Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Smart Thinking blog

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

Launching a brand across Europe

Creating a strategy to roll out a pan-European or global campaign means engaging both local marketing affiliates and other stakeholders, as well as your customer base. What are the critical steps you need to take to respond to this major challenge?

About 10 years ago, several pharmaceutical companies and some agency networks began seriously to consider the feasibility of true pan-European (and global) roll-outs of brands. Prior to this we had all talked about global branding, but the consistency of branding and marketing activities across countries was pretty non-existent. Of course there were loads of excuses at the time why it was impossible to get truly consistent global roll-out: regulations in each country were different, the product often had a different brand name and different indications across the markets, each market was 'special' with unique characteristics which meant it had to opt out from any effort towards consistency.

Many of these barriers to global and regional consistency were indeed present, to more or less extent. But they covered up the single biggest reason why global brands failed to get adopted either globally or regionally – no one in the local marketing affiliate, or in the local agency wanted it. Global and regional branding was seen as taking the best part of the job – that of creating the branding concept and detail aid – away from the local markets, leaving them and their agencies with the much less interesting and less familiar task of implementation and that of finding ways to engage directly with local audiences. Not surprisingly the early attempts at global and pan-European branding failed – adding proof to the point that it just could not be done.

Command coming from the top
About eight years ago things changed dramatically. Not only were many of the external barriers to branding consistency being removed (eg, alignment of indications across Europe, the internet breaking down country-to-country communications barriers, regulation standardisation, etc) but a major change happened in the pharma industry.
Senior management, who traditionally had been content to let more junior marketing staff plan and execute brand roll-out, suddenly became engaged with the branding process. They could see the financial and marketing potential of having brands aligned across Europe (or globally), and engaged procurement and other departments to enforce consistency.

Once the 'command' was fully engaged, global and regional branding became 'a necessity' rather than 'a nice to have'. Agency networks were engaged to manage brands across a number of markets, with client companies measuring agency success not just on sales and creative output, but also on consistency. The agency headquarters formed a pincer movement with the pharmaceutical ºcompany headquarters to enforce consistent roll-out across all markets.

So these days everything is fine and rolling out a campaign across Europe is easy? Well, not really! There are some common pitfalls that make it difficult, and these can make all the difference between a successful campaign and a fragmented nightmare.

A clear commitment by senior management to a consistent roll-out of the campaign, defining precisely the parameters for the launch, is critical. It's a fact that most local markets do not like implementing a core campaign and without a degree of senior management engagement – and at times enforcement – there are likely to be a number of stakeholders who will try to avoid conforming.

Tight project control
In the process of generating and developing a pan-European campaign there are a huge number of different actions and stakeholders that need to be coordinated and progressed. The need for excellent project management, both at the client level and in the agency, goes without saying.

The more the projects can be broken down into small, manageable steps the better. Again it's key that all those involved can see what the critical next steps are, and get constant reminders and updates on progress as it is made towards each key milestone. Fortunately there are a number of online tools now available, which help to make this process a little easier. Timelines need to be reviewed constantly to ensure that they remain current and achievable.

Translation can be another headache if not closely managed. As most materials are developed and delivered to the countries in English, translation has to be done at a local level. Pharmaceutical companies are now looking at central translation of all materials before delivery to the countries as a cost- and time-saving measure. However getting an appropriate and idiomatically correct translation from a central translation service may be difficult to achieve and there will still need to be a degree of local checking.

A sense of ownership
Involving people in the development process can avoid much of the tendency for local markets to drift away from the core campaign. Certainly one of the most efficient things that can be done with any campaign is to hold a start-up meeting with all major stakeholders within the countries, before the development of the materials. This allows everyone to understand the objectives of the roll-out, as well as the parameters that are going to be used to guide the process. Any early warning signals at this meeting become very useful in managing issues as the development and roll-out progresses.

There is no hard-and-fast rule about who should be involved in the preparation for the roll-out. It's a fine balancing act. Get too many people involved from too many areas and countries and the process gets hopelessly bogged down and slow. But involve too few people at your peril – the 'not invented here syndrome' is very prevalent in pan-European campaigns. Involvement can go to extremes but even with a full house if done well it can still produce a successful outcome.

I was once involved in positioning a product across five indications, which in itself was a challenge. In order to get maximum buy-in and prevent the inevitable backlash that could arise, the company involved 40 countries and the positioning workshop itself had over 120 attendees. A formula for disaster you might think but, with careful stage-managing, it was possible to get to a consensus on all indications. By taking this bold approach, the client saved a huge amount of time and travel, getting buy-in on the ground and instant agreement. So the risk certainly paid off – but not many clients are that bold.

The inclusive approach, when done well, in fact pays off spectacularly well. The exclusive approach almost universally fails at some point. What generally happens is that the key markets, left out of the central decision-making process, get nervous as they cannot see what is being developed and the launch gets closer and closer. So they start to develop their own materials. Once this process happens it becomes very difficult to turn back the clock and regain central control.

One way to avoid this is to ensure that all parties are fully briefed on not only what materials are being developed centrally, but on the content of the materials and expected delivery timelines. An online information exchange is a great way of keeping the lines of communication open.

One of the critical points for any campaign roll-out is when the key visuals and messages have been developed and are ready to be tested. Involving key markets at this stage is absolutely vital if you expect the markets actually to use the materials developed. It is almost incredible the number of examples that exist where certain markets say that they cannot use the materials developed and delivered because they have some major regulatory, cultural or linguistic flaw in them. Any issues like this need to be explored early and not ignored. To this point it is wise to avoid any concepts that rely heavily on linguistic devices for their impact. Puns, similes and slang do not generally translate and can cause major problems.

The delivery of the materials to the markets is almost as critical as their development. Too often materials are developed that are generally excellent, but then they are just sent to the local markets, which lack the context and intentions behind the work. Invariably on these occasions the materials are ignored and local materials substituted.

With budgets getting tighter it may not be possible to get all the key people from the markets together to meet and discuss the materials, but roadshows, and as a last resort webcasts, can all be effective, while keeping the costs down. Its important to make sure that all the countries have access to all the resources needed to produce the materials. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get hold of the right resolution images, or references because these have not been included. Online portals giving access to all materials are becoming increasingly common and can eliminate this issue.

Local market needs vs core brand messeges
One of the more controversial aspects of pan-European marketing is how much should the local versions of the campaign resemble the core concept? There is a range of thinking, from them being totally identical (unless there are major and compelling regulatory issues), to a freedom to adapt – as long as certain core elements are included – and everything in-between.

Certainly, rigid adherence to a core concept saves time and money. There is no need for any local input beyond translation and ensuring compliance with local regulations, and with the target audience being increasingly internationalised, local markets are becoming more similar.

However there is a valid reason why advertisements for, say, the German market look very different from advertising developed for the UK. Each culture has its own characteristics and different things resonate differently.

One cannot help but feel that campaigns that rigidly stick to a concept, allowing no deviation, will fail to capture this local resonance and may therefore be less effective than campaigns adapted to take into account local tastes. Allowing no flexibility is also easier to control – either the campaign IS a direct translation of the core or IT IS NOT.

Companies that allow some local adaptation always face the issue of what limits to place on adaptation, and that of making a judgment as to what does or not comply.
In the end, the decision often comes down to expediency and company philosophy – but you can't help but wonder if the one-size-fits-all approach sacrifices in efficacy what it gains in cost-savings and simplicity. As long as we stick to some of the key principles of global or regional branding then there is an argument for allowing a degree of latitude as the campaign is rolled out.

There are still some regulatory hurdles across Europe that also prevent total consistency, especially in detail aids and other campaign materials with longer copy. France, with its rigid regulatory rules regarding referencing and inclusion of the entire clinical study results, requires almost a separate approach and development of additional materials. As a reflection, some companies are now developing two core packs, one for French-like markets and another for the rest.

Article by
Max Jackson

president of Sudler & Hennessey EMEA. He can be contacted at or on 020 7307 7800

14th September 2011


Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Dice Medical Communications

Dice Medical Communications is an independent communications agency that works with our clients to help launch, build, and continually develop...

Latest intelligence

Top-10 Reasons Why You Should be Adding Asynchronous Virtual Touchpoints Between Your Real-time Meetings
Influenza – the risk to vulnerable populations
Why we can't get complacent about flu vaccination...
Alzheimer’s Research UK highlights socio-economic inequalities in dementia risk
The charity aims to improve the number of women participating in dementia research and grow awareness of dementia risk factors...