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Mixed messages

Marie Pickford shares her views on the importance of integrated communications

Marie Pickford"The times they are a-changing." Since I joined the world of medical communications, many moons ago, several fundamental elements have changed. Back then, multimedia solutions were in their infancy and even to discuss measurability was considered forward-thinking. Nowadays you're more likely to hear us discussing brick level return on investment (RoI) and the effect of the latest Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) amends than drafting monographs and detail aids. I believe the underlying need of the pharmaceutical industry in 2009 is clear: we don't just want to communicate with our customers, we want to influence them and measure that influence. As providers, if we are not able to measure the impact of solutions, it is difficult to demonstrate their benefit.

Effective communication
So, what exactly is communication? What changes the simple dissemination of messages into the effective communication of influential information? In my experience, the answer is simple, but its execution can be much more complicated.

Whichever format is employed, the key to successful communication is to tailor and target. In briefing meetings I have seen that it is all too tempting to get embroiled in discussing delivery formats but, in most cases, this emphasis on format is too strong. It is much more important in the initial stages to set clear objectives, discuss key messages and decide upon the target audience.

Although I am describing healthcare communications here, this process can – and should – be replicated in PR, media buying, medical communications and medical education. In fact, with an ever-decreasing pharmaceutical industry budget, I find there is a blurring of boundaries between these types of agency. Some PR agencies and media buyers are diversifying to enable provision of digital media and others are forming partnerships to capitalise on their combined reach.

Getting the process right
Whatever the message and whichever agency is employed, a successful campaign always follows the same structure:
• Uncover and assess the need through market research and competitor intelligence
• Identify the key audience, ie primary care, pharmacists, secondary care, tertiary care, payers/influencers or PCTs/SHAs/ICOs
• Set clear objectives, eg increase therapy area awareness, explain new guidelines or clinical data, provide product information, or change of licence etc
• Develop a strategy that takes research results, budget, time, existing marketing activity and the ABPI Code of Practice into account
• Decide on campaign delivery; will it be educational or promotional, off- or online? What are the targeting mechanisms and how can content be tailored to audiences and how can the different formats be integrated?
• Measure effectiveness through user figures and time spent interacting with the campaign, as well as the audience uptake of key messages
• Measure return on investment, eg referral figures, prescribing data and healthcare professional acquisitions.

I have seen several campaigns fall at the first hurdle because these points were not properly addressed. In some cases, clients were under time pressure and the focus became getting the campaign live by a certain date rather than optimising effectiveness. In other cases, budget cuts meant less work could be achieved but, in my experience, these challenges need not mean reduced efficacy.

Integration is key
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is reliance on one form of media to garner results. Most pharmaceutical products will have annual campaigns that include market research, print advertising, sales force materials and advisory boards. Some will have invested in digital media and may add in eDetails and online promotion as well. Unfortunately not all of these campaigns will have the desired effect. The deciding factor for success is integration and not limited budgets, time constraints or any other negative factor.

The most successful campaigns CMPMedica has run over the past few years have been fully integrated, with all elements of each campaign effecting one another. The overall value of these campaigns was always greater than the sum of their parts.

In addition to following the structure detailed earlier, CMPMedica always looks at the value of every aspect of the campaign and at what impact it will have on the outcome to ensure we are meeting client objectives. 

Online versus offline
I am not surprised at the move to digital as the preferred medium for communicating key messages. In the age of the dwindling sales force, digital solutions offer cost-effective and measurable ways to communicate with healthcare professionals. Many pharma companies have embraced online resources because it is increasingly difficult to gain face-to-face access to their customers. As many healthcare professionals are choosing to do their training and research online, it makes sense to reach them while they are looking for information.

The expansion of the social networking arena has not gone unnoticed. UK online resource providers are looking carefully at what is happening in the US with sites such as Sermo.com – a forum created by physicians to share medical insights. Will sites like this take off over here? I think that remains to be seen, as the UK market is so different, but viral marketing strategies should certainly be considered for all campaigns.

Digital communication should not be seen as the only way to access customers, however, and this is where integration is key. We found that 24 per cent of all traffic to our industry-sponsored online resources is 'typed in', meaning it is derived from print media. Spikes in user activity coincide with the publishing of promotional print media. This is a clear indication that to be successful, traffic-driving campaigns should include both on- and offline media.

Achieving truly cost-effective and successful integration comes back to tailoring and targeting the information to be conveyed. For example, by using our search engine, SearchMedica, we can offer keyword-targeted ad placements, meaning that the online creative appears every time the healthcare professional is looking for information in the relevant therapy area. This, in turn, leads to a very good click-through rate and is a good traffic driver. But what about those clinicians who do not use such sites? The answer is to communicate to each target group in the way that it prefers, whether this be via print ads, mailers, emails newsletters or peer-to-peer published discussions. 

Return on investment
The term RoI is bandied around in today's procurement department-driven project commissions. In e-marketing, completing an eDetail is often considered a success and, therefore, a measure of RoI. With digital solutions that follow a linear navigation, completions can be viewed as 'acquisitions' and it may follow that the user's prescribing habits are influenced, but the same is not necessarily true of non-linear solutions where the user decides the course of interaction. For this reason the number of completions does not give the whole story.

True RoI is the product of how each linked element of an integrated marketing campaign delivers towards the ultimate objective of increased product sales. The number of unique users of an online resource provides a snapshot of the campaign's success, but it does not present the full picture. A complete overview of unique users, user profiles, time spent, pages viewed, click stream tracking, geographical variance and exit points gives a good idea of how popular a campaign is with the required audience, although it does not show its absolute effect. The only way to do this is to overlay brick level prescription data on the online profile to show where the campaign has had an impact on scripts. This shows spikes in script volume that coincide with peaks in campaign and message uptake.

Few products have a simplistic enough marketing mix to be able to attribute pure RoI to any one element of the campaign but, by using the correct media to communicate and measuring all aspects throughout, I think we can get close.

The Author:
Marie Pickford has an honours degree in biological and medicinal chemistry and has worked in healthcare for 12 years. Following four years as a poisons information specialist at Guy's Hospital, she moved into medical communications as a writer and then account manager. Starting in publishing five years ago, Marie now heads the custom business division of CMPMedica UK, the publisher of Pulse and Practical Commissioning.
To comment on this article, email pm@pmlive.com

13th February 2009

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