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.


How to integrate social into your existing campaigns

It’s easiest to think of social as an opportunity to be a trusted voice in a very crowded and not always well-informed room.  But the very first step you need to take is to make sure you are being heard.

Here is a checklist for you to use to make sure you’re grabbing the low hanging fruit:

  • Add the appropriate logo and user name to all printed pieces so patients know where to find you
  • Add social follow buttons to your website so it’s as easy as possible for patients to follow you
  • Be very active in the networks you use, and don’t forget to use hashtags
  • Make sure you are consistent in the hashtags you use and that they will help you be found
  • Don’t be afraid to share other peoples relevant content
  • Get out there and join the conversation!  It’s already happening with or without you

And remember, we are always available to provide some advice on how to navigate the social space, sell in the program or even conduct a Social for Pharma class for you and your extended team.

Thanks for letting us share!

Jared Shechtman

Senior Director, Digital Extrovert

Your branding is missing something

Sound. Do you know what your brand sounds like?

Article after article encourages marketers to get visual. But in many cases sound goes hand in hand with visuals.

Consider the following uses of sound:

▪   Sound as confirmation of functionality: Think of the camera click that occurs when you take a screenshot on an Apple computer, or the swoosh sound that confirms your e-mail has been sent

▪   Sound as a product experience: You know that satisfying crunching sound you get when you’re eating potato chips? According to my friends at CORD, a sonic branding company, 80% of a person’s perception of that crunchiness is the result of sound rather than mouth feel.

▪   Sound as a reinforcement of brand attributes: Consider the sound of an electric toothbrush. When one manufacturer redesigned the buzzing sound of its toothbrushes to more closely communicate “clean, gentle, and white,” sales jumped.

It is surprising that sound and music have been missing in the healthcare marketer’s toolkit. Consider music therapy, defined by the American Music Therapy Association as, “An established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” Included among music therapy’s uses are alleviating pain, counteracting depression, inducing sleep, and promoting movement for physical rehabilitation. Clearly, sound has a relevant place in healthcare.

And the need for sound may be even more critical as one of the most prevalent sounds, namely the Pharmaceutical Reps voice, is declining in the healthcare arena. According to Industry figures, the number of pharmaceutical representatives in the US has declined 40% in the last 8 years. So how can you fill the sonic void? Here are three thought-starters:

  1. Incorporate music into your relationship marketing programs. What if your e-mails came with different sound elements corresponding to the different time-points in the patient journey? For example, you could embed an encouraging 4-note tune in e-mails that are meant to buoy patients at tough points in their treatment. Or, use a song that helps convey a “You did it!” message once they’ve successfully completed treatment
  2. Use sound to brand a video series, whether it’s product- or condition-related. Video is an increasingly important venue for healthcare communication. Work towards having a consistent look, feel, and sound to your videos
  3. Think about the sounds associated with a disease state, say coughing or heartbeats: What could be a sonic signal of improvement? Can certain sounds be associated with progress?

So, when it comes to incorporating sonic branding into your branding, do any of these ideas ring your bell?

Permission to speak – How to sell in social now that the floodgates are open

The FDA has opened the door, but we still need to walk through it.  In order for your brand to step into the social space you’re still going to need to sell it in internally.

Easier said than done, right?  Medical/Legal is NEVER going to go for this, you are going to need to demonstrate ROI and also layout a process where you will be able to communicate in REAL TIME (or close to it) with the patients.

This may sound like it’s going to be an exhausting process, but it doesn’t have to be.  And in the end you will come out one step ahead of the competition.

Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Involve all stakeholders early on in the discussion
    1. Social is about having a conversation, something you’re already doing via nurse hotlines and KOL discussions
  2. Remind them that the patients are already in the social space, what they crave is an informed/trusted participant in the conversation
  3. Social can be tracked in many different ways.  Agree on your KPIs upfront and set realistic objectives
    1. Likes, followers and clickthroughs are only scratching the surface.  You may want to consider periodic studies on sentiment
  4. Start with appropriate exercises to determine the tone of your social media voice
    1. This is a great opportunity to include all of the internal stakeholders
  5. Have an open and honest discussion about content, and which types of responses need approval, and what that process will look like given the nature of social
    1. Strongly consider a list of pre-approved messages that will come up on a regular basis (ie. @patient – Thank you for your response, for more information on that please visit www.brand.com or @patient – For a detailed response please DM us with your phone number and a nurse will be in touch shortly)

In the immediate future it may be easier to take a disease education approach to social until everyone has had a chance to accept social as part of the pharma marketing landscape.

Make sure to check back in for our third post in this series on social:

  • Starting simple – how to integrate social into your existing campaigns

Thanks for letting us share!

Jared Shechtman

Senior Director, Digital Extrovert

Why your Point-of-Care strategy is half-baked

Conferences and vendor consortiums abound on point-of-care marketing. Yet many solutions miss an important point-of-care marketing opportunity: helping physicians extend care beyond the office.

The idea was first suggested to me by one of the most patient centric physicians that I have ever met, Dr. Frank Spinelli.  Dr. Spinelli challenged the audience at a pharmaceutical marketing conference to help HCPs extend the impact of the patient visit using technology, helping merge the online and offline experiences.

Pharma companies that help healthcare providers extend their patient care will find themselves welcomed in the doctor’s office. Why? Follow the dollar: physician payments are increasingly linked to quality of patient care and outcomes.

So how can marketers plan to extend their point of care tactics outside the office? Begin by reimaging the planning process. Rather than the siloed Patient-Physician-Payer approach to planning, charge an integrated team with a mission to:

  • Help prepare both the physician and patient for a productive office visit
  • Enable the patient to easily obtain any required medicine
  • Support and monitor the patient, after the visit

Rather than rush to the conclusion that “there’s an app for that,” take a step back. New ideas often start with new questions. Here are seven questions to prompt your team’s thinking about extending your point of care strategy beyond the office:

  1. What are the critical activities and information exchanges that must take place during the office visit?
  2. Would any activities or information exchanges prior to the appointment help improve the quality or efficiency of the in office experience?
  3. What are the barriers for different patient types to actually paying for and obtaining the prescribed medicine? How should patients and HCPs be talking about costs?
  4. Are there any other healthcare stakeholders—such as nurses, pharma reps, support groups, or associations—who could play a role before, during, or after the office visit?
  5. What can the physician uniquely contribute to the visit? Is it knowledge? Imparting a sense of caring or delivering peace of mind? Providing a solution?
  6. Are there different sort of “in-the-field” support people that could be provided? For example, clinical nurse educators or lay health workers?
  7. What follow-up activities would help ensure the physician treatment plan is monitored and adhered to? Is there any room for the new wearable technology?

Throwing a bunch of tactics together and hoping for the best will result in a mishmash of results. Answering these questions on the other hand, is a good recipe for an integrated point of care strategy, one that helps physicians extend the care they provide.

Making the most of your social investments

Social is coming!….Said the industry who cried wolf.  It seems that we have been saying “This is the year for social in pharma!” for the last 3-4 years, but this time we mean it.  Seriously we do this time!

With FDA releasing guidelines marketers will be looking at a slew of new channel options that they will be able to sell up the ladder.  The only question now is which social platforms to invest in?

CPG brands and others have been leveraging the power of social and experimenting in a lot of ways that pharma could not, and for that we should thank them.

These brands have already been to the cutting edge of social and not all of their investments have borne fruit.  Social networks are fickle creatures, and not all of them deliver on their initial promise (I’m looking at you Google+).

So how does a pharma marketer make the most out of an already stretched budget and a newly expanded playing field?

  1. Analyze which networks your target is already on
  2. Subtract those that won’t work within the framework laid out by FDA and your regulatory team
  3. Focus only on the one or two networks that will provide the most impact

Remember, just because we can now use Vine doesn’t mean we should.

Also, engage the regulatory team very early on, this will certainly alleviate some pain points down the line.

Lastly, social is more than just a new megaphone to use to broadcast your message, when properly integrated across a campaign it can be the thread that binds your campaign together.  But we’ll dive deeper into this another time.

In our coming posts on social we will examine the following topics:

  • Permission to speak – how to sell in the idea of using social media
  • Starting simple – how to integrate social into your existing campaigns

Thanks for letting us share!

Jared Shechtman

Senior Director, Digital Extrovert

Why write boring health care copy?

Learning to write captivating copy from the halls of journalism

Why doesn’t a patient pamphlet grab you like the first sentence of a New Yorker health care article? I believe that it boils down to intent. Pharma copy is written from the point of view of “I have important information I need to tell you.” Journalistic copy starts from the premise of “I need to capture your attention.”

The aim of a news story is to get eyeballs on the page. The objective of a pharma pamphlet is to impart information to the patient. Or in the worst case, just fill the legal obligation to provide the information.

I gave a journalist friend of mine some pharma copy to rewrite. I was curious about the differences in how it would be written, particularly the opening sentences. Even after removing his expletives, you can see how much more engaging the journalistic version is.

Pharma Copy* Journalism Story
While some people in your life may know what to say when you tell them you have ALS, others may not know how to respond—or worse, may say something off-the-wall, or even hurtful The first time John wished he could just say “beam me up Scotty” was when he went to his first Thanksgiving dinner after being diagnosed with ALS. He thought his entire extended family was holding some kind of contest to see who could say or ask the most inappropriate thing.

*Disease state has been changed

The journalistic model of copy writing requires a significant shift. At the end of the day, it is about holding your information to a higher standard—patient engagement. Or as Tony Rogers in his About.com Guide to journalism says, “So when making the rounds of your beat, always ask yourself, “How will this affect my readers? Will they care? Should they care?” If the answer is no, chances are the story’s not worth your time.”

The key concept to extrapolate here is the need to interest and entertain your reader. So here are a couple thought-starters on how to export this idea to development of pharmaceutical information, particularly in the patient space.

  1. Define for your agency “what good looks like.”Gather a few examples of how your product and/or disease state has been covered in the popular and not so popular press. I am riveted by anything that Jerome Groopman writes. Look for good examples of science made accessible. Look for health care storylines that grab people. Compare that to your copy.
  2. Evaluate what is most/least compelling on your website. We have tended to discount “the click” in pharma. But “eyeballs on the page” is the metric used by online media evaluate the success of their endeavors and determine what gets covered in the future.
  3. Hire a freelance journalist to have a “whack” at your copy. Your procurement friends will love you as journalists are about half the cost of pharmaceutical copywriters. And many do a very good job at explaining difficult scientific concepts or MOA’s.

So take a look at your copy. Would you read it if you didn’t have to?

Jay-Z your DTC

Increase impact and save money

Jay-Z is a modern day master of media.  In applying public relations thinking to his use of traditional paid media, he makes every GRP work harder. When launching a product, whether it be a book or his recent CD, Jay-Z appears to have a three part formula: 1) develop a “talk-worthy” concept; 2) make a big but short-lived splash using traditional paid media and 3) employ digital and social promotion for long-tail promotion.

Consider Jay-Z’s approach to the launch of his album, Magna Carta … Holy Grail. It entailed:

  1. Talk-worthy concept: Jay-Z created a talk-worthy concept of providing his album to Samsung Galaxy owners 5 days earlier than to the general public
  2. High profile media: Launched the promotion in a highly visible, three minute commercial during Game 5 of the NBA finals
  3. Drive to digital: Drove people to the album website where they could download the free app

But the concept is not limited to Jay-Z. Starbucks used this three-step process to build sales using the 2008 election as a media hook.  Their talk-worthy concept was to offer a free cup of coffee to voters. Starbucks advertised this offer on a high profile Saturday Night Live’s “Election Bash” episode. And finally, they sustained their effort with what Howard Schultz calls in his book, “Onward”a torrent of digital and social media activity” to “amplify the 60-second spot.”

What this three step process boils down to is using public relations thinking rather than traditional media planning to deploy brand media spend. The benefit of this PR thinking is that the brand message automatically becomes more relevant to consumers because it taps into current culture.

Health care brands can also tap into popular culture. A well-placed, high impact unbranded communication that really connects with patients about a serious health issue could be an important wake-up call. The high profile unbranded splash would also serve as high impact “screener” to get the attention of your target patients and spark their curiosity enough to follow through to a branded site.

While the high profile splash is expensive, the opportunity to create an on-going drumbeat with digital makes the effort very measurable and affordable. Using this three-step process, extrovertic recently recommended a new product launch plan that relied on one-fifth the advertising expenditures of the brand’s closest competitors.

So how could this be employed on a pharmaceutical brand? Consider the straightforward Astra Zeneca Crestor print ad running in major magazines. A picture of a doctor asking the question, “Is your cholesterol at goal?”

How much more attention would Crestor get if they associated the product with the broader concept with setting and reaching goals and introduced the effort in a high profile sporting event followed by a deep digital push?

So here are two thought-starters on how to Jay-Z your DTC and save money in the process:

  1. Scour your brand for relevant hooks and events. What relevant anticipated governmental or healthcare organization announcements coming up? Can you link your brand to the news in a meaningful way?
  2. Have your agency cost out a media splash/digital long-tail type of plan. Can you save money and increase impact?

Packing personal into non-personal promotion

The Pharmaceutical industry’s “Non-personal promotion” or NPP. What a weird concept. As my extrovertic partner, Bill Fleming says, “In any other industry—the direct mail, digital marketing and telephonic selling—would just be called marketing.”

In fact, most other industries involved in business-to- business (B-to-B) marketing are focused on making every contact, no matter what the channel, more personal. Consider IBM and Cisco.

1. IBM – Using social media to personalize telesales. According to an article in ChiefMarketer.com, when telemarketing and email were failing to produce results, IBM got personal. IBM’s studies showed that IT decision were likely to use social media as a part of their purchasing decision making.

So IBM created social media profiles for a small team of inside sales representatives on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. To make it seamless for the reps, IBM created a robust content calendar and provided hash tags so the reps could listen to relevant online conversations.

The results? IBM got 50,000 LinkedIn connections (up from 535 in the beginning of the test), over 20 major sales wins and has experienced a quicker uptake of their promotional offers. Check out Stuart Michie’s YouTube video for a good example of how to talk about a representative’s expertise.

2. Cisco – Video takes center stage. Again, customer understanding formed the basis of their strategy. According to an article on OnlineVideo.net, Cisco’s research found that 96% of IT decision makers and tech buyers watch videos for business. And most importantly, 84% either forward, share or post tech-related videos. So Cisco started creating videos, over 1,000 new videos a year.

Too expensive? Think again. You don’t need the production values of a DTC commercial or a MOA video. According to Cisco’s Leslie Drate,“it doesn’t really matter how much we spend on producing the video. The results for what we spend $100,000 on could be similar to what we spend $1,000 on. It just has a lot to do with content and audience.”

B-to-B all-star companies keep up with their customer information seeking habits. They adopt the technology their customers use to market to them. It is even possible in health care. Check out GE Healthcare’s YouTube Channel. Or better yet….

  1. Try a social media pilot program. Provide either a telesales rep or payer national accounts manager with a Facebook page. Levels of access to information can easily be controlled. Content could include interesting stories related to your therapeutic area, patient support material or journal articles. According to a QuantiaMD study cited in Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News, over 65% of physicians use social sites for professional purposes.
  2. Get into the video business. Evaluate all your printed materials and determine what makes sense as a video. Distribute the video widely, especially on YouTube. The Google algorithm favors social media such as YouTube and Facebook over other online media properties.

Encyclopedia Britannica: the Playbook for Pharma Business Model Evolution

You can’t actually buy physical encyclopedia anymore. That’s what makes the Encyclopedia Britannica story so relevant for Pharma. The company blew up its 244 year-old business model to adapt to the changing marketplace. In the HBR blog post entitled, “Encyclopaedia Britannica’s President on Killing Off a 244-year-old product,” by Jorge Cauz, the company president tells the tale of how the company evolved from a reference product business into a “full-fledged learning business.”

Their evolution involved….

  1. Moving to a digital product. Encyclopedia Britannica offers now is a complete online suite of educational support products as well as an online store of DVDs, books, online reference books and software. 
  2. Shifting focus to an institutional customer group. Over time, Encyclopedia Britannica’s core customer group evolved from individual consumers to school systems.
  3. Switching to a new sales channel: Encyclopedia Britannica’s most painful transformation was to eliminate the 2,000 person sales force in favor of direct marketing. 
  4. Bringing in new skill sets.  As Encyclopedia Britannica went digital, they found they needed a different editorial staff that could convey information using multimedia and interactivity.
  5. Continuing evolution.  Encyclopedia Britannica did not stumble upon their magic business formula out of the gate. Encyclopedia Britannica tried CD-ROMs, an online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, selling subscriptions, free ad-supported consumer encyclopedias and a learning portal before developing their online education business.


So how can Encyclopedia Britannica’s transformation guide Pharma’s increasingly urgent need to transform it’s business model? Here are some thought starters:

  1. Recalibrate your customer investment portfolio. Calculate or estimate what percentage of your brand’s business is really driven by institutions such as payers and hospital groups versus individual physicians. Are you truly matching your investments to opportunities?
  2. Evaluate your sales channels. If your customer focus is shifting, shouldn’t your sales channels change too? There is no question that pharma has reduced the size of the field forces it employs. The real question is whether the industry has been aggressive enough in embracing multi-channel marketing.
  3. Double your digital. According to a study by Publicis/Razorfish Healthcare, 35% of HCPs feel sales reps should use iPads. Isn’t it time to break the print habit? Develop a strategy to help motivate your marketers and sales people to increase their digital adoption curve.
  4. Assess your workforce. Seems to me that the evolution of pharma into a more patient focused business would require an infusion of new abilities. For example, adding customer service and compliance experts to your staffing model.
  5. Allocate a sacrosanct budget for innovation. Here is where pharma marketing and sales have really missed the boat. In most marketing departments, there is little focus on keeping up to date with customer preferences and technological advances. A more structured approach needs to be taken to a) figuring out what are the most promising communication and service innovations and b) identifying appropriate pilots.

Thank you for letting us share!