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The world’s biggest healthcare marketing group, Ogilvy Healthworld, has struck a deal with Bates PanGulf to launch in the Middle East. Anil Bhoyrul talks to the key players.

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By  Anil Bhoyrul Published  March 13, 2005

Strong Pills |~||~||~|The world’s biggest healthcare marketing group, Ogilvy Healthworld, has struck a deal with Bates PanGulf to launch in the Middle East. Anil Bhoyrul talks to the key players. For a man who chairs one of the Gulf’s biggest public relations companies, Abdullah Majed Al Ghurair is remarkably publicity shy when it comes to answering sensitive questions. “What is the weather like outside today?” is his favourite response when being quizzed on Palestine, Aids and profits. But Al Ghurair may have much more to shout about in the coming weeks. His Bates PanGulf group has just tied up with the world’s largest healthcare marketing company, Ogilvy Healthworld, to launch Ogilvy PanGulf. The new outfit will use the clout of its multi-billion dollar parent company to push for new business throughout the Middle East. Whether it is promoting new drugs, raising the profile of drug companies or working with governments to increase awareness, Ogilvy PanGulf is hoping to be at the centre of the action. “Our job is to help people practice the way they do business in the Middle East,” says Al Ghurair. “Why are we getting into healthcare? Well, this business will be based in Dubai, which is going to be a hub for a US$2 billion industry. What we have realised is that healthcare is going to be one of the fastest growing sectors.” Ogilvy Healthworld was only created in January this year by the New York-based WPP Group. Led by 59-year-old Steven Girgenti, the new agency’s clients is impressive; including the likes of Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth. Its global network now extends to 2000 employees and 53 offices around the world, and the tie-up with Al Ghurair’s media company is its first big foray into the Middle East. Girgenti explains: “Our office is in Dubai which [is], as far as I’m concerned, the gateway to the world. The market in this region is changing rapidly. You can now talk openly to patients about a range of issues. The goal is to help people improve the way they practice medicine.” Whether he succeeds is very much in the hands of Al Ghurair. The charismatic chairman has been at the helm of Bates PanGulf for nearly two decades, having taken over the business from his late father. With chief executive, Avu Bhojani running the show on a day-to-day basis, the duo have helped secure a string of big-name clients including Starbucks and Gitex, helping to push revenues in 2004 to US$12 million. This year the figure is forecast to rise to around US$16 million, with average growth of 18% a year during the last decade. However, the tie up with Ogilvy could be the firm's biggest (and most lucrative) challenge yet. While healthcare is advanced in the Middle East, some areas — such as Aids — remain off limits. But Bhojani says: “I think the region is becoming far more liberalised. A lot of these subjects have been taboo for a long time, but we are now trying to talk to the government about issues such as the spread of Aids. I think that raising awareness is very important. Yes, of course there needs to be more education on this matter, not just in the Gulf, but across the world. The hysteria of the 1980s has gone and people are now more sensible.” Girgenti adds: “We’ve done numerous Aids campaigns in the past, and I think it's more about prevention than anything else. But let’s not assume that it is only Aids we need to worry about. There are many other diseases where much greater education is needed. In this region, diabetes is a huge problem and something that I hope we get involved in tackling. Bates PanGulf already acts for Dubai Bone & Joint Centre, Roche and Novartis — giving it a head start in the industry. As Bhojani explains: “Ten years ago, the picture was very different. It was an undeveloped market, but there has been great acceleration. It is true that the healthcare industry has in the past had an image problem, and the way some drug companies acted wasn’t always the best way forward. But now the outlook is extremely positive, and we are able to build the trust of the consumer again.” The deal with Ogilvy is likely to give Bates PanGulf a much-needed shot in the arm. It had been part of the gigantic Cordiant advertising group, but was then dropped before entering into a new tie-up with Burson-Marsteller (also part of the WPP Group). It has made a name for itself by partnering local PR firms with huge success, picking up many new clients along the way in the region. Nevertheless, for the American-educated Al Ghurair, it must still all seem like small fry — he is part of one of the Gulf’s most influential families, with interests in banking and shopping malls. Their estimated wealth is a staggering US$4 billion, but Al Ghurair insists his “one and only interest” is the media operation. “I suppose I must love it because I have been doing it for so many years. We are a big family and we always speak together to share ideas and take advice from each other. But right now I’m happy doing this job because business is booming.” Al Ghurair has clearly struck a good working relationship with Bhojani. The pair have recently got involved in the launch of the Dubai International Academy, a US$23 million venture they have both invested heavily in. He says: “This is something we both feel very strongly about, improving the standards of education. Of course, we are doing it to make money, to gain profits. But all for a good cause.” Rather like his healthcare initiative. ||**||

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