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Smart Thinking blog

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

Building and maintaining good relationships

Why honesty and openness are key

Building relationships

On 14 February postmen, restaurants and florists are busy as many people use the date to catalyse new relationships or reaffirm their commitment to an existing one.

In the age of online dating, the evening out might be the first face-to-face meeting, having swiped right and engaged in some subsequent adventurous online conversations.

Was all the charm and sophistication on the night just a well-rehearsed show, or is that the true nature of your date? Then of course, that’s just the beginning. If you move to the next stage, ensuring a relationship’s success and longevity takes continued effort.

Is the pitch process to start a new relationship with an agency much different? And how do both partners ensure their relationship stays fresh? With members from both pharma and agency, pitching and relationships are common topics of discussions within the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA).

It is interesting that the advice for Valentines’ couples and the advice for business relationships are surprisingly similar in places. So, what are a few of those tips, and are we practising them?

Honesty and openness are key

The HCA recently updated our Pitching Code of Conduct, a guide for industry and agency. With contribution from pharmaceutical representatives from marketing, communications and procurement, as well as healthcare communication agencies, one of the areas reinforced in the code was the importance for all parties to be open and honest.

For the agency, this involves being honest about resources and capabilities and not being afraid to decline a pitch, something clients suggest is more likely to make them consider the agency again in the future. Clients similarly accepted the need to be more open around the reasons for and the size of the pitch opportunity.

Also, that feedback after the pitch is forthcoming and honest. Agencies cannot learn and improve if they are just told they were a close second, however well they performed.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In choosing a new agency partner the need for good communication and interaction from all stakeholders is essential. The Pitching Code of Conduct again emphasises this, yet surprisingly, a recent PM Society survey found that 70% of agencies stated that during the pitch process, although they talked on the phone, they only met the client once face-to-face, at the pitch itself. Just like the well-rehearsed first date, some agencies are exceptionally good at pitching.

As a client you surely want better insight into what they are like as a long-term partner? More interaction during the pitch process, including a visit to agencies’ offices, meeting and getting a feel for the extended team, can certainly provide greater insight in making this choice.

Similarly, for the agency the opportunity to communicate with the whole cross-functional team during the process helps ensure all stakeholder needs are appropriately considered in its response.

Once in the relationship, the regularity and format of our communication is also important. The right balance of email, phone and face-to-face is key. A predominance of one, at the expense of the others, can be detrimental.

However much of a digital world we now live in, personal interaction and indeed time ‘getting to know’ each other outside the immediate job in hand are critical in building and maintaining a good relationship.

Support each other through the ups and downs

In successful relationships both parties share and take ownership of the challenges they face; in fact they get through them better by doing so. Another of the HCA’s recently published reports, Cannes or Canned, provides recommendations for opening up innovation in our sector and highlights the importance of instilling a culture of experimentation and learning.

We can learn from things that don’t go as expected, so we should not be afraid to be honest in communicating these and aim to learn from them, rather than ascribe blame. However, this is only achieved when both partners subscribe to the same philosophy.

How a client acts with the agency in challenging times can also have a knock-on effect. Clients want the best people in the agency working on their account and to keep a stable agency team.

The best people want to work in agencies and with clients where they feel supported and appreciated, and as a consequence will give back more to that relationship. So, a client’s reputation within an agency in this regard can be relevant in terms of who works on the account and how individuals will approach the work.

Give your relationship an ‘MOT’

If you have an existing relationship between client and agency, don’t take it for granted. When schedules are busy it is easy just to plough on. forgetting to check that all is going well and to recognise all that is going well.

Finding the perfect partner takes significant time and effort, so surely it is worth the continued investment to help ensure the relationship stays at its best? Just like Valentine’s day, it’s important to take the opportunity to remind each other that things are going well and why you are so good together.

Article by
Mike Dixon

CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and a communications consultant

25th February 2020

From: Marketing

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