And the winner is Publicis Groupe. Novartis has selected the agency to handle its global media account under a newly created group, NovartisONE2.
The agency within an agency will combine the capabilities of Novartis incumbent Starcom and add Epsilon, the data marketing giant acquired by Publicis earlier this year.
The estimated $600 million account awarding follows a four-month review, which also included the WPP, Omnicom and Havas agencies. Effective Jan. 1, the new assignment covers Novartis media planning and buying, and data and analytics.
“Just as Novartis seeks to reimagine medicine, we too seek to reimagine and transform how we deliver data-driven marketing strategies for our clients,” John Sheehy, Starcom Worldwide global brand president, said in a news release. “Rooted in a data-led, digital-first approach, NovartisONE2 unites Starcom and Epsilon to deliver capability that is agile, collaborative and relentlessly focused driving business outcomes, along with delivering personalized experiences at scale for Novartis’ complex and evolving consumers.”
The decision comes as an embattled Novartis faces down a data manipulation scandal around pricey spinal muscular atrophy gene therapy Zolgensma. Although the $2.1 million list price drug is managed by Novartis acquisition AveXis, the pharma has had to go on the defensive, with Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan saying it “did the best we could” in discovering, determining and then finally informing the FDA about the issue.
The Zolgensma problem comes less than a year after the scandalous revelation of the $1.2 million contract Novartis inked with President Donald Trump’s once-lawyer Michael Cohen.
Narasimhan has named rehabbing Novartis' reputation as one of his top goals as CEO. While the media side of the agency business isn’t typically directly involved in corporate reputation repair, Epsilon’s extensive cache of first-party data could provide consumer insights around issues like corporate sentiment and brand opinions in developing media strategies.