This could easily be one of those articles that is all about how strategy is vital; how if you don't plan where you are going, then you plan for failure, or similar such trite sayings. But they are boring and not much fun, and there have been too many of them recently to be of any value now.
Instead I would like to celebrate a bit. It's been a while, if I am honest, since pharma campaigns were intellectually challenging creatively – they have become too much about sign-off procedures and purchasing quibbles, with little new thinking or variety. The main challenge has been to try to continue to be creative in the face of complete disinterest in ideas from the cost-cutters who commission the work.
It is now possible to do something quite dramatic with your sales aid electronically
The worst kind of phone call goes something like: “We need a sales aid, leavepiece, mailer and congress stand and we want it at the lowest cost possible. And it is using the same references as before, so it shouldn't be difficult or take you long. But we want a dramatic refresh – some sort of new approach that will re-invigorate the salesforce and produce a dramatic sales uplift, though you can't change the visuals and there is no new data.” This is of course results in the same sales aid as before, with a slight tweak.
But now the advent of digital into pharma (finally!) means the job is getting complicated and interesting again. It is now possible to do something quite dramatic with your sales aid electronically, which will make customers at last understand your product's point of difference. On the flip side, it is also possible to waste all of your money on a silly piece of technology that is out of date and boring: something that no one remembers or even sees.
And to add to the fun, because it is digital, this time there will be figures recording this glorious failure that you might have to report upwards at the end of the year.
Many companies prefer to spend more money on closed loop marketing (CLM) platforms that offer as little useful information as they do creative ideas to persuade their customers. This can result in static presentations on an iPad that do little more than the paper sales aid did, but at a much higher cost. It is easy to forget in the rush to convert to digital that it often requires more creativity than print, as its absence is more apparent.
And with digital the risk doesn't stop there. If you are given bad advice, you can go further and really mess up the potential of your brand by spending a lot of money on a disease awareness site that no one attributes to the brand, and therefore has little or no effect. Similarly, a patient app that is too complicated to use and you have no money to promote will end up with very few users. It happens far too often and it is such a waste of resources.
What agencies need to offer to overcome this is first of all the ability to produce digital in-house, so they understand not only how to produce what you need, but also whether it is really worth having. They then need to plan this into a mix with other media in a cohesive way to ensure it is both seen and appreciated.
Going digital means that the process of proper planning of both messages and campaigns is once again useful in healthcare in the same way that it is now vital in consumer media and campaign planning.
On behalf of all those bored doctors and tired reps out there who have endured dull campaigns for the last five years or so, may I say 'about time too!'