Ferguson opens OTC specialty shop

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Feguson, a CommonHealth professional shop, launched a new “OTC Center of Excellence” focused on OTC marketing and promotion.

The group, led by EVP, director of client services Brian Doherty, will focus specifically on prescription drugs that transition to OTC, although the agency will also work on traditional OTC brands.

According to Doherty, who has been at CommonHealth for over a decade, the decision to launch an OTC group is a reflection of an evolving healthcare system. “Physicians aren't going to be able to devote as much time to ‘minor' conditions,” said Doherty, adding that self-care is on the rise. As a result, brand managers have to not only consider their share of the pharmacy shelf, but also their share of healthcare more generally, he said.

Doherty said Ferguson will bring its professional marketing experience to bear on OTC products. Although OTCs are governed by less strenuous marketing regulations than prescription drugs, “there are more similarities than differences,” said Doherty. “They still have to go through [internal] med/legal review.”

The OTC group will handle promotions for two of its preexisting clients—Novartis' line of consumer OTC products and Johnson & Johnson's oral and upper respiratory OTCs. Doherty said Ferguson worked on two of the most successful Rx-to-OTC transitions in history—presumably Zyrtec and Prevacid for J&J and Novartis, respectively—though Doherty refused to confirm specific brands.

The top nine out of 10 OTC brands switched from Rx to OTC, and one-third of OTC products overall contain an ingredient that was available by prescription-only at one time, said Doherty. “Work begins two or three years prior to patent expiration, and we continue to be in the brand creation business.” OTC products get a new label, and that's really where a brand begins, said Doherty.

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