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A fine balance

Choosing the right med ed agency for your campaign requires precision…

A set of scalesYou're gearing up to launch your brand in Europe. Not just in one country, not just in the big five markets, but in a sizeable number of the 50 (yes, 50!) diverse European nations. To prepare the ground, you know you need a potent and lasting med ed programme, and you know you could use some specialist help. So, what next?

The conventional approach is to ask a local med ed agency you've worked with before to develop a programme for Europe-wide rollout. After all, they've always delivered for you in the past, and they'll doubtless be keen to take on a European project with the added billings and kudos that it promises.

Typically, they base the programme on what they know works in their local market, supplemented by desk research and best assumptions about what will work elsewhere. They then develop the materials and package them up into a med ed toolkit – translated as required – for use in the markets you're targeting. It's then over to you to engage your local operating company colleagues – and through them their chosen local agencies – to cascade the programme.

Unfortunately, this approach usually delivers mediocre results – if not in all your target markets, then in most. This is due to the differences between European countries and their specific needs, and the agency's probable lack of processes and tools for delivering pan-European campaigns with tactics that work locally.

Local variations
While your marketing colleagues outside Europe may find it hard to accept, there is still huge fragmentation in many therapy areas across Europe. The way a disease is managed, and even its status, can differ greatly. For instance, in many countries depression is treated largely in primary care while in others it remains the province of specialist psychiatric services. Similarly, while most European specialists recognise ADHD as a genuine illness, this is not the case for all healthcare professionals (HCPS) across Europe. This kind of fragmentation means that what you need to say and who you need to target depends entirely on local conditions.

Other factors influencing medical education design that can vary from country to country include:
• regulatory frameworks governing everything from the accreditation of materials to the level of hospitality that can be offered to conference attendees
• the importance of engaging with non-clinicians such as policymakers and budget holders in order to gain access to the market
• patient care pathways and decision makers
• the level of adoption by doctors of web-based sources and networking tools
• the extent to which patients can be targeted.

Taken together, these and other differences mean that messages and tactics that work in one country invariably miss their target in the next.

Besides, even if it was possible for a national agency to design a European campaign that incorporated all these nuances, it would still be likely to run into problems for the simple reason that your in-country colleagues and their agencies would not have bought into it. The 'not invented here' syndrome would kick in, and they would be unlikely to commit to the campaign wholeheartedly or deliver it effectively.

Of course, one alternative to the conventional cascade is to adopt a more 'piecemeal' approach. You as brand manager take on the task of working with your colleagues in the target markets to identify agencies with the med ed capabilities you need, and then you coordinate their activities yourself. This approach will certainly bring the local insight and troops on the ground that you need.

However, there are critical downsides. First of all, it's likely to be more costly. Also, with many different agencies to deal with, ensuring a high standard of delivery can be very difficult, and there is no scope for sharing best practices and lessons between markets. Most of all, the piecemeal approach raises the spectre of messages in one market conflicting with those in another. With clinicians increasingly listening to opinion leaders from beyond their country's borders, this can completely undermine the entire med ed effort.

Finding a pan-European partner
There is, however, another approach that can be effective in multiple markets. That is to partner with a med ed agency that has a proven pan-European capability.

So how do you identify a truly pan-European med ed agency? Key capabilities should include:
• intimate knowledge of multiple regulatory frameworks, including national guidelines governing pharma
• local offices that can demonstrate strong, long-term relationships with eminent clinicians in that country
• local offices that have multidisciplinary teams versed in the full range of med ed disciplines, including meetings and conferences, advisory boards, case studies, publications, digital media, market access and patient education
• established expertise in educating key stakeholders, such as patients, advocacy groups and payers, who are increasing in importance across Europe
• established links between local offices and your colleagues in that country
• IT tools that support the effective management of European programmes, enabling local offices to identify what is genuinely different in their market and personalise their programme and choose resources accordingly, as well as allowing the centre to track local activity and results.


10 things to look for in a pan-European med ed agency

1. Proven record of delivering successful med ed across European markets
2. Solid European infrastructure, with offices in many countries
3. Knowledge of multiple regulatory frameworks
4. Strong local links with eminent clinicians
5. Local multidisciplinary teams
6. Links between local offices and your colleagues in that country
7. IT tools that support the effective management of European programmes
8. A consultative approach informed by local offices' up-to-the-minute, in-depth market intelligence
9. A person in each local office who is responsible for your brand
10. Commitment to involving and coordinating the efforts of local offices throughout the programme – collaboration is key.


Equally important is the general approach the agency takes. Expect the office managing the programme for you to work with their counterparts in other countries in a consultative and involving way. The strategy, messages and detailed tactical plan they work with you to develop should be informed by local offices' up-to-the-minute, in-depth market intelligence.

In practical terms, the agency might assign someone in each local office to be responsible for your brand. Along with your local operating company brand managers, these people become 'brand ambassadors' and work in collaboration with the lead office to ensure joined-up delivery of the programme. The lead office might also kick-start work on your programme by convening a meeting of these brand ambassadors – and some of your in-country colleagues, too.

However they work, they will commit to joined-up working and productive two-way communication between local offices and the lead office delivery teams throughout the programme – not just parachuting in the campaign and then standing back with you to see what happens.

With this kind of pan-European approach from your med ed partner, you stand a much better chance of developing a programme that's fit for each local market. What's more, because your local operating companies and the agency's local offices will have bought into the plan from the beginning, you are more likely to see commitment to the strategy and core messages, and delivery to the right standard, on time and on budget.

Of course, this bespoke approach is less straightforward than a more conventional cascade. It will almost certainly take the agency longer to develop the plan because it takes in input from more people in more places. Also, decisions during planning and execution may take longer because they will be made in a consultative way. However, the results – locally effective med ed that's fully aligned to a pan-European strategy – make all that extra effort worthwhile.


What you're saying

"When I'm looking for an agency for a pan-European med ed programme, I look for a European infrastructure, people with the right expertise who I can trust, and an ability to deliver to the highest standard across markets – and on time without deviating from the budget."
Sally Gosden, European product manager

"From my perspective, I expect a European agency network to have an in-depth understanding of major EU country regulatory environments, with the ability to manage multiple language translations with multiple points of contact for customers. It is critical that the agency can navigate work within company approval process across multiple countries, while maintaining pull-through of core messaging and branding."
Glen Curran, EMEA marketing director


The Authors
Laura Ansloos is client service director of the Sudler & Hennessey Med Comms team. She can be contacted at
Dr Vernon Bainton is medical director of the Sudler & Hennessey Med Comms team. He can be contacted at

To comment on this article, email

Related articles: It's all in the preparation

25th January 2010


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