Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands

Tough Times for Timid Pharmaceutical Brands, picture of pill and capsuleConsumers demand more outwardly focused brands

Consumers, driven by mindful Millennials, are demanding that brands take a stand on social issues. It is no longer acceptable for brands to look at the messy world and say, “Not my job!” Certainly Pharma brands are more constrained by consent decrees and regulations. However, that won’t stop consumers from saying, “Not my problem,” when it comes to demanding more from their health care brands.

According to one of my favorite trend spotters, Trend Watching winning brands will start contentious, painful and necessary conversations.”  That means going beyond product claims and bland unbranded campaigns to talk about polarizing topics. Take Starbucks, which recently jumped into the fray about race relations.  One example with particular relevance to Pharma is Pantene India’s campaign that asks consumers to point out ridiculous claims made by beauty products that don’t work. How about Pharma pointing out the ridicules claims made by nutraceuticals?

Picture of Pantene India campaign

Talk is necessary, but not sufficient

But talk is not enough. Today’s consumers demand action. Describing their “Branded Government” trend, Trend Watching boldly pronounces 2015 as “the year for progressive brands to initiate, undertake or support meaningful civic transformation.”

One example of this Private-Public Partnership is the WAZE traffic app’s Connected Citizen’s partnership that exchanges data with local governments around the world with the aim of improving traffic patterns. And it is not just new school companies taking civic action. Volvo is partnering with the Swedish Government to create roads that can charge electric vehicles.

Waze Connected Citizens Campaign

Brand Activism: What’s a Pharmaceutical Brand Manager to do?

Certainly there are enough unmet health needs for Pharma to partner with government to make people healthier. What about a weight loss brand teaming up with local government to promote better eating habits? This initiative may also seem less self-serving, because if successful, the campaign would slim down the market for the prescription weight loss products.

To health care purists, branding has no role to play in the choice of a pharmaceutical product. The product should be chosen based on efficacy, safety and increasingly, price. However in practice, physicians often have 2-3 brands they feel are interchangeable. In categories such as Multiple Sclerosis, HCPs often let the patient chose. Why? Because then the patient has skin in the game.

In addition, research conducted early in the DTC era, found that patients who ask for and are given a specific brand are more likely to be adherent compared to patients not making a request. So to me (admittedly not a health care purist), branding is more likely to be beneficial than harmful to patients.

No more navel gazing for Pharma

Picture of navel caption No more navel gazing for Pharma Marketers

So it pays to do it right. And paradoxically, in today’s socially conscious environment, good branding involves talking less about the product and doing more in the world. No more navel gazing! The key to building great brands, is to talk less about them. The old axiom, “actions speak louder than words” is today’s branding rallying cry!

For ideas on how to apply this trend to your pharmaceutical brand, check in tomorrow for my next post, “4 Ways to Become an Activist Pharmaceutical Brand.”

My Madeleine Albright Moment

I signed up for 23andMe a few years ago for professional reasons. This was before November 2013 when the FDA told 23andMe to stop providing health results. As a health care marketer, I admired how the company’s whimsical pink and green infographics made genetics both appealing and understandable.

When I mentioned to friends that I had signed up, many said that they wouldn’t want to know if there was some disease lurking in their genetic code. I’ll admit that a chill went through my body as I thought, “What if I find out something really bad?” Luckily, my repressed WASP upbringing allowed me to shelve any looming unpleasantries in the back of my mind.

When the 23andMe test results came, nothing really bad popped up. My results weren’t that earth shattering and made sense based on my family history. I was higher risk for Venous Thromboembolism (VTE) and Atrial Fibrillation.

At the time, I largely ignored the ancestral results. They were pretty lame, telling me what years of sunburnt skin told me: I was 99.9% Caucasian. As for country of origin, I knew that I was a U.K. mutt with a small German streak.

Several years went by, and 23andMe continued to email me with updates. One day in April, I happened to click on one all the way through to the ancestry data.

And that was when I had my Madeleine Albright moment: 19% ASHKENAZI.

When my mother was later tested, it revealed that she was 49% Ashkenazi, totally unbeknownst to her. We hypothesize that my maternal grandfather, Irving Crook, was probably Jewish. He came to America from England when he was 6 months old. But that didn’t mean he was of English descent. England was most likely just a stopover for his Eastern European parents escaping persecution. We will probably never really know, and most likely Irving didn’t know either.

How does this change my life? Not much. I still sing in the church choir and help organize our annual Fish & Chips dinner. However, the bigger question is what impact did my health results have on my behavior? The biggest change is that I now get up during long plane rides to help prevent blood clots, something everybody should do anyway.

I recognize that for many people, the 23andMe health results can have major consequences. Had I gotten more devastating news, it could have sent me down a rabbit hole of unnecessary, expensive and potentially dangerous medical testing. As Atul Gawande says in his recent Yorker article, “Overkill”, “Millions of Americans get tests, drugs, and operations that won’t make them better, may cause harm, and cost billions.” I also realize that not everybody is equipped to deal with bad news like Angela Jolie, who upon learning she had the BRCA gene, chose prophylactic surgery.

But despite these caveats, I think the author of “The Patient Will See You Now”, Eric Topol is right, the personal data genie is out of the bottle. In the opening pages of his book, he makes the following bold statement:

“We are embarking on a time when each individual will have all their own medical data and the computing power to process it in the context of their own world. There will be comprehensive medical information about a person that is eminently accessible, analyzable and transferable. This will set up a tectonic power shift, putting the individual at center stage.”

It is true that our health care system with its practice of defensive medicine and misaligned economic incentives has the power to distort good data into bad unintended consequences. This fear drives the cry for a more measured approach to personal health data transparency. We end up like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to hold back the flood of health care information.

However, the time and effort is better spent helping this free flow of personal data transform our flawed health care system into a more patient oriented system. That’s why education and good health care information are even more critical going forward. Don’t withhold information, teach people how to deal with it.

Tom Brady and Atul Gawande: Designing a Different End Game

Tom Brady and Atul Gawande, two Bostonians with wildly divergent careers, both take the same approach to designing a different end game; they flout the conventional wisdom to achieve their objectives. For marketers wanting to change the trajectory of their brand, company, industry or career, these two prominent Bostonians show the power of doing things differently.

Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has always been vocal about wanting a different end game, one that would keep him playing high-level football in his 40’s. So according to a recent New York Times Magazine article, Tom defies conventional training practices designed at building strength in favor of those that create more pliable muscles. He credits his unique training practice with sparing him from career ending injuries, ultimately enabling him to win 4 Super Bowls (so far).

Atul Gawande, Boston surgeon and best selling author, challenges the more medicine is better medicine dogma that runs deep in our American cultural veins. Gawande addresses the literal “end game” in his best-selling book Being Mortal, to propose a radical new approach on appropriate care in our last years. Rather than doing everything possible to ensure maximum patient safety and longevity, Gawande contends that instead, a doctor’s role is to ensure that people leave this earth in a way that respects their values and priorities.

To do this, physicians and family members need to understand what constitutes quality of life from the patient’s point of view. In one example, Gawande tells of a daughter’s surprise at her father’s definition of quality of life as “being able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football.” Her father had been a professor emeritus so she assumed he would not have wanted to live unless it was as a fully functioning intellectual. It was this knowledge that helped her make an entirely different choice for her father when faced with a life and death decision by her father’s surgeons.

I wasn’t so lucky with my father. The idea that more medicine, more effort, is not always appropriate was a totally foreign concept to me for most of his illness (and most of my life). So the poor guy cycled in and out of the hospital to rehab a number of times, getting weaker with every visit. By the time a palliative nurse friend of mine, helped me to see the light, it was too late. Having made the decision to bring him home after our post-dinner talk, I received a call the next morning that he had died in the Rehab institution.

While I can take comfort that my father seemed to enjoy all the attention he received at the Rehab facility, I often wonder if he would preferred a different ending. With my 88-year old mother, I have an opportunity not to make the same mistake.

The lessons of Gawande’s Being Mortal and Tom Brady’s historic Super Bowl victory transcend their individual career choices. Their work is testament to the truth of Einstein’s definition of insanity–doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. These two different men offer the same valuable lesson about the need to challenge the status quo to achieve a different result.

In the pharmaceutical industry where my company, extrovertic, does most of its work, there is a lot of organizational dogma about how to drive sales. It includes “HCPs write prescriptions, not patients,” or the time honored “the sales representative call is the best way to reach physicians.”

I know a lot of talented and progressive marketers who are confronting these doctrines on a daily basis. It’s hard work to be the one constantly going against the grain. But the experiences of Tom Brady and Atul Gawande are proof that a successful end game is worth the fight.

Three Prescriptions for Patient Centricity

Patient Focused. Patient Centric. Patient First. There are lots of buzzwords companies use to describe their aspirations for a renewed focus on patients. But as my 8th grade Latin teacher once told me,

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Whatever phrase your company uses, here are three prescriptions on how to “walk the talk” of patient centricity in 2015 (and avoid a dance with the devil)

1. Fully infuse the voice of the patient into drug development. Historically, patient marketers are among the last to join pre-commercial or even launch teams. To be more patient focused, teams need to be staffed with patient experts early in the game.

And once in the game, patient marketers should make development of customer service and adherence programs the first order of business. As payers and patients have to increasingly make cost/quality trade-offs, it is critical that marketers can prove that their patient services actually make a difference in adherence rates, patient experience and clinical outcomes.

In fact, patient services already a factor into 3rd party purchase decisions. For example, according to a Duke physician I heard speak at a conference, Eliquis, a medication in the very crowded stroke prevention category, was chosen over competitors because the brand had the strongest co-pay assistance program.

Or just listen. Patients in clinical trials are already shaping opinions of the drug through their online conversations. An extrovertic social media analysis found an average of 30,000 patient conversations taking a place every month by patients involved a clinical trial.

2. Partner with providers and payers to meaningfully improve the patient experience at the point of care. HCPs, Integrated Delivery Systems and Payers are going to be judged on outcomes and patient experience. Pharmaceutical companies have the know-how and resources to help their customers meet the triple aim of improving patient experience, lowering costs and driving better outcomes. Take a look at all the governmental metrics requirements and pick a few to partner on.

It will also be important to have an expansive definition of point-of-care, both in terms of place where care happens and the people who provide the care. Care is now being highly distributed, it’s happening at home, at the retail pharmacy, at work, at Costco and at urgent care centers. And with the looming primary care physician shortage, care will be increasingly be delivered by nurses, physician assistants and even lay health workers.

And let’s not forget the increasing role patients are playing in their own health with the explosion of wearable technology and the whole quantified-self movement. The point of care is now everywhere and the smart pharmaceutical marketers will be conducting pilots to figure out how they can add to the patient experience.

3. Adopt a cross-channel patient experience framework to conduct marketing activities. A good patient experience is one that is consistent throughout every interaction, whether it be through a website, a phone call or in person meeting. Many of these touchpoints are managed by different functions in a pharmaceutical company, yet to the consumer it all comes from the same company. So the company has got to start acting like one company.

And this one organization needs to be reoriented towards driving patient satisfaction rather than driving sales. Driving satisfaction doesn’t mean revenue generation takes a back seat. There is a whole body of literature that proves that higher customer satisfaction scores result in higher sales and profits, in industry after industry.

But first the voice of the patient needs to be heard. This will require an integrated system of collecting patient feedback in a way it can be acted upon. For example, how well is the medical information call center doing in meeting patient needs? I would guess most marketers don’t know.

So take these 3 Rx’s and make 2015 the year that pharma companies turn patient centric talk into action. (And to my eighth grade latin teacher, Mr. Riggs, I really did “disce diligentius.”)

The Orphan Impact: Small drugs drive big changes

Seems everybody’s talking orphan drugs these days. No wonder, according to EvaluatePharma’s 2013 Orphan Drug Report, orphan drugs are estimated to reach 15.9% of total worldwide prescription sales by 2018. But the orphan drug impact goes beyond sales numbers. I believe that the patient centricity blossoming in the rare disease divisions will eventually spill over into the primary care divisions of pharmaceutical companies.

With the big blockbuster primary care drugs, development success lay primarily with company research departments. The halls of Pharma echo with stories of researcher heroics—how the lone scientist kept a molecule from hitting the drug dustbin only to become the next blockbuster.

But in orphan drugs, the heroes are as likely to be individual patient family members as researchers. In some cases the drug literally starts with patient families. Thanks to advances in digital technology and social media, orphan drug patient families play a major role in every aspect of bringing a drug to market, going far beyond traditional advocacy roles. Now individuals are able to leap tall barriers with a click of a mouse to accomplish superhero feats formerly reserved for massive organizations like the NIH and pharmaceutical companies.

Consider the role of patients, families and organizations in:

Disease discovery: Matt Might, a father whose son had a disease entirely unknown to science, leapt over barriers of scientific self-interest to find other patients and give his son’s illness a name.

A well-known blogger in his field, Matt’s post about his quest helped identify patients like his son across the globe. In the New Yorker article, which describes Matt’s disease naming odyssey, a Duke geneticist, who worked with Matt, sums up the new patient paradigm with this quote:

“It’s kind of a shift in the scientific world that we have to recognize—that, in this day of social media, dedicated, educated, and well-informed families have the ability to make a huge impact…Gone are the days when we could just say, ‘We’re a cloistered community of researchers, and we alone know how to do this.’ ”

Research direction: John Crowley funded individual scientists to fill the treatment void when he learned his daughter had Pompe disease. Ultimately John ended up partnering with one scientist to form a company that eventually was folded into Genzyme. And while his story is certainly one of the most dramatic (to the point of being the subject of a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford), John’s ability to drive the course of scientific discovery is becoming more commonplace in the rare disease space.

Product approval parameters: In June 2014, the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) patient group, submitted the first ever-patient advocacy-initiated draft guidance for a rare disease to the FDA for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Patients, through organizations like the PPMD, are now directly driving how Pharma should be conducting their research.
Because of the outsized role patients and their families play in bringing a drug to market, building strong patient relationships is a key marketing investment for orphan drug marketers. For example, Biogen Idec, deployed over 15 community managers to support people with living with hemophilia even before they had an approved product.
There are already signs of an “orphan drug spillover effect” on primary care marketing. Consider Sanofi’s community manager position in their Diabetes franchise. Or more recently, that Sanofi appointed a Chief Patient Officer. And this I believe, is just the start of the orphan drug effect.

Soon the patient centric tactics of Rare Disease marketers will be highlighted in “marketing excellence” meetings all over Pharma. Then questions will come during marketing plan presentations about “why can’t primary care teams start building patient relationships like their rare disease counter parts?” And before you know it, the small seeds of patient centricity will finally blossom throughout Pharma.

Patient Shopping in Our Lifetime?

This was the one of the final questions asked at a recent Elsevier conference where I was a speaker. The panel charged with answering this question was largely pessimistic. Panelists felt that the byzantine system of setting prices for both medical procedures and pharmaceuticals made it unlikely that consumers would ever get the cost data required for effective shopping behavior. They couldn’t imagine that anyone in the industry would step up to the challenge of making prices more transparent.

There is certainly reason for their negative outlook. For example, a recent study by Verilogue and Duke Medical Center found that when oncologists discussed  breast cancer treatment options with patients, costs were only discussed in 20% of the cases. If patients can’t get information on the costs and outcomes of various medical and drug treatments, then they can’t make the appropriate trade-offs.

In my opinion, the Elsevier panel was right and wrong.

Right because strides towards increased pricing transparency won’t come from within the industry. But wrong because change will be instigated from outside the industry—by government, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs unencumbered by the war wounds of fighting vested health care interests.

Here are a couple of examples that provide me with hope:

  • On the non-profit side, there is the Minnesota Community Measure Up coalition. They created the Minnesota D5 program, which provides effectiveness scores for treating diabetes by individual clinics/HCP offices.
  • Newer health care services like Counsyl, a genetic testing company, have actually built cost transparency into their business model. Counsyl has developed a proprietary tool that allows patients to calculate their exact costs once their particular insurance policy is factored in before they sign up for the service.
  • Iodine, a newcomer in the cost and rating business for drugs, has developed a very easy interface to help consumers start evaluating the cost/quality trade-offs for different medications.

Information will drive true shopper behavior.  Contrary to popular belief, patients can make educated choices. Patients don’t reflexively opt for latest and the greatest medical solution. As reported in the New York Times, a recent study in the Annals of Surgery, found that parents actually made the cost effective choice regarding appendectomies for their children.

When parents were told that both conventional and laparoscopic surgery yielded the same results, but that conventional surgery was far less expensive, two-thirds of parents chose the less expensive conventional surgery. 31% said that the information they received was the primary driver in their decision and 90% liked having a choice.

Pharma companies are going to have to learn how to market to health care shoppers rather than patients. This means that not only will pharmaceutical companies have to include cost in their outcomes studies with payers, they will also have to convince health care shoppers that their drugs represent a good value for the money.

And much like restaurants and hotels, Pharma companies will have to regularly monitor the various patient quality and cost rating systems to make sure their medications are fairly portrayed. A bad rating will have a direct impact on revenues, as consumers fail to start or stop using a medication, based on a rating they saw.

Pharma companies will need to include these products ratings from patient sites in their analyses of sales results. I predict that these analyses will show a direct correlation between consumer ratings and revenue. And when that happens, it will be the dawn of the era of the true health care shopper!

Follow the Money to Patient Engagement

4 Reasons why Pharma will finally become patient-centric

Pharma Financial Stars Lie with Patient-Centricity

Pharmaceutical marketers have been talking about Empowered Patients ever since I joined Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in the mid-90’s as one of their first consumer marketing hires. But despite all the talk, most pharmaceutical companies are nowhere near being patient-focused.

Pharma marketers know things are changing but are holding onto the HCP-focused status quo for as long as possible. In fact, I was recently asked by a Pharma Exec charged with driving patient engagement, “When do we really have to get serious about patients?” They felt that their primary customer was still the physician.

But ever the optimist, I believe that the next 2-5 years will represent a seismic shift in pharmaceutical marketing. Away from a singular focus on the physician towards a more patient-centric way of being. And that’s because patient-centricity is increasingly critical to a pharmaceutical company’s growth and financial health. As Watergate’s Deep Throat said, “Follow the Money.”

To my mind, there are four market trends that are helping to realign Pharma’s financial stars towards patient-centricity:

1. The Dawn of Health Care Shoppers-Historically, consumers exhibited very little true shopping behavior, even as they became increasingly responsible for their health care costs. This lack of true shopping behavior was largely because consumers had little visibility into costs and quality data and therefore couldn’t make the necessary trade-offs.

But that is changing.

Health care reform, combined with private sector efforts, are increasing transparency around both costs and quality, allowing consumers to start making trade-offs with their health care expenditures, including medications. Patients will move from merely asking a physician for a particular drug they saw advertised on television to making a highly considered decision to pay for drug A or drug B.

With this true decision-making, patients will be able to move markets. As this market moving ability starts to show up in pharma company regression analyses, Pharma companies will be stumbling over each other to be the most patient-centric.

2. The shifting economics of their customers-HCPs, Hospitals and Integrated Delivery Systems won’t be rewarded on the quantity of services they deliver anymore, but rather on the quality of those services and the patient experience. The smart pharmaceutical companies are going to look for ways to help their customers deliver better patient outcomes and experiences. And that is going to require additional investment to prove their patient interventions actually deliver.

3. The exploding orphan drug opportunity-Specialty and orphan drugs now represent the path to financial growth for many Pharma companies. And along with the orphan drug opportunity comes the empowered patient. These patients play a significant role in which drugs get into clinical trials, get approved by the FDA and reimbursed by insurers. If a company is in the Orphan Drug space, then by default they have to be patient centric. I predict that this “patient centricity” will eventually work its way into larger, primary care marketing practices.

4. Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs) in clinical trials will increasingly become commercial differentiators-In many categories, pharmaceutical researchers have already captured patient-reported outcomes, particularly on quality of life. However, these metrics have had little true commercial value since the FDA has been leery of approving claims based on patient reported outcomes. I believe that the FDA’s new focus on patient centricity, as witnessed by their “Patient Focused Drug Development” initiative may signal a growing acceptance of PRO claims. And as PROs become more important to the commercial success of a medication, so will the patients.

It is this alignment of Pharma’s financial stars around patient-centricity, that makes me believe that pharmaceutical companies will finally begin to truly embrace the empowered patient. Just follow the money. It never lies.

The most overlooked marketing investment

Investing in your customers. That’s what companies, like YouTube, who have their pulse on the consumer do according to a recent article in Digiday. YouTube is helping their customers develop the content that will help them realize their dream of becoming digital stars. But the concept of customer investment goes beyond the digital world. Investing in customers is a business strategy well described in “Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?” an e-book by Michael Schrage being offered by the Harvard Business Review.

Schrage says businesses can keep growing by asking, “Who do our customers want to become?” and helping them get there by strategically investing in customer capabilities. Invest in customers, because, as Schrage puts it, “your future depends on their future.”

Health care is no exception.

Think of the demands placed on physicians by the Accountable Care Act. To be successful in the future, physicians will need to become:

• Customer service experts since patient experience will drive reimbursement
• Data analysts as the practice collects patient satisfaction data
• Healthcare systems thinkers as practice ratings are dependent on the entire office visit experience, not just the physician interaction

The demands on patients have also increased. Take the experience of Peter Drier who practically become a forensic accountant to track down an unexpected $117,000 in charges associated with his neck surgery as recently reported in the New York Times. Or Matt Might who, according to an article in the New Yorker, had to supersize his social media skills to assemble a group of patients across the globe to give his son’s illness a name.
With the advent of the health care exchanges, Payers who once operated in the B-to-B mode have now found themselves having to develop the type of direct-to-consumer marketing skills pharmaceutical marketers acquired in the 1990’s.

There is no shortage of investment needs when it comes to pharmaceutical customers. Of course there is all sorts of regulation against practice building and incentivizing use. However, by applying a little creativity and keeping the end game in mind—improved outcomes and a better patient experience—the smart pharmaceutical “investor” will be able to eke out a competitive advantage with some well placed customer bets!

Quantitative Proof: Better Clients Get Better Work

The Good Client

When I was a client I subscribed to the better clients get better work theory. Then while working at Saatchi Healthcare I saw first hand how the best clients got the best people. Well-regarded agency personnel could actually refuse to work on accounts with difficult clients. Talent is that important to an agency. But it was not until I worked with 99Designs that I got quantitative proof of how being a good client results in better work.

99Designs is an online graphic design marketplace of over 300k designers who participate in customer design contests to create basic design such as logos, websites and collateral.  Customers purchase design packages offering different levels of designers, quantities of design and support. The design package I purchased for logo development promised I would receive 60 designs.

I received an astounding 273 designs from 62 designers. And at least 90% were on brief and attractive. When I called the 99Designs customer service department I was told that the amount of designs I received was unusual, but explainable—I was a good client.

Being a good client is not rocket science. It the same whether working virtually or in person. I provided good direction and feedback. But what was different was 99Design’s ability to quantify how good a client you are. The automated briefing feature allowed 99Designs to see whether I took the trouble to attach samples of logos I liked. They could also see that I uploaded additional creative instructions.

Most importantly, 99Designs tracked the extent to which I took the trouble to provide feedback using their automated rating system. I rated 99% of the designs I received, often adding a sentence or two in addition to using the 5 star scale.

As free agents, potential designers often watch a contest for a while to see if it is worth entering. If no one is bothering to rate existing designs, then the designers don’t feel the client is serious. In addition, ratings provide designers with additional direction about what might result in the winning design. Remember, designers are in it to win it.

Certainly there are 99Design “haters” in the design community who feel that asking designers to submit spec work on the hopes they will get picked is abusive. But I also think there is something liberating for designers getting to decide if a client is worthy of their efforts.

What my 99Design experience showed me was it is worth the effort to put time into providing clear direction and feedback. It is also worth the effort to train marketers on how to provide useful input, something that is rarely done, at least in the pharmaceutical industry where I have spent the bulk of my career. And finally, it is worth the effort to try these new crowd-sourced businesses. You just might get more for less, something every marketer is looking to do, no matter what industry vertical you work in.

Will agencies become obsolete?

A potential new model

Don’t get me wrong. I love creative agencies. I have hired them, been employed by them and even owned one. But I wonder if creative agencies will survive in their current incarnation.

Consider the following trends:

  1. Disintermediation by vendors with creative capabilities-A recent New York Times article on Facebook entitled, “How Facebook Sold You Krill Oil,” says it all for me. The article describes the “Publishing Garage” sessions Facebook holds with marketers. The purpose of these sessions is to develop “a big sweeping campaign,” as well as specific Facebook ads. Whoa! I thought that is what the creative agency did. Closer to home in the Pharma space, there is a multichannel marketing company, Metanexgen, that will shoot as well as distribute your physician videos, for a fraction of what an agency would normally charge.
  2. Evisceration of the agency strategic function-With client Sourcing departments manically fixated on achieving the lowest blended rate, the creative agency’s ability to bring their strategic staff to the table has declined dramatically.  And agency personnel, who are not at the client table billing, don’t’ last more than one or two cycles of budget cuts. Not with razor thin agency profit margins. A vicious cycle ensues. No longer staffed to provide the strategic firepower, the agency is rarely consulted on strategic issues. As one veteran pharmaceutical marketer told me, “What am I going to learn from a 28 year old account director with 5 years of experience?”
  3. Availability of open-sourced creative solutions-A Pharma friend of mine needed a logo for his pivotal Phase III study. Did he call an agency? No, he went straight to 99Designs and got a great logo for $400. He received submissions from around the world in a matter of 48 hours. Multiple rounds of revisions occurred at lightening speed and he was done. I had a similarly positive experience designing a new logo for a start-up financial company using 99Designs.

Working directly with an open-sourced creative source does however, take time and experience. At this point in my career, I felt totally comfortable. But at an earlier phase with fewer campaigns under my belt, probably not. And brand stewardship, a role generally assigned to the lead creative agency, becomes an issue when dealing directly with vendors like Facebook and Metanexgen.

That’s why I predict that a new “Marketing Integrator/Curator” agency (or creative consultant) will emerge in the future. The current agency business model can’t support a full creative staff by sending a few creatives to a two-day Facebook meeting. This new “agency” will work with clients to select the vendors that make business sense and curate the creative process.

In the pharmaceutical industry, where extrovertic does most of its work, there will always be a place for big agencies launching the big blockbuster brands. Big agencies have the process and scale and creative firepower to get things done effectively and efficiently.

However there will be fewer and fewer of these blockbuster budget opportunities. The emergence of smaller specialty and orphan brands, with their correspondingly smaller budgets, is forcing marketers to reconsider how they get things done. With client-side staffing unlikely to grow dramatically, there will be a critical gap.  Just as nature abhors a void, so do clients. That’s why the Marketing Integrator/Curator role holds a lot of promise for the future.