Sales units for sale: Publicis to hive off contract pharma rep and call center groups

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Publicis Groupe plans to push ahead with divesting Publicis Health Solutions, a group of outsourcing sales and call center agencies. (Alpha Stock Images)

Publicis Groupe's outsourced sales rep and call center businesses is on the block. The holding company plans to sell Publicis Health Solutions, which includes PDI, Tardis Medical, PHrequency and Touchpoint Solutions, after nine months of disappointing financials.

Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun spurred media reports after he discussed the decision to “launch the disposal process” of Publicis Health Solutions in a third quarter earnings call last week. The move wasn't a total surprise, however, as Sadoun had highlighted the unit as a possible hive-off. The holding company is in the midst of an asset review, aiming to shed extraneous businesses.

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Sadoun called the €250 million Publicis Health Solutions “very volatile” and low margin; it operates mainly in the U.S. and mostly outsources sales reps to pharma companies. The sale won't affect Publicis Health’s other healthcare and pharma advertising, communications and marketing agencies, which include Digitas Health LifeBrands, Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and Publicis Health Media.

Sales reps in general have been on the decline in the U.S. over the past decade, as access to digital channels increase and as physicians and hospitals continue to bar or restrict in-person sales visits. Only about half of doctors now allow sales reps unrestricted access.

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And it’s a downward trend that will likely continue. CMI/Compas’ annual Media Vitals study this year, for instance, found that younger doctors put more restrictions on sales rep visits. Only 31% of Gen X and millennial female healthcare providers allow unrestricted rep visits, while 39% of their male counterparts did. Among older baby boomer and Silent Generation HCPs surveyed, 38% of female and 47% of male doctors allow unrestricted sales rep visits, the study found.