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Bespoke approach

As markets mature, various tactical applications can be employed that cater directly to customer needs

Swiss army knifeWhen I first started working in medical education over 10 years ago, clients wanted sponsored supplements, advisory boards and a bit of key opinion leader management. In addition, August and December were considered the traditional quiet months.

Times have changed and medical education is very much a growth area with increasing budget being allocated to this element of the marketing mix. The reasons for this are varied, but it certainly feels as if the end of the blockbuster era has contributed to the increase in demand for medical education programmes.

There are certainly less new drugs coming onto the market. In 2006, a mere 23 new drugs were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), compared to 114 in 1996.

Many of the most exciting and innovative products being launched are highly technical secondary and tertiary care products

The pharmaceutical industry is also moving from being a primary-care-focused market in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, driven by large marketing budgets behind a relatively small number of big brands, to a more specialist market where great value can be obtained from a larger number of more niche products.

Many of the most exciting and innovative products being launched are highly technical secondary and tertiary care products where advertising and PR certainly have a place, but the complex messages and data are best delivered by tailored educational programmes.

In addition, the market is more complex than in primary care, with highly skilled clinicians working at the cutting edge of medical boundaries and the widespread use of many drugs in off-licence indications.

Patients are also being encouraged to become experts themselves and take ownership of their conditions which, in tandem with the ever-increasing might of the media, means that there is also a lot of work to be done in managing expectations - both of patients and prescribers.

This has been clearly illustrated by drugs such as Herceptin, which quickly became a household name and is, quite literally, seen by some as a cure for cancer. However, in reality only a specific patient population will be suitable for treatment, and funding through the NHS will be limited.

Medical education, in particular, has the power to deal with many of these issues. The core value of any medical education campaign is to understand the needs of the customer and create a programme that appeals directly to these needs, while also delivering the brand's key messages.

The tactical applications are many and varied. We certainly still produce sponsored supplements and run advisory boards, but there's a whole lot more on offer too. We have seen increasing influence from global offices in pharmaceutical advertising, but in medical education and PR, this influence is much more limited as the issues are different in each affiliate country.

The digital age has offered us many new platforms from which to deliver more innovative and interactive programmes. Taking the core value of producing a programme that appeals directly to the needs of a customer, these new digital platforms are very valuable as they allow individual users access to the information and education that is most relevant to them, while still being exposed to core brand ideals. Examples of this include web casts, web or CD-based distance learning programmes and the use of RSS feeds.

Another very traditional element of the marketing mix that has been central to medical education is working with professional bodies, be it via a satellite symposium, an exhibition stand or inviting key personnel to be members of an advisory group.

As companies look to maximise their income, more time and effort is being spent on extending the life of existing 'mature' brands

Joint working initiatives can be implemented and will be of benefit to both customers and clients. For example, the British Junior Cardiologists Association (BJCA) - the professional body representing cardiology specialist registrars (SpRs) throughout the UK - has been of great value when developing strategy around the marketing of a brand throughout its lifecycle. Today's SpRs are tomorrow's opinion leaders. Working with a committee of physicians is not always easy, but establishing this relationship has been of benefit to both the BJCA and industry participants.

BJCA has around 600 SpR members from all over the UK, spanning all years of training, with diverse educational needs and interests. Changes over the past two years have left SpR training in all disciplines in a state of flux.

Modernising Medical Careers is a government initiative that was launched in 2003 to cut the length of time it takes for junior doctors to reach consultant level from 14 to 11 years. The initiative experienced major problems with the SpR recruitment process in 2007, both with the way candidates' applications were processed and with how interviews were granted, and because of a disparity between the number of training posts and candidates applying.

In 2007, over 30,000 junior doctors applied for 20,000 jobs. Such events have left BJCA's members, in common with all junior doctors, in a state of chaos.
The BJCA committee has thus been actively searching for ways to support its members and provide them with a collective voice. Online surveys that gather members' views on a variety of topics are helpful in this regard. The results can be used to lobby for change and a better deal for cardiology SpRs.

The BJCA also runs an annual conference that attracts over 150 SpRs. It is designed to provide information, advice and support via a series of lectures and workshop sessions over a 2-day period.

Not only does the conference play an important role in the dissemination of information pertinent to training, it also provides a forum through which trainees can highlight relevant issues and concerns. It provides a great opportunity for pharma to interact with the prescribers of today and opinion leaders of tomorrow.

The BJCA now has a range of educational offerings for its members - what started as an annual conference has developed into a programme of events that includes research awards, educational meetings and surveys. Additional programmes are in development.

Having a medical education agency as the interlocutor in this relationship benefits both the BJCA and sponsor companies, as both are able to talk to the medical education agency about their objectives for a given project before coming together to work out the finer details.

Medical education aims simply to help both parties get the best from the relationship, which may equate to having an exhibition stand at the annual conference, but is more likely to be a joint-working initiative with multiple outputs.

In the current economic climate there is an increasing need for all businesses, including the pharmaceutical industry, to increase effectiveness and seek additional revenue streams.

This, coupled with the reduction in primary care blockbuster products, has led to increased emphasis on maintaining growth of more mature brands.

These mature brands are estimated to provide 50-80 per cent of a company's revenue, but often they have not been actively managed. This is changing. As companies look to maximise their income, more time and effort is being spent on extending the life of existing 'mature' brands.

There are, of course, many challenges for mature brands. Something as simple as maintaining the attention of your customers is a challenge for a mature brand when there is no new data to work with.

Initiatives designed to drive brand loyalty and depth of prescribing through long-term customer relationships are required. Again, this is where many marketers have turned to medical education.

In these situations it is vital that agencies work together for the good of the brand to ensure that goodwill and positive thinking developed by one element of the marketing mix is translated across the rest of the campaign.

Historically, many agencies have been reluctant to collaborate in this way, seeing each other as competing for the same budget.

While this may be a valid argument in the short term - there is significant overlap in the offerings of medical education, PR and creative agencies - a more realistic approach is to work together to grow the brand and thereby grow the marketing budgets that are likely to become available in future years.

Initiatives designed to drive brand loyalty and depth of prescribing through long-term customer relationships are required

Inter-agency working and communications should be made the responsibility of each agency working on the brand. It is only by taking responsibility and being measured on their effectiveness in this task that true collaboration will be achieved.

Much has been written in the past on the pros and cons of appointing individual agencies to manage advertising, PR, medical education etc, as opposed to working with one integrated agency.

Ultimately, the choice will be made by the individual brand manager and will be based on personal opinion and experiences. However, inter-agency collaboration will certainly be easier for all concerned if an integrated agency is the agency of choice.

AUTHOR: Gail Rowe

19th February 2008


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