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Partnership in progress

Agency and pharma need to re-evaluate how they work together

Does the power of a unified global agency network behind a global brand stifle local market initiatives? The debate continues...

This time last year in the lead article to the Showcase of advertising agencies, Régis Gandelon and Dominic Owens debated the never-ending issue of 'global versus local' approaches to branding and communications initiatives, and discussed the relative merits of a global agency versus local champion. They came to opposing conclusions, but both made interesting and valid statements.

How about discussing their points from a slightly different perspective? Let's see if we agree upon a couple of end goals.

The most important goal for agencies and our clients, can still be summed up in one line – much used by Sudler & Hennessey in its self-promotion campaigns: "We build molecules into brands".

Agencies must be client-oriented. If actual or potential clients are looking for an efficient communication network, we must evolve in this direction by creating that network and making it work. If our clients are attempting to make global cost savings in relation to their professional communications, we must be able to guarantee a winning formula that will not compromise the value of our deliverables, such as creativity, strategy and local market knowledge.

On top of this we must take on board all the changes that have occurred in pharma during the past few years and some of the lessons learned from consumer markets – where the brand globalisation versus localisation issue was faced many years ago.

Most clients prefer to work with one advertising and communications network – the same agency network working centrally on the development of international branding and partnering locally with their affiliates. This can be a one-agency network or a 'holding' network, depending on the workload, the number of brands that will need to be handled and the size of the company. However, in reality the feasibility of this approach depends almost entirely on the network's actual capability.

If the current trend continues, it would perhaps make sense to evolve to a single communications network with a fully integrated approach that goes beyond pure promotional work. This is likely to take a global rather than a European approach, irrespective of the fact that the US market is now even more different from the European one. This may change if the US pharmaceutical market experiences sudden growth or crisis but, in the meantime, this will result in a procurement-driven (rather than marketing-driven) model. Given that the US pharmaceutical market demands continual cost saving this will be the direction our clients are going to take over the next few years.

What 'magic formula' should agencies be using to meet their clients demands? The solution could centres-of-excellence and local experts working together.

Centres-of-excellence must be outstanding in their a global/international/regional perspective, but also in their creativity, medical education, public relations and digital expertise. They are experienced senior teams run by top professionals who are used to working together in truly international communication, that is neither US- or UK-centric. They are experienced in building global brands and also able to comprehend what, where, when and how to adapt global to local needs.

A truly effective network needs a 'backbone' of local experts used to speaking the same language, used to utilising the same tools and used to consistently collaborating in the implementation of international materials.

This requires the presence of senior agency professionals in the local markets with a profound knowledge of their region and with the ability to partner the local pharmaceutical client affiliate. These professionals must recognise the elements of a global brand campaign that need to be adapted and augmented to ensure the global campaign works within the local market and culture. They must also refrain from making changes for the sake of it.

Local market initiatives that are consistent with the global brand approach may include  creating local, tactical advertising and other projects that can reverse back up the 'chain' to become part of the global brand programme.

With the right experience in the global team and at local level, it is possible to create a virtuous circle to deliver the maximum value for the brand and the client.

This way, brand concepts can really become media-neutral, channel-neutral and country-neutral but be far from neutral in terms of efficacy. Executions can be tailored to the local markets, when necessary, yet remain consistent with the global strategy.

To establish this chimera that combines consistency and control with efficacy and efficiency requires a certain amount of progress from both sides. The agency has to mirror the evolution of its pharmaceutical clients, by sharing tools and education, to add value to its local offices and maintain a consistent level of excellence in every locality.

On the client side, we expect them to believe in the process they have created centrally, training and selling it to their local affiliates. They need to add value to the local collaboration, changing the philosophy and the distribution of fees to better balance international with local.

All of this would push agencies to evolve in a winning direction for their brands' success.

The Author:
Maurizio Mioli, CEO, Sudler & Hennessey Group, Italy
To comment on this article, email

6th January 2009


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