PLAYER PROFILE: Blue skies for Claritin shop as Giegerich takes CEO post

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Wpp group has tapped Matt Giegerich as president-CEO of CommonHealth, the $1.2 billion agency that built Claritin into a household name.

The sprawling Parsippany, N.J.-based agency is best known for helping make the Schering-Plough Corp. drug a billion-dollar brand. The 35-year-old Mr. Giegerich has taken over a position that had been vacant since late last year, when Gil Bashe left to form a healthcare marketing network.

Since then, CommonHealth has been led by co-managing partners Mr. Giegerich, Phil Brady and Jim Clifford. Messrs. Brady and Clifford were named co-chairmen of the agency last week.

In the near term, Mr. Giegerich will remain president of Quantum Group, CommonHealth's direct-to-consumer arm, and Xchange Group, its direct-marketing specialists. He is expected eventually to cede those duties to focus on running the agency overall.

Mr. Giegerich's new appointment was made in part to establish "a single point of contact" for the agency and bolster interaction among the units, said John Zweig, WPP's CEO of branding and identity, healthcare and specialist communications.

A SOUP-TO-NUTS OPTION

One of Mr. Giegerich's missions will be to increase CommonHealth's positioning as a soup-to-nuts option for building healthcare brands, an increasingly important task with the boom in DTC promotions. The agency recently established partnerships allowing it to offer improved services in the interactive and ethnic-targeting arenas to go with its core professional, medical education, DTC and direct marketing offerings.

As Mr. Giegerich sells CommonHealth to prospective clients, he'll be armed with a solid case study: the Claritin experience. CommonHealth has handled all aspects of the wildly successful brand since its early 1990s launch, including DTC campaigns establishing blue skies and Joan Lunden as brand icons. Claritin generated $436 million in ad spending from 1996 through 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

CLARINEX

The agency will similarly handle the launch of the much-anticipated successor drug to Claritin (expected to be named Clarinex), which could come as soon as this year. That will be a delicate challenge: Schering-Plough wants to support Clarinex without wiping Claritin off the map. Industry observers are skeptical that Clarinex will prove to be significantly more effective than Claritin or its competitors Zyrtec from Pfizer and Allegra from Aventis.

Mr. Giegerich has extensive experience in the long-established professional as well as the growing consumer sides of healthcare marketing. Before taking over Quantum, he was managing director of Thomas Ferguson Associates.

The marketing of widely used prescription drugs is unique in its double-track approach that involves generating interest among consumers along with convincing physicians of a drug's effectiveness.

"You've got to have a very holistic understanding of how the marketplace works to be effective in any one area, let alone all of them," Mr. Giegerich said.

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