According to industry executives, the three main players in the competitive review that began early this year included Starcom, Interpublic Group of Cos' Initiative and incumbent MEC, a WPP shop. Starcom will lead the account in the U.S., and it will be handled by both Starcom and Mediavest offices worldwide.
Starcom referred comment to the client. Novartis and MEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
During the review, it's understood that agency teams presented in Russia and Germany, among other global markets, accounting for over 20 meetings worldwide.
MEC had long handled the pharmaceutical company's media-planning and -buying duties in various countries. In 2008, Novartis consolidated its media account within the agency, shifting the U.S. portion of the business to MEC from WPP sibling Mindshare.
For the incumbent, it's the most recent loss of a handful of significant accounts that went up for review this year, and the second major loss in days. The agency lost Pizza Hut ($217 million) to Optimedia, parted ways with Activision ($150 million) which moved to Omnicom's OMD, and last week it lost Toys 'R' Us ($115 million) to OMD. The firm won the Marriott account, but amid the tumultuous period, Lee Doyle stepped down and MEC's Marla Kaplowitz took over as CEO in North America.
During the Toys 'R' Us review in April, Mr. Doyle told Ad Age that the firm is growing some of its business organically but "big new-business wins are fewer and farther between."
According to Ad Age 's DataCenter, Novartis is among the 100 largest advertisers in the world, with U.S. measured media spending at more than $500 million in 2010. Total spending is estimated to be much larger, and the global media spend is understood to add at least $100 million. In 2010, the marketer spent $217 million of its U.S. measured media dollars on TV advertising. The Basel, Switzerland-based company spends the bulk of its marketing budget in the U.S. and in Europe, with just small slices devoted to marketing in Asia and in Latin America.
The most recent category data Ad Age has shows that Novartis tends to spend less on advertising as a percent of sales than its rivals. In 2009, it devoted 3.6% of its sales to advertising compared to AstraZeneca's 5.1%, Eli Lilly's 6.1%, Bayer's 6.3% and GSK's 8.7%.