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Where is the future for pharma marketing?

Publicis’ Sam Welch on global shifts in the industry
publicis Sam-Welch

The changes within the pharmaceutical industry show no signs of abating as financial pressures - whether from the decline of the traditional blockbuster or the rise of cost-containment measures - press down on companies.

As this year's phoenix-like rise of the mega-merger trend proves, the industry continues to fundamentally rethink how it does business and its approach to marketing is no exception.

Someone with a global perspective on these changes is Sam Welch, Publicis Healthcare Communications' global group president, and I caught up with him recently to find out how pharma's marketing and communications requirements are shifting.

What are the key movements you see on both the pharma side and does that effect the agency world?
Sam Welch: Clients are very much centralising how they approach marketing and promotion and strategy, and as a result we are as well.

What we now focus on is really building strong global hubs - New York, Shanghai and London - and then ensuring that we still have a significant agency presence in local markets.

Our overall structure has shifted to be much more global hubs focused on big brand, pan-European strategy, global strategy, and in the local markets much more of a channel implementation.

How big a change is 'digital' for the industry?
Sam: Everyone will point to digital, but I think it's broader than that. With the influx of digital into all of our agencies, it's a great tool, but it's just a tool and many agencies are flying blind in terms of implementation. They don't have a real understanding of where their customers are integrating with media in the market.

In order to make sure that we are really thinking strategically about our promotional strategies, we have invested very heavily in the reintegration of media and analytics into the agencies.

That's one of the biggest trends we have focused on over the last 12-24 months - making sure that in addition to digital as kind of a baseline - and we're going to assume that all of our agencies have strong digital capabilities now - there is a build-out of strong media and analytics capabilities within them, so that when they actually get to the point of putting promotional strategies in front of clients, they're not just flying blind.

How do you see the different healthcare markets differing and who's leading the way?
Sam: It's actually amazing how similar and yet how different the markets are. The best way I can categorise it is that Asia is looking at the rest of the world and figuring out how it can get there as quickly as possible - and they're doing it.

China, for example, is probably second only to the US in terms of implementation of strong analytics-driven multichannel marketing. They have gone from 0 to 100 and they've said, 'You know what? We're going to skip that whole step in between.' They're just looking to say, 'Okay, where is the future? How do we get there tomorrow? And what do we need to build?'

They have a kind of a young marketing and strategic capability, but their sights are set on having the most mature and most forward-thinking capability as quickly as possible. So our office in Shanghai, for instance, the Saatchi office in Shanghai, is our second largest office next to the US, yet it is almost already at the US standards in terms of multichannel marketing, whereas our offices in the rest of the world are just not there yet, because the client bases aren't there yet.

But China is moving there as quickly as possible. They're just going to skip that whole middle step of maturity, growth. They're just saying, 'Yeah, that's for somebody else. That's not for us. We're just too big.'

Article by
Dominic Tyer

Dominic is editorial director at PMGroup

18th September 2014

From: Sales, Marketing

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