Europe first stop? Novartis win kindles Deutsch global plan

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After years of speculation about its plans for international expansion, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch is poised to move beyond North American borders-and it has Novartis to thank for it.

In a realignment of its direct-to-consumer and professional products last week, the Basel, Switzerland-based pharma marketer awarded advertising responsibilities to Deutsch, teamed with Interpublic sibling Integrated Communications Corp., Parsippany, N.J., according to executives familiar with the matter. It also gave business to DDB Worldwide, an Omnicom Group network agency, paired with medical-professional sibling Cline Davis & Mann, both New York. Novartis declined to comment.

The decision has emboldened the global ambitions of Deutsch management, which has since the late 1990s been exploring opening offices internationally. In 2002, it got outside the U.S. with an outpost in Toronto. Now, said one executive, "We'll be in Europe in 2005."

Deutsch has worked with Novartis since October 2002, when it picked up direct-to-consumer advertising responsibilities for anti-fungal drug Lamisil without a review. The following month Deutsch prevailed in reviews for Zelnorm, a medication for irritable bowel syndrome, and for hypertension medication Diovan. Combined spending for Zelnorm and Lamisil was $138 million in January-July 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

A Deutsch spokeswoman would not comment on the accounts or the shop's intentions for growth.

Details on its international-growth plans are sketchy, although some fundamentals are clear. The agency will have to develop a presence in one or more major European markets, including Italy, Germany, Spain, the U.K. and Switzerland. It could do so in several ways: by partnering with sibling Interpublic agencies that already operate in one or more of those countries; by growing organically; or by working with local agencies Novartis currently uses, with Deutsch functioning as brand steward.

But the plan hinges on two crucial but as-yet-unknown pieces of information: brand assignments and scope of work for each brand. The agency is expected to continue handling its current accounts, according to knowledgeable executives, but Novartis has not said publicly which brands it intends to promote on a global basis. Also up in the air is the new home for Elidel and Enablex, two assignments that have been handled by Omnicom's Merkley and Partners, New York, that will be reassigned, according to knowledgeable executives.

One executive familiar with Novartis' thinking described the newly selected agencies' role as being the steward for each brand. While local agencies might execute campaigns, the new agency will oversee global creative and strategic positioning.

contributing: rich thomaselli, matthew creamer

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