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Jack of all trades

Working at small companies and on specialised products can help you to become adept at a wider range of activities across the marketing mix

If you only ever want to work in medical education, public relations or advertising, then working in a large brand team where you only have exposure to that is fine. However, if you want to be able to work on strategic plans or be involved to a greater degree in the life cycle management of a product then you need exposure to these roles, and working in a smaller environment can be a good way to gain these skills.

It is true to say that at larger companies you may not get the chance to write your own strategic plan and broaden your skills set. In a big team, you are more likely to be a dedicated member of staff with a certain job description.

I hear from contemporaries who work on blockbusters that I have much more strategic responsibility, providing a more comprehensive knowledge of marketing. This can be a major advantage in the ever-changing world of healthcare marketing.

You need to be able to look at your immediate environment and assess which are the key issues to address, what are the critical success factors and what tactics do you have to design to address them? Having identified these questions, you need to be able to have the freedom to harness internal support and external agencies to make these success factors happen.

Those of you with aspirations of moving into a more general role and a more senior management position within pharmaceutical marketing have to gain responsibility for everything on that particular brand quite early on in your career, as well as being given autonomy. In pharmaceutical marketing, people quite often start out their careers as a field rep and then they move to a brand.

Often, it is not until they have worked on the brand for five years or so that they realise that all of their experience is focused on just one part of the marketing mix.

Working within a small company, or indeed a small division of a large company, enables you to gain experience across the board much earlier on - the same can be said for many industry sectors. It is this combination of autonomy and diversity that makes the job stimulating and helps you to develop skills earlier in your career than perhaps would have happened elsewhere.

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The added diversity is, in part, due to the number of people that may be working on a particular brand. If you compare the brand team for a treatment in a large disease area, such as hypertension, with a more specialised area, like haemophilia, the number of people involved will be vastly different.

The idea of added diversity and responsibility may seem daunting to someone moving across from a large brand team but while there is no doubt that it is challenging, it can be very rewarding.

There are usually plenty of people with wide ranging experiences who are willing to help and advise, and there is often someone who has encountered an issue you may be facing, or has been involved in a similar initiative previously. that can provide you with guidance and advice.

Thoroughly modern marketer

The real skill of a marketer in the modern healthcare industry is not getting the best out of one PR agency, but knowing how best to hit your critical success factors by selecting the correct internal resources and external agencies.

In a smaller company, or brand team, you may well end up developing some projects on a smaller budget than you would like, but you can still work with the right people. It just means that, rather than doing a widespread media and advertising campaign, you need to be more targeted in your approach; understanding, for instance, that you may get a better return on investment by running a series of local meetings. It is up to you to decide how best to hit your critical success factors.

Bigger companies tend to have four to six people on brand teams. There may be separate teams for GP campaigns and different people working on medical education and PR.

Yet, in truth, the campaigns are intrinsically linked and need to have a common theme in order to be able to succeed. When you have total responsibility for a brand you can also react to things more quickly and so have a more agile approach to the marketplace.

The result is that, when the time for promotion comes, those responsible won't just look externally, they will be more able to recruit internally because you will have the experience needed to progress to the next level.

This is often what happens with smaller companies, whereas in larger organisations middle management and senior management are often brought in from outside, as other members of the brand team do not always have the necessary breadth of skills to take on the added responsibilities because they have concentrated on specific areas of the marketing mix in their role.

This presents companies, particularly those that are small-to medium-sized, with a challenge when it comes to recruiting.

In trying to push for blockbuster drugs the market and the industry has become very segregated and, as a result, may be doing itself out of the next layer of middle management.

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Matchmaker

The skill in operational marketing is matching the activities to the objectives of the brand and what is going to give you the biggest return on your investment. In honesty, this changes from brand to brand and the only real way to be in a position to determine the best overall marketing mix is to have experience in a broad range of activities within the mix.

If you are part of a brand team, you may very well be excellent at medical education but have limited knowledge of NHS procurement pathways. You may have no experience of lobbying, but are adept at running a promotional campaign.

The limits in your experience can blinker your choices if asked to determine the overall mix for a brand. It is better, therefore, to have experience of a wide range of activities, across the whole marketing mix, as you will know what you are likely to be able to achieve with each initiative.

This puts you in a better position to determine the best approach for a particular brand, and allows you to determine where it is useful to bring in external people and where to use internal resources to deliver the return that you are after.

Working in a specialised area

One of the really exciting areas for the future of pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical marketing has to be specialised products. The NHS is always looking at funding as a cash strapped organisation where GP and blockbuster drugs are under continual scrutiny.

With reforms looming, locality comissioning based on GP practices is likely to give primary care doctors greater influence, and medicines that require GP prescription now need a very different approach to how they were traditionally marketed. A specialised environment has greater flexibility and more chances to succeed.

For some products in a specialised disease area, it can mean getting involved in some issues that you would be less likely to experience at other companies. Working on these specialised products also means you have a much closer relationship with your end customers, an experience which is rare in most disease areas. While working on haemophilia, I have actually been to a centre and had 12 year olds learning to inject themselves by practicing finding veins on my arms. This type of contact means you are less likely to be detached from your customers and lose touch with your own marketplace. Again, this leads to an understanding of the issues that need to be addressed in the environment.

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Similarly, a brand manager in that environment is also able to have a relationship with all of the key opinion leaders, instead of relying on a salesforce to do it.

Opinion leaders who drive change in the ways that larger markets treat patients will be greater in number and, therefore, it can be difficult to develop relationships with all of the people who matter.

In a more specialised community, such as within haemophilia, the number of doctors is small in comparison, which enables me to develop strong relationships with key physicians. If I have a query, our relationships are strong enough for me to speak to them directly and get their opinion. I can ask them whether a new policy will affect the market, or if the availability of a new technology is significant. This is a real bonus and an example of how working within a specialised disease area has its advantages.

Additionally, with smaller products you may well work on more than one brand at a time. In my previous job, I worked on three different brands at once, all of which were in different stages of their life cycles. This was a very interesting time because I had to focus on different parts of the marketing mix for each product.

hands on experience

There are very specific market dynamics involved with a specialised product. In particular, the specialist nature of the drug and the condition it treats will result in some distinctive considerations that will not apply to other disease areas.

A prime example from the haemophilia community is the fact that safety is a particularly important concern to patients. The haemophilia community was seriously affected by contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s due to the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. With the discovery of the potential for transmission of variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease via blood, the provision of safe treatments is a vital concern, which can greatly affect the dynamic and requires careful consideration.

These dynamics can also have an effect on the policy decisions of the government as this is a very specialised area that involves more complicated commissioning.

Because of the history of treatment and current concerns over safety, haemophilia is quite a political environment. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage, but above all, it is a key consideration for the marketing team.

We need to be very cognisant of the government's future plans for our area, and be able to respond accordingly to any changes in policy.

The Author
Craig Dixon is group product manager, haemophilia, at Baxter Bioscience

2nd September 2008

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