NEW YORK—Cohn & Wolfe has been selected as the new agency of record for the anti-allergy medication Allegra, and for its first assignment will promote the product’s sponsorship of mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer as he attempts to become the first blind man to climb the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. Allegra is marketed by Aventis, formed in December 1999 by the merger of Hoechst and Rhone-Poulenc.

Cohn & Wolfe won the account, believed to be worth around $2 million, in competition with sister company Burson-Marsteller. The incumbent was Porter Novelli. The healthcare practice at Cohn & Wolfe has been leading the firm’s growth for the past two years, and has been diversifying its base of business beyond the portfolio of SmithKline Beecham business that was its foundation.

Weihenmayer, blind since the age of 13, is part of an expedition that hopes to reach the 29,035-foot summit in mid-May. He has told reporters that his allergies have often been a greater obstacle to his climbing than his blindness.

“The primary goal of the climb is not to put a blind climber on the summit at any cost, but to place a true team of climbers, one of whom happens to be blind, on top of the world,” says Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, which is also sponsoring the ascent. “The climb will make a bold statement about the capabilities of blind people, their right to assume first-class citizenship, and the fact that, given the proper training and opportunity, blind people can do just about anything.” 

Weihenmayer has appeared on the cover of Parade magazine, been interviewed on Good Morning America and 20/20 and gave the pledge of allegiance at the 2000 Republican National Convention. He is a frequent speaker at corporate meetings, and recently published his autobiography, Touch the Top of the World. The Everest expedition is part of his quest to climb all the so-called “seven summits,” the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents.