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Round and round in circles

Stop chasing your tails and start working together

Picture the scene - one of your company's clinical study teams is having a meeting to discuss the results of a product in phase III clinical trials. Things have gone well. The product has shown good safety, tolerability and efficacy. The investigators have been real champions and the communication agency supporting patient recruitment and retention has done the job.

Everyone knows the cost implications of having a trial delay ($800k to several million dollars a day in lost potential sales according to a McKinsey report), but the study recruited ahead of schedule and retained over the target number of patients.

Down the corridor, the marketing team are also having a meeting. The positive results from the product trial have got them excited - they have just hired med ed and PR agencies to help start preparing the market place.

Later, they write up their minutes (see table, right - click on image for larger view). Is there a potential for reinventing the wheel? What is the cost of ineffective communications?

The multifaceted approach
The pharmaceutical industry tends, like many industries, to work in silos. The trend is moving towards the creation of more cross-functional teams and early pipeline opportunity maximization. How much more effective would the end result be if clinical and commercial groups worked in synchrony?

Clinical colleagues have already undertaken the ground-work, so why reinvent the wheel? Clinical study investigators are future KOLs. Likewise, testing potential key messages can be done at a much earlier stage benefiting from investigators feedback. Publication planning, looking for opportunities and working with authors is a key part of the med ed agency role and this is being undertaken and planned sooner and sooner. Brand and market positioning and shaping is no longer left to the year before launch, but how often are marketing routinely seeking the views of the healthcare professionals who have handled and used the product at an early stage? Whilst the standard advisory board can work well, a series of in-depth focus groups throughout the clinical development period, as the product data comes to life, can add so much more.


Is there a new way of approaching an old problem?
There are already various activities that could be used as an opportunity to get everyone `singing from the same song sheet', eg, phase III clinical studies have international investigator meetings. These meetings review the known data, previous results, aims and objectives and communication strategies. The cost of a member of the marketing team attending one of these meetings may be minimal compared to the cost of them researching all this information themselves or receiving it second hand.

Communication with agencies
Communication agencies can work together effectively. Key messages and effective use of skills can be shared, eg, a marketing department for a device runs an effective post-launch physician advertising campaign. Further down the line, they decide to write a patient leaflet to provide awareness information and device instructions. They ask their PR agency to write and produce this leaflet. But, the company's clinical trial study team have already been working with a clinical trial recruitment and a retention agency that has already produced patient information leaflets that have undergone both internal and ethics committee approval and used with patients in the study across multiple countries, cultures and languages. Likewise, the clinical trial department wish to run a multinational disease awareness campaign in markets where they have sites recruiting for a study in that therapy area. A PR agency would probably be best placed to run this campaign and may already be working with the marketers.

The solution would be for clinical and marketing departments to combine efforts. There is a need to identify the right skill set and the most appropriate agency, regardless of who is out sourcing or the development stage of the product.


What won't work?
There is a need to have a clear line between clinical and commercial activities. Both areas have guidelines and restrictions that each discipline needs to respect.

A clinical trial can never be promotional. Corporate or brand colours can be used, but you are trying to differentiate one clinical trial from competing trials. For specific target audiences, clear clever imagery is more likely to effectively raise awareness of your study.

When asked about motivating factors in working with the pharmaceutical industry in a recent survey by Ogilvy 4D, opinion leaders stated that they like communication to be 'honest, fair and open'. Working with an investigator as a KOL who has seen the product in practice may be useful, but sending sales reps to that investigator at an early stage is against the guidelines and could have a negative impact. The survey also revealed that experts consider `early involvement in new strategies' as one of the elements of a good working relationship with the pharmaceutical industry.

So, there is still a need to separate clinical and commercial to ensure ethical practice. Yet they need to work closely together to be better informed, not reinvent wheels and to understand the breadth of the marketplace.

Likewise, professional communication agencies should work together and take a holistic 360-degree approach for a developing brand that identifies the best communication channel to reach the desired objectives.

The current status
Progressive pharmaceutical companies have realised the advantage of cross discipline working. In certain cases, a separate 'team' has been developed to co-ordinate communications between all the other departments and agencies. These teams not only ensure that key messaging, activities and aims are shared across departments but they also facilitate legal and regulatory approval of documents and key messaging. This means that approved text or terminology can be utilised across all types of communications rather than each department submitting their preferred terminology. The 'consistency' benefits to this approach are obvious.

In summary
We currently give awards to the best PR/advertising/communications campaign. Is the future of the industry awards for the best 360-degree seamless communications approach to launch? Soon, will we be rewarding those teams that consist of a patient recruitment and retention expert, PR expert, med ed expert and an advertising expert for providing the most integrated and effective communications programme?

The authors
Emma Sergeant is the president of Fast4wD Ogilvy and group managing director of Ogilvy Healthworld UK. She can be contacted at

Emma-Kate Yates is a senior communications manager at Fast4wD Ogilvy. She can be contacted at

2nd September 2008


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