Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Pharma Perspectives: The agency selection process (part 2)

AstraZeneca's Samuel Hollis on the evolution of the agency selection process

AstraZeneca Samuel HollisHow has the agency selection process evolved?
Samuel Hollis: What pharma is looking for has evolved. It's less concerned about being wowed by potentially award-winning visuals and instead looking for customer experiences that deliver calls to action, while using appropriate channels in a cost-effective manner. Sounds easy right?

The selection process can also be different, whether it's tied to global or local business. For global business it's critical the brand teams see an agency that can work as part of a network and understands sensitivities around cultural differences. Whereas for local business it's critical an agency understands the specifics of a local environment.

Brand teams expect agencies to quickly understand their brand, their market and their challenges, and often all this from just a brief. That doesn't sound very fair, but that's the reality. We simply have less time and higher expectations.

Where are changes still needed?
It's frustrating when agencies pitch with their top gun team, when the reality is the account will be managed by the quiet graduate who sat in the corner and didn't say anything during the pitch. My request to agencies would be 'don't pitch with top gun when the reality is top cat', because we see that a lot.

I have also observed an agency pitch habit of trying to appeal to whom they perceive to be the most senior person in the room, rather than the brand manager who will need to be convinced more than anyone.

My next plea is for agencies to come with an opinion. Before providing 20-plus ideas of how you could fulfil the brief, trust your experience and choose one or two quality ideas and deliver them with conviction.

What would an ideal process look like?
Pharma needs to take some responsibility too. The brand teams need to make sure the brief agencies receive prior to a pitch has clear objectives, shares key insights and is focused - agencies don't want the entire brand book at this point. For me an ideal selection process should always start with a quality brief and offer all - or none - of the agencies the same chance for an additional briefing or Q&A.

Again on the pharma side, we must make sure that all decision-makers are present avoiding the need for any unnecessary follow-up. I would also like to see brand teams introduce a few pitch ground rules. For example, avoiding personal taste remarks, remembering we are not the customer, and keeping in mind that it is too early to get deep into the detail of whether the colours are right or if the logo position works.

How has procurement's role evolved?
Procurement often has a tough time and can be viewed by agencies as the department that cost cuts and minimises the number of preferred suppliers. But the evolved procurement team is there to partner with the brand team, guide the pitch process and help create sustainable relationships while generating value. In my experience procurement rarely dictates any final decisions, but should always be involved in the cross-functional team that makes the final decision.

What procurement looks for has evolved. Once 'Swiss army knife' agencies offering a bit of everything appealed to procurement. Perhaps too many times this resulted in a compromise to one of the three amigos (Cost, Quality and Speed), so now I feel less pressure from procurement to use such a solution.

Once the process is completed, how do you ensure success?
The target for any agency should always be to become an extended part of the brand team. For this to happen the brand team has to take responsibility for sharing ongoing insights and maintaining open dialogue with the chosen agency. The reality is that there is quite frequent 'brand team churn', so when a company partners with a good agency it can often represent consistency for the brand during that time of change. Success also stems from brand teams investing time in quality briefings. If the output is not what is expected, my first question to my brand teams is 'what did the brief look like?' What you put in is what you get out.

Should agencies be compensated for participating in pitches?
This may not be a popular view with those reading with agency tendencies. Business is full of taking risks to survive. On the pharma side we plough millions - if not billions - into the development of new medicines and take seismic risks every day. The cost of preparing for a pitch is, in my opinion, the agency's equivalent - it's simply the cost of doing business.

Samuel Hollis is a business unit director at AstraZeneca

In Pharma Perspectives, published in association with the HCC, senior industry and agency figures address key marketing challenges. If you have a topic you'd like the series to explore please send it to

The Health Communications' Council (HCC) is a specialist division of the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA). For more information visit:

24th October 2016

From: Marketing



Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Evoke Mind+Matter

We are Evoke Mind ‘PLUS’ Matter. The ‘plus’ is important to us because we are all about offering more for...

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...