The Top 60: Medicus LifeBrands

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Publicis Healthcare Communications Group's professional advertising powerhouse Medicus merged with its more specialist-oriented six-year-old sibling LifeBrands in May to form Medicus LifeBrands.
The new shop, with a staff of around 200, is under the leadership of Medicus managing director Lisa Ebert, who retains her title at the combined agency. Former LifeBrands president Lorraine Pastore has left the company. LifeBrands managing director John Timmins is general manager of the agency's oncology/virology center of excellence.

“Together, we can provide our clients with some very significant benefits. We took two companies that were very strong with very complementary strengths,” says Ebert. Chief among them was LifeBrands' oncology practice, which Ebert calls “one of the strongest oncology centers of excellence in the industry.” The merger, she says, “will allow us to attract clients with a broader range of expertise in one unit. Medicus has a vast creative department with vast resources” headed up by Nick Manginello, who retains his Medicus role as chief creative officer. Medicus EVP, chief strategic officer Rich Norman retains his role as head of strategic planning, taking on LifeBrands brands as well.

“With that it also brings expertise in blockbuster branding and marketing,” says Ebert. Around 35% of the agency's business lies in market development and disease state awareness on premarket brands. Where LifeBrands competed with Interpublic's Integrated and Omnicom's Harrison & Star in the specialist focused space, tackling brands aimed at “-ologists, -iatrists and surgeons,” Medicus boasts rich experience in OTC.

“Overall, if you look at the entire portfolio, we really span the spectrum of a product lifecycle,” says Ebert, “so we have a lot of premarket development work, obviously the launch period, and then post-launch there's a lot of marketing for extended lifecycle, new indications, OTC switches. The Medicus unit has deep expertise in marketing over-the-counter brands, and within that is Rx to OTC switch experience.”

Medicus OTC brands include Crest, Oral B, Coppertone, Claritin and Metamucil. “Those brands are all number one recommended by professionals, so we're very proud of that, because we feel like we take some part in that,” says Ebert.

Medicus worked on the Prilosec OTC switch, having inherited Claritin, and was working with Bayer as well, though that work has been halted, said Ebert.

“We clearly do span the spectrum—we have OTC brands on one end and then on the other, it's the high science, oncology, virology, really specialty brands.”

Medicus Lifebrands plans to offer its clients superior service through what it calls the “enviable agency experience.” “We chose the word enviable very carefully because our aspiration is that when clients talk about working with Medicus Lifebrands that other clients will be jealous,” says Ebert. “Like all agencies, we really need to focus on maximizing brand potential to take it as far in the market as we can, but we also place a very high priority on the experience of getting there. We are in healthcare advertising but we never lose sight of the fact that we are a customer service business. You have to start with the right expertise and talent and the right resources, but that's just the beginning. We have a very collaborative environment with our clients. It's very much a get it done attitude with attention to detail along the way. Everybody can get seduced by the big idea but you have to make sure you can bring it to market as well in a way that focuses on budget timing all of those things. Ultimately, it's unforgettable, unsurpassed service to your clients. Each of our clients have a way that they like to work and our job is to make their job easier.”

Medicus LifeBrands has seen “significant growth” over the past year, says Ebert, with new clients and new assignments including: brands from Schering-Plough and premarket compounds in Sanofi-Aventis' oncology pipeline; Auxilium's Testim transdermal testosterone gel; UCB's prelaunch epilepsy brand; LungRx's Treprostinil; GTx Inc.'s toremifine for prostate cancer; Coppertone professional; and a line of cleaning products aimed at allergen control. The shop also picked up project work on ViaCell's ViaCord cord blood banking offering and on unspecified Abbott products.

Altogether, the agency has boasted a 70% win rate over the past year. “A good portion of these wins are from clients who changed companies and when they were looking for an agency really sought us out,” says Ebert. “So we're really proud of that.”

On the downside, the shop lost Merck's Emend anti-nausea product.

The shop's service focus “comes into play when we hire people, it comes into play when we train people. We're very committed to training and development and we have to teach them how to deliver on that. It also impacts the kind of clients we hope to attract. We really do want clients that see us as a partner and integral to their business, because the folks here tend to thrive in that environment more than in a shorter-term vendor mentality.” Ebert expects headcount to go up around 10% this year as it staffs up to service new accounts.

Key clients include: AstraZeneca, for which Medicus LifeBrands handles work on Arimidex, Faslodex, Pulmicort Respules, Pulmicort Flexhaler and Symbicort; Sanofi-Aventis for Taxotere, rimonabant, Uroxatrol and Multaq; and Procter & Gamble, for Asacol, Crest, Oral B, Metamucil, Prilosec OTC, Align and Fibersure.

The agency's business is primarily professional-focused, though it also handles some patient marketing in medical and retail environments. The shop also has a long heritage in working on respiratory brands that Ebert's looking to leverage.

Like everybody in the advertising world, Medicus LifeBrands is trying to get ahead of the technological curve to offer its clients a means of breaking through to physicians as they downsize their sales forces. “The challenge we face really has a lot to do with the ever-increasing competition for physician mind share,” says Ebert. “As we continue to think how to break through and get our message across we'll be looking into all kinds of alternative channels and digital media, because the time with the physician is increasingly shrinking and our business is to get their attention and change their behavior. So our mission is to leverage the latest technologies to make sure we're breaking through.”

Medicus LifeBrands works with sibling agency iMed on interactive accounts, but Ebert says the shop is working on building its internal interactive capability and relying less on external partners as digital media takes center stage. “We're continuing to build our own core competencies as well, because we all need to be experts in that area. It's not really a separate entity. It's a part of everything you do, and we're hiring against that.” The merger creates an environment with more opportunities for staff to learn and grow, she says. “There's ever-increasing competition for talent. This union together really offers such a range of experiences that people can have and we feel that could be very attractive to prospective talent as well.”

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