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My product in 2008 - PA or PR?

As Plato said: The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. Why, asks Nick May, is public affairs so often the long, lost second cousin in the marketing mix?

Healthcare delivery has altered greatly over the past decade, both in the UK and globally. So much has changed in the intervening years: the difference between the marketplace of 1998 and the one in which we operate today is so stark it can be likened to working in a different universe. Let's cast our minds back to some 1998 stats:

  • Google Inc was founded by two students - it now has a market value of over $100bn.
  • About 10 per cent of UK households had an internet connection. In 2008 this has risen to more than 60 per cent.
  • In 1998 Viagra was first approved as a treatment for impotence in the US - 10 years later it can be bought over the counter at Boots.

    Back in 1998, what would your projected sales figures have been and how would you have achieved your targets? Let's now take a brief look at the changes in the pharma marketplace that impact on the way you meet your current targets?

    Let's say that you have a product that is effective, meets a need, and will satisfy doctors and patients. Furthermore it is available at a price that is a carefully calculated premium over the competition, thus providing a margin that fits nicely in the budget profit and loss. Now here's the rub. Even if the patient wants your product - and the doctor wants to use it - what arethe chances of it being prescribed? What has really happened in this intervening 10-year period to clinicians' freedom to choose?

    It is the barriers to such decisions that have changed our marketing communications. In 2008, these barriers are wholly economic.

    The budget holder's decision is now primarily based on cost, who is going to pay, and what other options are available that would achieve the same result and at the same price? If the cheaper option is used will anyone notice? And, if they buy this product will it make them look good or bad? Added to which, the policymaker will also consider whether this is appropriate activity to support and how it compares with other availabile options? Both the budget holder and policymaker can tell the doctor what to do. And both can tell the patient and the public what they want them to understand.

    We can now begin to see that clearer communication between these groups is what our current public affairs and public relations activities should really be about. A critical look at the decision pathway and the influencers will define the vital steps and the 'must achieve' stages of the integrated communications plan. There is no point in directing support and marketing resources at a clinician if the clinician cannot use that particular medication.

    Much effort is placed on HTAs, pricing, clinical data and economic value delivered per pound sterling, which are hard and objective. But there are also the criteria of judgement andopinion, motivation and agenda, personal and impersonal. This brings us back firm and square to the fact that communications activities must deliver against the objectives.

    As a last comment, Jay Leno is reported to have said: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak.

    The Author
    Nick May
    is head of healthcare EMEA at Hill & Knowlton. he can be contacted at or on +44 (0)20 7413 3123

    Innovative Thinkers in healthcare PR - a special supplement from PMGroup

  • 14th June 2008


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