralize operations, easing communication for SmithKline Beecham executives.

GAINING CLOUT

Consolidating TV buying power is a common practice that has yet to be proven in the online purchasing arena. But with the possibility of a shakeout in the number of viable Internet sites, the clout of a consolidated online account could prove an advantage.

"If you've got one guy buying drkoop for one brand as opposed to five guys buying for five brands, you have a lot more clout," Mr. Moorman said.

SmithKline Beecham's interest in maximizing Web promotional opportunities is unusual among major pharmaceutical companies. Drug giants have embraced direct-to-consumer advertising, but looked more skeptically at the Web -- even as the number of healthcare-oriented sites such as drkoop have ballooned in the last year or so.

"Pharmaceutical companies have been extremely slow out of the gate in terms of understanding the potential benefits of the Internet," said Claudine Singer, an analyst for consultancy Jupiter Communications.

But that may be changing. Though not all spending was from drug companies, Jupiter figures show $100 million was spent advertising on healthcare sites last year, a figure the consultancy says will grow to $700 million by 2004.

NO CLEAR RETURN

A recent Jupiter survey of 24 pharmaceutical executives revealed that half have shied away from the Internet for two reasons: the lack of a clear return on investment and an insufficient budget.

But Ms. Singer scoffed at the second reason. "Obviously pharmaceutical companies don't really lack the budget: They have plenty of money to spend," she said. "They just lack senior management support for the Internet and that's because there is no clear ROI."

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