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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Creating a digital campaign

Are your stakeholders still stuck on rhetoric – playing the waiting game before committing fully to an online presence? Skilfully interacting with a target audience simply means a change of mindset...

Conversations about creating digital campaigns often raise questions about ABPI guidelines, operating department practice (ODP), secure sockets layer (SSL), structured query language (SQL) and no conversation ever, and I mean EVER is complete without the use of my favourite of all, digital kybosh phrases: “What's the RoI?” Would all of this negativity and 'prove the concept first' attitude abound if it were a £60k spend on branded pens and USB sticks?
Enough carping on. We've all read countless articles about how slow pharma is to adopt digital and I'm not going to discuss this topic again here (personally, I think that it's partly due to poorly thought-through, planned and executed projects that have dented a lot of confidence in the digital channel). Instead, let's focus on the positive and look at how you can create a digital campaign that:
a) makes it off of your desk, and
b) makes it happen for your brand?

Getting the project to fly
The first thing is to make sure whatever you're thinking of ticks these three boxes:

  • is it truly in line with my brand strategy?
  • does it supplement existing projects?
  • is there a good rationale for doing this digitally?

The second thing to do is a little more of a stretch – it's paradigm shift time. Shake off your concepts of agency silos, a comprehensive digital strategy will, undoubtedly, cross all the traditional boundaries of creative, med ed and PR agencies.

The diagram below shows some of the range of digital options available for any digital campaign and it clearly illustrates the 'crossovers' and silo-busting activities that creating a digital campaign necessitates.

To break the silos you'll need to employ a so called '4th agency': a digital healthcare agency that can work across all boundaries and, importantly, with all your other external agencies, to ensure that you get the maximum return for your projects.

A good specialist digital agency will help you refine your strategy/campaign, scope out individual projects within the campaign, advise on, or prevent ABPI disasters before they happen, and provide case studies to help reassure medical/regulatory teams that digital projects like these have all been done before somewhere else.

So far so good…
The next step is to refine all your proposals and then get buy-in from all relevant departments and stakeholders, before anyone so much as touches a keyboard.
Set up a group meeting with IT/e-commerce/e-business departments to review any technical/corporate guidelines and/or requirements and to get their input at this early stage.

Most large companies now have policies and procedures in place that any agency developing a digital campaign will need to know about very early on in a project. This meeting will help determine some fundamentals, such as the technological platform chosen to build the project, any hosting or security requirements, testing procedures, audits, etc.

Meeting with regulatory/medical teams will tackle other issues and may unearth further corporate standards, or absolute no-no's that you may be unaware of. For example, some medics physically go pale at the thought of open text box responses on a website 'contact us' page (easily dealt with, by the way).

Then there's always the fun of access to websites – we had a three-month, ongoing debate with a client about the need (or not) for verification of healthcare professionals visiting websites (that is the use of things like a GMC number to prove a doctor really is a doctor).

This requirement came in and out of the project three times before the ABPI Code was scrutinised, common sense prevailed, and we kicked into touch once and for all the need for physician verification, and embraced the adoption of 'industry standard' practice for all subsequent projects.

By adopting a consultative approach, a full project spec with final costs can now be completed and agreed, and all with the minimum chance of any last-minute technical or medical disasters later on in the project. A project spec is an absolute must-have; to keep the project to a manageable size and help contain costs.

One caveat – keep everyone informed at key milestones of the project to make sure there are no sudden changes of heart anywhere, or misunderstandings like, “Oh you mean it's like a chat room? That's strictly against company policy.”

So, your boss is bought in to your plans, the techies have told you all about the exotic software that has to be used to run your project, you've agreed a project spec, your funky new digital agency is champing at the bit and marvelling at your professionalism, and the medics have, albeit tentatively, given you the green light… We're ready to build! Erm… not quite yet.

Preparation will help make the project run smoothly
First and foremost, have a good project implementation plan, and a phased one at that; a plan that everyone is aware of, and has agreed to. All of the stakeholders involved in the project need to understand clearly the part they play in the plan and their key responsibilities. The project should have key milestones and regular update meetings to help identify any blocks in the progress of the project and to keep momentum going.

The reason for all this planning and communication is that it is vital to have momentum and focus, and a great deal of it, to avoid getting bogged down in all of the navel- gazing and requests to expand the project scope that digital campaigns seem to attract like magnets.

To maintain momentum you need resource (and energy) – in the form of your time allocated to the project, the time of other personnel responsible for managing the 'sign off' processes and a budget sufficient enough to meet the high standards you want for the project build, its promotion and for its long-term development and ultimate success.

Finally, take the advice of Dave Chaffey (digital guru to the stars...), “Build it, build it quick and be prepared to make mistakes... just fix 'em quick too.”
It's all too easy with a large digital project to run into deep sand and before you know it, your kids have grown up and left home, and your ever-expanding and complex project still has yet to see the light of day.

So phase the project into simple, bite-sized chunks and roll out in a planned modular fashion as quickly as you can; gain feedback from users, and quickly fix and adapt anything that doesn't seem to work for them.

Now it's almost time to think about touching computers… almost…

How to make it happen for the brand
It is at this point where we take a deep breath and dip our toe into tech speak. The old adage 'content is king' still applies, so it is a no-brainer to say spend time and effort getting the content sourced, sorted and plan to keep it evolving and changing/current if it's on the web – oh, and make sure it's quality! Don't just re-hash existing leaflets/brochures.

However, it's not just about quality information. It's time to put yourself in your audience's shoes and think about how they might go about finding it and accessing it. You now need to think about architecture. No not Norman Foster, but information architecture, and user journeys, or, “How is all the stuff I want to say laid out and clustered together in a logical fashion that makes sense to the end user?” and “How can I guide them through all the information to my key messages by helping to facilitate the way that they navigate through the various pages of information?”

Good design will obviously help with both of these activities, but they are very important in their own right as they will dictate design and navigation, and can make a huge difference to the end-user and the ultimate success of a digital project or campaign.

If time and budget allow, wireframes (a basic visual guide to the layout of the vital elements) can be built that demonstrate how a 'user interface' actually works and you can get a feel of how easy it is to navigate around, access information and get to your key messages quickly very early in a project.

Once the wireframe has been tested and reviewed, it's all hands to the keyboards and full speed ahead to implement design, architecture and add all the content to the project. Your agency should be able to guide you through this process and help to build a 'beta version' for testing and/or client approval.

This has been a whistle-stop tour of the nuts and bolts of how to go about creating a digital campaign. But remember, digital is fun – enjoy your projects, don't fear them!

10 Do's and Dont's

1. DO NOT: be afraid
Digital is just a communication channel: it just so happens it's a very cost-effective, easy-to-access, easy-to-measure one. If planned and handled well it should be as simple as any other project!

2. DO: make sure it's on strategy
t the start, be clear about the objectives and what you're trying to achieve, why you're doing it, and make sure it is clearly in line with your brand strategy.

3. DO NOT: try to go it alone
One of the biggest mistakes anyone makes when tackling a digital project is to try to fly solo thinking that it will reap the rewards and plaudits when they launch their spanking new 'industry first' project. Your IT/e-commerce/e-business department will want to know 'early doors' what schemes you're hatching. They may well go absolutely bonkers if you build something that is not in line with corporate standards – and that may mean compliance to a technical standard as well as a design style, so be aware.Also involve any medical/regulatory folk right at the start – an hour at the outset will save many, many hours of weeping and possibly tens of thousands of pounds from your hard-fought-for budget.

4. DO: appoint a specialist digital healthcare agency
One that specialises in pharma and can show you plenty of case histories. They will help ease the way with the naysayers, and having experience of working within pharma will generally make life a whole lot easier for you.

5. DO NOT: take a leaf from Wayne's World 2
The movie that is, not my strange, exotic construct of how I see the world. One of the key phrases of WayneStock is, “Build it and they will come.” In the world of web, this is a recipe for absolute disaster. You have to think of any presence on the web in the same way you think of an individual brand. It needs resource: promotion, PR, content that is ever updating, search engine optimisation, a development programme, etc, and all of these need to be in place BEFORE you launch anything on to your unwitting target audience.

6. DO: build it quickly
Don't pontificate and navel gaze for ever – plan a small start and get it up and running fast. I have known projects grind on for two years without seeing light of day.Once it's out there, implement the phased plan that you developed and put in place right at the outset of the project.

7. DO NOT: starve your projects of resource
Allocate time, energy, personnel and budget to keep momentum into the campaign. It will probably take more of each than you initially thought when contemplating your campaign.

8. DO: develop information architecture and user journeys
Having good content is not enough – it needs to be easily accessed and structure in a simple, logical fashion.

9. DO NOT: put up a 'website under construction' page
It's as good as a kiss of death for the site before you even launched it. If it's not ready yet, don't launch it.

10. DO: have some fun!
Digital isn't scary, it can be great fun – in fact fun is the fourth word in our corporate vision.

Article by
Wayne Page

managing director at Big Pink. He can be contacted at or on 01753 860046

27th January 2012


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