1. One of the hardships facing the Pharma industry is its bad reputation. What are some common causes for this issue, and what can Pharma do to disprove them?
Part of the problem stems from a lack of real customer focus. Back in the mid 1980s, the industry began vacillating about who their real customer was. While drug makers have always maintained that the physicians were the key to their success, they have never really embraced the patient or caregiver to the point that they would fight for them. Now, we know that prescription meds have a tremendous impact on improvement in health outcomes, but the industry is just now embracing this construct but at the same time, still fighting it. My advice to executives has been to embrace things like comparative effectiveness and demonstrate the value your compounds have in the marketplace.
2. How do you think the Pharma industry’s perception of social media has evolved over the past year?
I think the industry really is monitoring it quite closely. There are enough folks suggesting the industry should jump in with both feet, but I believe several issues to broad adoption exist. Adverse event reporting and monitoring, a lack of understanding who would be operationally responsible for the activity, and the companys inability to respond in a timely fashion compared with the expectations of those who interact in a social media circles, are all barriers that suggest to us adoption will be slow and deliberate. I also believe that the industry has had its wings clipped in its ability to generate relevant medical content and people in social media crave this information.
3. Thought leaders in this industry tend to agree on certain things such as patient education and the need for FDA guidance. As a consultant, are there any issues within Pharma marketing that you feel are still up for debate? What are those issues, and how do you recommend solving them?
The biggest mystery to me continues to be the lack of interest by industry marketing professionals to the value of patient adherence initiatives provide to their brands. They all say they have tried these programs, and while some failed, just as many or more have succeeded. As the industry transitions from a sales rep-predominated model, it will be interesting to see how if they embrace the notion of patient marketing. Good patient adherence programs work! There is enough evidence that suggests the return on investment is at least 3 to 1 or more. We are working with clients who have adopted simple text messaging projects, and their patients really appreciate that routine contact because it provides value. The program costs virtually nothing to implement and easily pays for itself. Many of the large agencies supporting bigger brands develop big programs that cost millions. Invariably, the programs tend to focus on creative, but we believe simple messaging and interactive responses are what is needed. The real challenge is most industry marketing is not interactive. It appears most are only one-way communications. Has anyone else thought this may also be the reason these industry members are slow to adopt social media.
4. You seem to have strong opinions in defense of the way Pharma courts physicians. Can you explain your thoughts?
Industry is being forced to reexamine their interactions on a professional basis with the physician. It is astounding to me that critics can cast all these industry relationships as seedy and suggest they are all corrupt. The collateral damage this may cause to the patient/physician relationship is a concern to us. We certainly are not naive, there are many dumb things that industry does, and it is very easy for the DOJ and other state AGs to thread a story of potential corruption, but in the end, there is a need for industry and physicians to collaborate. Physicians are in the best position to what is needed to improve patient care; they are naturally scientific and are trained to be curious and experimental in their approaches. That is how we as a culture learn and improve. I just think we need to think about some of the unintended consequences of all these new transparency regulations.
5. The Pharma industry has been cutting back on its sales forces dramatically over recent years, and some blame the digital revolution. Do you think that technology helps or hurts the sales force, and what is your advice for helping the two complement each other?
First, I would not agree with your assumption that the digital revolution is the reason for the dramatic dismissal of sales reps. What happened is that many are not very good and it is no longer an arms race because it is not about “share of voice any longer. It is about the general lack of quality in the interaction the physician has with the rep. I believe that stems from industrys inability to provide information that is timely or relevant. Regardless of whether that information comes from the rep or a video detail, the problem is the content — it is just not interesting to the listener. Even new or relevant content is so scripted, the message is not effective any longer or relevant to what the physicians want or need to know. Just think, physicians get their informational fixes from places like Sermo today.