Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Why Our Metrics Don’t Add Up

Michel Nakache is a man with a mission. With over 35 years’ experience in the healthcare communications’ business, he believes there needs to be a step-change in the way agencies and their clients in pharma understand and measure the effectiveness of advertising and communications campaigns

Measuring effectiveness is a well-established practice in consumer marketing; following tried and tested methodologies to enable clients and their agencies to identify the most effective marketing communications channels and tools, in particular by discounting activities which may have impacted performance, but are not marketing communications.

In my experience of working outside the pharma sector with the European Commission, you would not even think of starting to plan a campaign without a full diagnosis of the current status, leading to a definition of appropriate goals, quantitative and qualitative measures of belief and behaviour change and a clear commitment to post-campaign analysis.

It sounds simple: set goals for behaviour change and then measure results to see how successful the campaign was and which elements contributed to success. But in more than 35 years in the pharma business, it's very rare to see this happen!

In the pharma sector, effectiveness is a goal rather than a practice. Effectiveness pervades every corner of our conversations with clients, but when they ask for effectiveness, they really mean more sales for less money. While sales and prescription rates are important, they are not the only benchmark of a campaign's effectiveness and they can be impacted by many different factors involving the sales force, pricing and distribution, competitive activity and a host of other variables. Not being able to separate these out means that the true impact of marketing communications cannot be properly understood.  

The reality is that we don't have standard practice in metrics – at either agency or client – and this leads to an exaggerated focus on simplistic analyses.

We know that, in contrast to OTC and consumer, on the prescription side impacts are much longer-term, so clients are under less pressure to invest in measurement. Within agencies there is a self-serving tendency to focus too much on 'look and feel' and not on quality of impact while conversely, clients often appear to look purely at sales. Yet, in between, there is a whole world of possibilities!

This lack of understanding and acceptance of qualitative research is especially apparent in the pitch process, where clients give much more information about key competitors, their position in the market, a lot of scientific information plus quantitative information on sales performance, number of prescriptions, target audience, etc. What agencies actually need is insights-driven information, for example, what physicians are thinking and why they prescribe one brand over another. Patients have a strong influence on physicians, but no usage pattern studies are provided.

As a result, agencies have to do their own research, but in a pitch process lasting no more than three to five weeks, there is no time to do this properly and all recommendations are therefore based on small samples and very basic questionnaires.

If clients did more pre-work on qualitative studies and at the end of the campaign to re-do qualitative studies in order to measure the success of the campaign in terms of belief and behaviour change, this would impact enormously on the quality of the work the agency created. Currently we see more and more pressure from clients to improve effectiveness without giving agencies the tools to do it. This ultimately leads to dissatisfaction and a constant cycle of pitches and agency changes.

So in short, we need to bring the discipline inherent in the consumer sector into the pharma sector. To change the current impasse there needs to be flexibility and understanding by both sides: pharma focussing on the whole marketing journey to check if agencies are performing across the board and agencies must focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and demonstrate why concept, messaging and channel choices are made and how they can be optimise.


Article by
Michel Nakache

executive VP Europe of McCann Health and a member of the EACA Health Communications Council

28th August 2012


COVID-19 Updates and Daily News

Featured jobs


Add my company

We’re a specialist health consultancy that supports companies, healthcare professionals and patients to work hand in hand with a common...

Latest intelligence

Stick or Twist? Healthcare brands in a (post) COVID-19 world
Stick or twist? Looking at the patient experience as we emerge from the COVID pandemic
Lockdown entertainment or healthcare revolution? The role of video games in healthcare