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Smart Thinking blog

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

Europe sans frontiers...

We asked four of the leading names how their agencies are re-defining their operational business models to equip themselves with expertise across Europe. Is it all about mergers and acquisitions or do the independents still carry clout? Both sides give their views…

…The End of Pins on the Map and the Rise of 'Controlled Customisation'

Max Jackson, chairman EACA Healthcare Communications Council, CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler Hennessey

Are we seeing the end of 'pins on the map and the rise of 'controlled customisation'? A number of years ago, one of our major clients came with a proposal to align all his products with a small stable of network agencies across Europe. At the time, this was a unique concept and of course we were delighted to participate. One of the key deciding factors for the company was whether the agencies could realistically deliver specialist healthcare communications across 27 markets in Europe.

All the networks duly went out and invested heavily in building expertise in such hot markets as Moldova and Serbia. And to be fair, for a few years this client and several other clients used the local services of the agencies (more or less). But recently a Europe Sans Frontiers has emerged. Many clients are looking to develop materials centrally and deliver more or less fully finished materials to all the markets. This has led to the establishment of hubs for the development of regional and sub-regional hubs to develop materials. Generally across Europe these hubs are located in London (the majority), Paris, and for my network, Milan.

Most networks have more than one hub capable of delivering regional business, with the client selecting the hub that either suits him geographically, culturally or through previous experience. Sub-regional hubs are sometimes thrown into the mix to develop materials for regions such as Central and Eastern Europe. Apart from these centres the rest of the pins on the map have (for the purpose of pan-European campaigns) largely become irrelevant, both for selection and for implementation.

But does this model work? Can centrally developed and delivered campaigns work in the local markets? To my mind the answer is yes and no. There is no doubt that Europe is now a much more homogenous environment in healthcare communications than previously – but there are still a number of significant variations
both regulatory and culturally.

The vision of a one-size fits all, forced on the local markets, seems to me to deliver a product that in the end satisfies no one. By its nature the resulting material is often bland to the point of being unusable. But clusters of regulatory and cultural similarities do exist across the region.

By delivering a number of 'flavours' of materials centrally, the local regional variances can be satisfied, without having to produce unique materials for every market. The number of flavours varies by disease area and brand ambition. Advances in proprietary digital techniques such as our process 'dovetail' now allow easy selection and delivery of the appropriate flavour to the appropriate market, giving a new standard, that of 'controlled customisation'.

Thinking in different directions

Gill Adams, managing director, Learner Adams Bones

Recently my mother, a pharmacist, was explaining to a friend what our agency does. Interestingly, she didn't talk about the advertising but instead about how we had taken cold, hard artificial hips and knees and made a video where they were made to move like opening flowers, swimming jellyfish and flying birds. “You see”, she said excitedly, “the [client] company thinks about the way joints move differently from that of the competitors, and so they wanted to make a film to reflect this – to show these inanimate products moving in different, elegant, natural and beautiful ways.”

There is no doubt that pharma has to think differently: blockbusters are going off-patent and pipelines are looking lean; the purse-holders are holding on ever more tightly to their money, while the demands on the health providers just keep on growing. Wherever you look people are trying to make efficiencies, from 'lean management' to replacing traditional sales reps with telesales and online campaigns, to producing global campaigns.

Global campaign are nothing new but one of the current debates is around working with one agency to generate a global campaign, or globally and locally with a global network. Different internal structures will suit different models but irrespective of how an idea is implemented you have to be sure of getting the idea right in the first place. As traditional channels become less and less accessible and new channels open up, brands need scalable ideas that are able to interact with target audiences across all their touch-points.

Personally I don't think it matters where an agency is located or whether it is big or small. What is important is that the people have the skill and experience to develop the right conversations for brands. Conversations that can start on-line and be taken off-line, conversations relevant to the different target audiences but which work for the brand when these target audiences talk to each other.

For many years I worked for a global healthcare advertising agency where we created a lot of global advertising campaigns. Although we believed in the importance of an overarching creative idea we found that digital work was done by the digital division, medical education by the med ed division and PR by PR. Now, as a small independent agency we are unhampered by disciplines and lucky enough to work with mostly global clients where we have created ideas which are working for them in all directions.
As the differences between products get ever smaller, clients need agencies more than ever to help them differentiate their brands. But as my mother grasped, with the right creative platform, and an ability to 'think in different directions' the conversations you can then have with the target audiences are endless.

A new era means new complexities

Michel Nakache, EVP Europe, McCann Healthcare

Today's picture is very different from that of the 90s. Back then, pharma launched its brands simultaneously across multiple markets, usually taking a common brand name and in effect these brands were used for the same indications across all markets.

It was all pretty simple then. Adopting a single, global strategy was the norm – and it saved pharma money. Five big group names dominated the agency world: WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic, Publicis Group and Havas.

Now, 15 to 20 years on, there has been a huge shift in how pharma and its agency partners approach healthcare campaigns and communications. In tandem with the global initiatives, the importance of local opportunities and regional adaptations provides lots of opportunities… and challenges. 

We've seen a significant increase in regional implementation and with that the need to understand that individual markets have different complexities. The marketing methods and regulatory requirements in say, Central and Eastern Europe, are very different, say, from Spain. Having local insight is becoming increasingly important in order to deliver what are often sophisticated campaigns in different markets. Having real local/regional insight is as important as having the global outlook.

Collaboration and partnering are words frequently banded around, and with good reason. In the '90s pharma companies were only targeting GPs and specialist physicians. Today across Europe, we work with patients, payers, governments and other stakeholders to increase health awareness, etc.

This is, of course, still a very different model from that in the US, where global pharma divisions tackle their massive markets, are organised by channel and deal with few local variations. In Europe pharma tends now to be more integrated. And, even if the market conditions weren't so very different from those in the US, there isn't sufficient money for pharma to model its European business on the US style of brand-led marketing.

Certainly across Europe the way we work with our clients has changed too. We're asked to become much more involved in the different aspects of marketing. It's a reflection that pharma itself has become much more integrated across Europe, with brand managers now looking after every aspect of the marketing mix.

Our role has also become much more valued as advisers at an earlier stage. Naturally it depends upon each network within a particular country, but we really like to involve local expertise early on, right from the medical indication group stage. And, with key opinion leaders you need these relationships right from the beginning – these are relationships that take time and effort to develop.

Financially, budgets have plateaued, so it's finding the best way to deploy the money available. Gone are the days when an overall budget is handed out at the start. Now we see increased focus on achieving important, early targets, evaluation and then expansion into other areas, with a budget allocation at each stage, which actually gives more flexibility.

One hub of all knowledge?

Gloria Gibbons, president Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

Our business model has changed over the last few years to reflect the changing needs of our pharmaceutical clients. The challenge is that no one client organisational structure in Europe is the same. And they are continually evolving. So our organisational structure needs to be flexible to deliver a variety of different solutions.  
One of the biggest shifts we have seen with our European clients is how they are going to market. Not that long ago, we would have seen clients marketing on a country- by-country basis with very different campaigns and solutions. Today we see them wanting to take a much more centralised approach to planning and delivering these programmes into the market place.

Pharma in Europe is either creating European business hubs, moving budgets to centres of excellence in one or two markets for their products, and creating pan-regional campaigns – or focusing their energy on adaptation, and efficient and consistent multimarket implementation… leaving the global team to create the campaign concept. So our approach is to service global, regional and local clients in Europe, with each needing different marketing and communications solutions.

Clients may want a strategic consulting piece. They may want ideation with a creative campaign developed to master. They may indeed want consistent implementation across 40+ markets in Europe, using a single production and transcreation platform. They may want an individual local market stakeholder campaign. They may want to buy some or all of these services. The metrics have changed too – no longer is it just about a great creative idea, it is also about consistent, quick and efficient delivery across multiple markets.

For international work out of Europe, the UK is often still the first port of call for clients. But we also have Euro hub offices in Paris, Germany and Spain servicing regional or global clients. And with clients increasingly building multi-cultural cross-geo teams to support their brands in Europe, we are similarly building teams like that across our network.

Many pharma clients have tiered the markets in Europe in order of commercial importance: the Euro hub; the EU 5; and the rest. Their marcomms budgets have been prioritised accordingly. With pharma moving anything from 60-80 per cent of their budgets to a Euro hub, the local markets often have much smaller resources to work with. 

Agencies have had to adapt to this centralisation too. We have an 'open source' approach to talent. We put the best talent to work for a European client, independent of where he is based geographically.

Our clients' global focus has influenced our own structure. We have in place global and regional brand management teams for clients, with global and regional leaders assigned to that business. Through this infrastructure we drive the orchestration of our talent and our creative solutions across all disciplines. Like a conductor of an orchestra, we pull different teams together on a regular basis globally, regionally and locally as a way of driving quality, and cost-effectiveness.

So, to conclude, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Clients have different corporate cultures, with different levels of central control, different organisational structures and so different agency needs.  It is an exciting time – one of continuous change and innovation for us.

13th October 2011


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