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The Heart of the Matter 8 - Trends with benefits

Six benefits of working agency-side... and the three questions you should ask to make sure it's the right move for you.
The heart of the matter Six benefits of working agency-side... and the three questions you should ask to make sure it's the right move for you.

Two decades ago, working in a healthcare communications agency might have been regarded as a stepping stone to a career in mainstream pharma. But times have changed. As the industry’s reliance on outsourced services has grown, so too has the recognition that a good agency can offer alternative, but equally stimulating, benefits to working in-house at a pharmaceutical company. With the best agencies providing robust pathways for career development and genuine opportunities for personal growth, an agency role is no longer just a gateway into pharma. In fact increasingly, the traffic is coming the other way. It’s a growing trend - and for those that make the journey, it has real benefits.

Whether you work for a drug company or a communications agency, a career in healthcare is both motivational and rewarding. What’s more, as outsourcing has become de rigueur, the dynamics of agency/pharma relations have evolved from being ‘master and servant’ to ones built around collaboration and partnership. The goal is the same on both sides; to develop innovative treatment strategies that deliver real-world benefits to patients. It’s a great industry. But the specific benefits of working agency-side are numerous - and may surprise many who have not previously considered making the move. Here are our top six:

Benefit 1: Growth Industry
The healthcare agency marketplace has matured significantly in recent years. The size and scale of larger agencies not only underlines the growth and value of outsourcing but it also points to a stability that may not have existed 20 years ago. "Back in the 1990s, most agencies were small, independents 'mum and pop shops," says Rick Bauer, General Manager, Complete HealthVizion. "There was talent and innovation but with it came a lack of stability. Companies were dependent on their next piece of work and if they lost a client it could hurt their business dramatically. Today, the larger network agencies have client-bases and service portfolios that offer true stability. What's more, their breadth provides a catalyst for all sorts of additional opportunities.

"Pharma, like all other industries, has recently been through well-publicised cycles of reorganisation. Although the waters are now much calmer, such changes can often create uncertainty at a personal level. Agencies are not insulated from the winds of change, but because the nature of agency business means that employees are rarely dedicated to a single account or client, workers are often less exposed to market dynamics. This provides greater security and enables involvement across a diverse range of brand activities."

Benefit 2: Breadth of opportunity and experience
There is little doubt that employees within pharmaceutical companies enjoy the thrill of the 'brand journey'. They fall in love with their product and revel in nurturing its progression from molecule to market. Having the ability to follow your product all the way through its life cycle and savour the rewards of patient outcomes is a clear benefit of working client-side. But it's a benefit shared by agencies too. "Agencies get involved very early in the development of compounds and follow them through to launch and beyond," says Rick. "In many respects we experience that same longevity of the brand life cycle. In fact, with pharma brand managers typically in situ for 2-3years, an agency's relationship with a product can often be more enduring.

"In addition, agency life has an inherent variety that comes from working across multiple brands and for multiple clients. That's hugely stimulation. It enables us to experience different corporate cultures, different therapeutic areas and explore diverse initiatives. This provides a variety that's difficult to replicate inside pharma, and one that enables agency employees to experience that powerful brand bond across multiple products. Such diverse exposure can only enrich us professionally."

Benefit 3: Career development
The breadth of services within network agencies is an engine for development opportunities. It's surprisingly easy to build a career agency-side. "A good agency will leverage their portfolio to give employees the opportunity to fulfil career ambitions," says Rick. "The agency model allows agencies, where appropriate, to reassign employees to roles that match their personal goals. Naturally, there should always be a business case to justify the decision, but the best agencies will always have the flexibility to tailor a role to suit the goals and needs of the individual."

Agency flexibility arguably provides a greater scope for career development than in pharma, where hierarchical structures can often slow the speed of change along the career pathway. "The most proactive agencies have invested heavily in professional development programmes that enable them to nurture talent, from new starters beginning their fledgling careers through to senior management looking to expand their horizons," says Jason Gardener, Managing Scientific Director, Complete Medical Communications. "Agencies can offer the full spectrum of strategic, creative, scientific and client service-based positions, as well as those in business services such as finance, IT and HR. The inherent opportunity to enjoy a real breadth of experience is as important as the linear development that internal L&D programmes provide."

Benefit 4: An engaging culture
We all know that pharma companies are bound by bureaucracy, they have to be. These are often huge, multinational organisations operating in a highly regulated environment - it's no surprise that they're dominated by hierarchical structures, SOPs and fanatical corporate governance. It's equally unsurprising that these processes often breed operational inefficiencies that are difficult to avoid and corporate cultures that naturally conservative. "The dynamics of an agency are completely different," says Jason. "In essence, we're selling time. The whole ethos is driven by the need to deliver the appropriate balance of efficiency and quality. The levels of teamwork and support found in agencies are commonly outstanding because teams cannot afford to work in silos and everyone is focused on the same goal. It breeds a really collaborative and productive culture."

The constant pursuit of efficiency and quality also drives a culture of proactivity, stimulated by a privileged position at the heart of the brand action. "As an agency, you're much closer to the coalface. You can actually see an idea all the way through to fruition and play an active role in the journey - but you must also be able to respond to change and adapt your approach when the situation dictates," says Richard Ashdown, Director of Global Strategy and Innovation, Caudex. "An agency can't work by slow processes and committee, it must have a responsive mindset. If brand goals are to be achieved efficiently and effectively, agency processes have to be built around the need for speed, resilience, action and agility. It's a hugely different culture - and it puts agencies right at the forefront of the decision-making process."

Benefit 5: Creative empowerment
The Constraints placed on pharma are not limited to bureaucratic processes and deeply embedded cultures, they extend to restrictions of time and the need to meet quarterly objectives to drive shareholder value. These requirements can often lead to a narrow focus on short-term goals and process-driven approaches that allow little room for creativity. Fortunately, that's the role of the agency.

"In a sense, there's a liberation in being part of an agency," says Richard. "Agencies have the luxury of being given the time to focus on developing innovative solutions to clients' problems - without being tied up by process and structure."

Benefit 6: The chance to stand out
The final benefit appeals to the sense of ego: working agency side can provide a chance to shine. "The most successful agencies are always on the front foot; as the market changes, they have to change with it. In doing so, their employees are forced to explore emerging technologies and new ways of working - and, as a result, they have the opportunity to become trailblazers for new innovation," says Richard. "Agencies not only offer variety, career options and longevity - but they provide that rare opportunity (for people) to really stand out."

13th June 2016


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McCann Complete Medical

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