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Conversation everywhere, but ‘in real life’ too

Technological advances have made it easier for client–agency teams working in Europe and globally to connect but as social animals humans still get the best out of one another when they meet face-to-face

Relationships in real life

Although I was lucky enough to begin in the healthcare communication business during the first faltering steps of the internet, and to have experienced the considerable evolutions of the client–agency relationship over the last 20 years, I do not feel nostalgic as in 'it was better before'. The world evolves, the rules of the business too, 'c'est la vie', but it is also very exciting.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a client about significant challenges marketing executive teams have to solve. You can imagine how many topics were on the table. Trying to conclude with some 'take away messages', it appears that, above all known issues, relationships are key.

Moreover, as relationships permeate every aspect of our professional lives, it was interesting to see that parallel situations exist between pharma companies and physicians (or other stakeholders) and pharma companies and network agencies. Could these similarities lead to common solutions?

It's obvious that the blockbuster model and huge field forces are behind us. Today, we have to deal with a variety of stakeholders including physicians, pharmacists, payers and sometimes patients. Beyond face-to-face, we can reach them anywhere, at anytime and through so many channels that we are all familiar with – websites, e-mail, SMS, banners, mobile Apps, social media – with new ones coming to market every day.

We all like to talk about our brands, but do we listen enough?
But channels and tactics won't do all the work. Pharma companies must engage their customers in a better conversation to drive commercial success. We all like to talk about our brands, but do we listen enough? Recent research shows that dynamic and engaging content, linked to closed loop marketing (CLM), allow sales representatives to have richer interactions with their customers, to personalise the conversation and even reopen doors for face-to-face visits.

Whatever the channel, building true relationships is a two-way process and has to be improved upon. This is crucial today because of declining physician access, pricing pressure from payers, regulatory constraints and increasing competition for speciality drugs.

Pharma marketers have to consider seriously the benefits of building long-term relationships with their customers, as it will without doubt engender increased trust and confidence, not only for the brand, but also for the company itself. And trust is key in any relationship.

In the same way, pharma companies need to be in a trustful and open relation with network agencies. Based on various surveys and research, client–agency relationships are one of the most complex in the business environment, requiring a substantial level of collaboration to be effective.

With the expanding use of email, tele/videoconference, instant messaging…, mediated human communication is now the main channel of interpersonal communication between client and agency. The impacts of new communication technologies, and the factors that influence them, have been the focus of much research in the last decade. As a result, for clients working with their agencies at a European or global level, it creates 'virtual teams'.

Virtual teams could be considered as groups of individuals collaborating in the execution of a specific project while located at multiple individual sites or multiple group sites. The development of trust among members of a team is an important contributor to virtual team effectiveness, as trust builds social capital and encourages knowledge sharing, positive collaboration and coordination. Face-to-face teams may originally begin with higher levels of trust, while trust in virtual teams may take longer.

Some executives prefer face-to-face communication. Why?
If some researchers considered that computer-mediated communication will increasingly replace business-related travel, some executives prefer face-to-face communication. Why is that?

Because having a face-to-face conversation with someone means having a number of factors that help to get the message across. We can mix eye contact, body language and vocal inflection. But most important is the ability to correct miscommunication immediately. Human interaction is beneficial and vital to networking, bonding and building relationships. It is an integral part of our daily business, particularly when sharing creativity for an integrated campaign comes with fresh and new ideas at multiple touchpoints.

It is also true, very early on, in the pitching process. Engaging conversations 'in real life' will foster understanding and cohesion. Marketing a global brand involves a global marketing team, controlling strategic and creative developments, with input from local teams.

Both on the client and agency side, multicultural competencies must be developed to be at once focused, driven and people-oriented in order to overcome the challenges associated with adjustments that are inevitably expected once work crosses national and cultural boundaries.

Once again, face-to-face meetings through engaging in conversations 'in real life' will foster understanding and cohesion as they recognise the value of cultural diversity. The organisation of work becomes more productive, with outcomes that are positive and creative.

Lastly, it gives every person involved the ability to be both with the team as a whole, and with each team member as an individual.

Social interaction
Socialising might be a good way to communicate as people tend to open up more when you interact with them on a personal level.

In our business world, LinkedIn could be considered as a powerful relationship-building tool. Of course, social media is big and growing, but here also, most relevant conversations still take place offline, primarily face-to-face, in the real world where people live and interact.

How many fresh ideas, based on multiple experience, expertise and knowledge can flourish during a short meeting, breakfast or lunch? From these observations, we created the Indigenus Forum that brings together pharmaceutical industry leaders from around the world for open debate and discussion.

The first meeting in the series was held in London, and we were very surprised at the success among senior marketing and procurement professionals. As a proof of concept, it was agreed that a two-way information flow is essential and good chemistry between teams is the key.

The Health Communications Council (HCC) at the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) will support any initiative to help broker new conversations with pharma companies. Our world has changed and partnering is also about teamwork. Scientific evidence reveals that we, as humans, are fundamentally social beings for whom social influence determines nearly every decision we make. And the greatest impact comes when those conversations happen face-to-face, as emotions and non-verbal cues are communicated along with words.

It is clear that real conversation leads to better business success. Both pharma companies and agencies have to listen to each other, invest time and meet as much as they can.


Article by
Andre Darmon

 is president of Strategik & Numerik, Founding member of Indigenus and vice-chairman of the European Association of Communications Agencies - Health Communications Council (EACA-HCC)

27th January 2013

From: Marketing



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