The Top 50: Pace

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Pace has seen better years. The loss of Pfizer’s ophthalmology business and then CEO/president Mary Cobb in March are two major setbacks for the Lowe Healthcare shop. But the agency has shown its mettle, landing a large global oncology account.

All in all, Sal Perreca, network chairman, is keeping it in perspective. He has assumed stewardship of the 60-person agency until a replacement is found, and he’s not rushing things. Perreca will stay in the role until he familiarizes himself with the agency, its people and clients. Only then will he feel comfortable hiring someone to fill Cobb’s shoes. “I’m wearing a couple of hats here, but that’s fine,” he tells MM&M. “I’d rather do that now so that I can really know what kind of a person…and what kind of a structure I need there.”

While Cobb’s departure appears to have been a result of a decision by the network, Perreca declines to comment on the circumstances. “We came to an agreement, and it was time for me to leave,” is how Cobb described it in an interview for

Her departure follows Pfizer’s decision earlier in the year to move its ophthalmology business, including the worldwide Xalatan account (which Pace held for eight years) and global Xalacom account, over to its mainline agencies. (Pace is expected to cease all work on the accounts later this year.) Almost immediately after, Pace pitched and won Bayer’s oncology franchise, which includes the global account for kidney cancer drug Nexavar (sorafenib). Coming on the heels of the Pfizer loss, Nexavar offered a morale boost.

Existing Pace accounts include emergency contraceptive Plan B, which made an OTC switch last year under a restricted access program. Pace does the consumer and professional creative for the brand, as well as for other women’s health products from Duramed—the proprietary unit of Barr Labs—including the contraceptive Seasonale and its follow-on Seasonique.

Producing both professional and DTC ads distinguishes Pace. Although Lowe Healthcare’s flagship agency, Integrated Communications, is now offering combined campaign capabilities thanks to the recent decision by Interpublic Group to move consumer agency Alchemy under its aegis. Lowe’s Interlink shop is even getting into the act, relaunching a line of cosmeceuticals to plastic surgeons and the spa/salon crowd.

Cobb had been with Pace for 16 years, running the agency since January 2000 and growing it every year since. At the network level, another longtime fixture left—erstwhile chief administrative officer Bill Young, who is now EVP/CAO at IPG sister shop Draftfcb Healthcare. Frank Galella, formerly Lowe Healthcare CFO, is now COO, encompassing IT, network operations and personnel, which had been Young’s forté.

In February, Chuck DeMarco shifted from Integrated to Pace to fill the new role of executive creative director. Another senior-level hire, Michael Krocker, joined as Lowe Healthcare SVP/director of global branding and integration. Krocker was once CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide Healthcare.

With a number of global accounts in the network, the need to maintain strength throughout the global network is paramount. Lowe Healthcare has been working to develop the healthcare expertise of its affiliates.

HR remains the toughest test, though, as the Pace situation shows. “You always want to find business, but…when you do good work, that seems to find you, sometimes,” Perreca says. “To get the right people into these positions, that’s going to be our biggest challenge.”
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