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The Heart of the Matter 6 – to tweet or not to tweet?

Communication models have moved on – so why are parts of the pharmaceuticals industry stuck in the dark ages when it comes to adopting a truly multichannel approach in the pre-launch phase? All that Twitters is not gold, but it isn’t barred either.
Heart of the matter - part 6Communication models have moved on – so why are parts of the pharmaceuticals industry stuck in the dark ages when it comes to adopting a truly multichannel approach in the pre-launch phase? All that Twitters is not gold, but it isnʼt barred either.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Shakespeare, when the women’s roles were played by men and the audience had to stand up. These days, whether it’s theatre or communications, the stage is open to anyone and the audience doesn’t even have to leave home. All the world’s a stage. So where does the drug industry feature in the global playhouse of multichannel communications? It’s barely reached the end of Act I.

Itʼs fair to say that pharmaʼs view of social media is akin to a sixth-formerʼs reaction to a Shakespearean comedy – thereʼs an uncomfortable bewilderment that everyoneʼs speaking a foreign language. Pharma companies increasingly talk about exploring multichannel but, with the regulators whispering forever in their ears, many fall short of exploiting every channel. Their reluctance to leverage social media is fuelled by the fear that one stray post could, like the ghost of Banquo, return to haunt them. To tweet? Perchance to dream. For many, itʼs just not worth the toil and trouble.

Despite the understandable caution, the development of truly integrated communications strategies is critical to success in a changing environment. As such, fashioning a multichannel approach is high on the agenda of most pharmaceutical companies. “The industry has moved rapidly from the idea that everything needed to be digital to a recognition that digital is just one piece in a multichannel jigsaw,” says Richard Ashdown, Director, Technology & Multichannel Solutions, Caudex (part of McCann Complete Medical). “Thereʼs now widespread understanding that all channels need to be integrated, aligned and coherent – irrespective of whether theyʼre digital or not.”

Labours lost
Pharmaʼs implementation of multichannel has, rather like its definition of it, been variable. “Multichannel is widely perceived to focus on post-launch promotional activity, particularly the delivery of messaging to compliment salesforce/HCP interaction,” says Ceri James, Director of Innovation & Product Development at McCann Complete Medical. “But its scope extends well beyond that. Multichannel has a key role to play pre-launch in crucial scientific engagement. This must be optimised.”

The majority of money in a drugʼs lifecycle is spent prelaunch. Despite this, few companies are leveraging multichannel during this critical phase. “This is a lost opportunity; companies can do more to ensure that scientific data is shared amongst the academic and clinical community,” says Dominic Jack, Scientific Director, Caudex. “Thereʼs huge potential for multichannel scientific engagement where companies participate in ongoing scientific conversation with customers – centred around the specific media that they consume on a regular basis. This engagement, which focuses on the science rather than brand, is about engaging in the science and the data, itʼs not about off-label promotion. By consistently delivering scientific content thatʼs compelling and relevant to customers – at the right time and across the right channels – companies can forge sustainable long-term relationships with influencers and early adopters.”

The drivers for multichannel scientific engagement are many, but two stand out; the industryʼs proliferating customerbase and the evolution of traditional pre-launch channels.

Friends, Romans, countrymen…
Scientific engagement is not just engagement with scientists – it involves asking a range of influencers to ʻlend you their earsʼ. “There are many stakeholders involved in understanding and interpreting data as it emerges from RCTs or real world evidence. This broadly comprises prescribers, clinicians and patients,” says Ceri. “The payer community is key because there is often real overlap with physicians. Payers are looking for economic value – at both societal and individual level – but they canʼt establish that until they understand the clinical value. As a result, they tend to be disease area experts and eminent advisers whose root of expertise is often clinical.

“The pre-launch clinical community includes traditional clinicians and disease-specific stakeholders such as specialist nurses or pharmacists. Itʼs a multi-disciplinary environment that bridges the entire health ecosystem. Finally, the patient voice is becoming louder. Patient groups and advocates are now powerful online thought leaders in specific disease areas – and are deeply knowledgeable about the science.”

Is this a blogger I see before me?
The customer community has evolved, but so have the ways in which we consume information. This has impacted the industryʼs most traditional pre-launch channels; publications and conferences. “Pharma has commonly used journals and meetings to disseminate information to physicians. But those channels have moved with the times. Publications are no longer limited to print journals – theyʼre amplified by a variety of supplementary channels; websites, blogs, video, lay press and social. Moreover, digital has massively extended the life of a conference, providing opportunity for engagement before and after an event, as well as enabling live blogging and tweeting during it. There are now virtual versions that mean delegates donʼt have to attend an event but can still reap the same educational benefits,” says Ceri.

The industry has historically communicated with payers via face-to-face engagement to validate clinical and economic evidence generation. Its engagement with patient advocates has understandably been more conservative.

But itʼs time for pharma to progress beyond traditional methodologies and communicate via channels that now have greater currency and relevance. “Payers, patients and physicians, like consumers, routinely use digital devices. Weʼre in the era of the digitally native doctor. These channels are there to be explored. Are we doing enough to explore them? We can always do more – particularly pre-launch,” says Ceri.

Measure for measure
While digital is fast-becoming societyʼs mother tongue, itʼs not our only language. Pharmaʼs challenge is to understand the communication behaviours of all its customers and use it to secure the relevant alignment of content, channel and time. Itʼs not easy, but the process can be broken down into simple component parts.

McCann Complete Medical adopts a three-step process to mapping a multichannel campaign – the MAP model:
  • Mine your audience
  • Animate your content
  • Permeate across channels.
“Mining the audience is about understanding where your influential customers operate within their communities. Who are the key stakeholders and how can you build relationships with them?” says Ceri. “Nowadays weʼre able to find out much more about specific customers. This means we can segment them more effectively by a whole range of criteria – by channel, where they operate, who they influence, who they are influenced by and what their interests are. Once youʼve got that understanding you can begin planning your multichannel strategy and developing ʻstickyʼ content that will engage your audiences.”

Clinicians are naturally interested in data that emerges from RCTs. This can be used to spark discussions with influencers across the pathway pre-launch. Real world evidence similarly provides a plethora of opportunities for engagement. For example, patient registry data in the US may show the economic impact of a particular disease is different from common expectations. Alternatively, data from a competitor product may show adherence levels are lower than anticipated – and the economic impact is significant. These are examples where pre-launch engagement can demonstrate an understanding of the science and raise awareness of issues that may benefit your portfolio later down the line.

The trick is to make content engaging – so that stakeholders read and share it. “To create ʻstickyʼ content, companies need to be braver in choosing specific segments within each of their stakeholder areas. With better targeting and more effective segmentation, cross-functional brand teams can build on their forensic understanding of customers to develop resonant, compelling and engaging content. Outside pharma there are great examples of brands that have developed quirky but effective social campaigns simply because theyʼve been clear and bold in who they have targeted.

“The best campaigns permeate content across all the relevant channels identified in the customer mining phase. The ideal scenario is not simply for a pharma company to broadcast messages on social media, but for an independent, credible customer to comment on or share that information,” says Ceri. “Itʼs about engaging eminent professionals that can then influence their peers and change behaviours. Crucially, content must not be promotional but demonstrate an understanding of relevant science and data – and what it means to future clinical decision-making. ”

As you like it
Executing successful multichannel scientific engagement requires a sophisticated blend of tools and expertise. But it can be done. A range of tools to drive customer understanding and support all stages of the MAP model already exist.
For example, Altmetric, a tool that tracks the impact of scientific publications in news, blogs, social media and policy documents. Traackr, an influencer management platform, allows companies to understand online influencers and identify prominent voices and debates in specific disease areas. Tools like Symplur look at specific healthcare hashtags and allow the identification of key stakeholders contributing to those debates. These tools are among many that can help companies build a better understanding of core pre-launch stakeholders – and plan a truly multichannel approach to reach them.

Companies should approach multichannel scientific engagement with care. “We ran a workshop at EyeforPharma Barcelona this year and the vast majority of attendees had never heard of these tools. It makes sense to work with a communications partner,” says Ceri. “The best partners will have a broad understanding of the development and commercialisation processes in all their various guises – as well as infrastructure and competencies that can execute integrated activities right across the brand lifecycle in a global marketplace.”

Allʼs well that ends well
In a communications world that has moved on, there is a huge opportunity to do a much better job of multichannel scientific engagement. To tweet or not to tweet should no longer be a question. “By building better engagement earlier in the lifecycle – whether through social media, digital or traditional channels – cross-functional teams can get more engaging results during that key patent-protected period post launch.”

And if you get this right, it really will be a case of allʼs well that ends well.


  The heart of the matter - Part 6
PDF File: 640.3 KB

13th May 2015


  The heart of the matter - Part 6
PDF File: 640.3 KB



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