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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Has a world where we are ring fenced by financial and legal scrutiny brought us to a safe area where over-cautiousness prevails? Max Jackson reflects on those who contribute a colourful sense of ingenuity and bravado…

Maybe it's just me – but the ongoing crisis in Europe and the resignations that it has precipitated has generated something of a feeling of schadenfreude (glee) and also, surprisingly, of nostalgia. Berlusconi has gone, Zapatero is no longer and Sarkozy hangs on by a thread.

Surely no one can feel sorry for the passing of this trio of disaster-attracting egotists? In political terms, that has to be so – but the reality is that the world – and certainly the news – is poorer for the loss (even temporarily) of such larger-than-life characters.

And this thought has prompted me to think a bit about our industry and the parallels that we see with the world politics.  When I was first lucky enough to fall into this world many years ago, the one thing that was attractive and noticeable both on the industry and agency sides, was the abundance of larger- than-life characters.

These 'giants', seemingly by the power of their will alone, drove the businesses that they looked after. Examples of this are rife but the (perhaps apocryphal) story of Jean-François Dehecq (former CEO of sanofi-aventis) travelling all over the world with shopping bags full of French oil money, buying up dozens of potentially attractive businesses epitomises the flavour of the day.

In the agency world, the marquee names of European agencies were setting up shop, moving pharma communications from a sleepy backwater to an exciting place to be.

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but probably not – that the exciting, entrepreneurial growth phase of the industry and the agency world exactly coincided with these larger-than-life 'characters'. Risk-taking was considered brave rather than foolish, rules were pushed to their limits, and growth and prosperity was all around… or so it seemed.

Then, almost overnight the world changed. At some stage, what had been supporting services such as finance and legal began to rule the world. Major pharma giants felt that appointing personnel skilled in contract negotiations and patents was more important than getting the experience of battle-scarred industry veterans. And the agency world, ever anxious to follow the example of its clients, followed suit. The 'big' personalities have become rare, grey has become the new black, and life seems to be just that little bit less exciting. Bizarrely, the financial fortunes, both of client companies and agencies have followed this trend and flattened out as well.

Of course, it's preposterous to attribute the changes in financial fortunes of the industry to this major character shift. External forces have driven much of the change. But… you can't help but wonder, if some of the characters from the past had still been around, whether we might have seen a few more chances taken, some gambles paying off, and a completely more exciting and positive outlook for the industry.

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

29th November 2011


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