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Are you crazy enough to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result?

We all do it, don’t we? We all follow well-trodden paths and long-standing habits because that is often the best way to manage resources and logistics. I think we’re excused…

We’re all time-poor, we’re all short of bandwidth and there’s always another fire breaking out somewhere – something that just needs fixing before you can get to the bigger picture. However, according to the PM Society 2019 procurement survey, a third of Medical and Marketing teams within the pharmaceutical world are most likely to rely on recommendations or a preferred supplier list created by procurement. Consequently, over 90% of procurement professionals depend on recommendations from colleagues, use award wins, agency websites and directories or end up doing the hard work themselves.

So, if we can just take five minutes of your time, we want to ask you to take a look at that bigger picture for a moment because, with some very slight adjustments, it could be a much more interesting and favourable one. Knowing how to get beyond the shiny show – that agencies are only too well qualified to put on – will make a big and beneficial difference to your procurement strategy.

This might be especially true at a time when, thanks to some prevailing ill economic winds, the global economy is creating real world budgetary pressure. As 2021 came to a close the big agency networks, and most probably many of the independents, were growing successfully – by as much as 15% according to S&P net revenues. However, 2022 may bring very different factors to bear, similar to those of 2008/2009 when revenues dropped by as much as 12%.

There has been a talent war amongst the agencies resulting in a resource merry-go-round, with people remaining in their roles for very short periods of time. Many clients have complained that their agency team seems to change a little too often. It is interesting to note that amongst marketing and medical affair teams in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device industries, the number one frustration voiced about agencies is accountability. After all, what is an agency if it is not a marshaller of resources, a means of mitigating risk while successfully executing a breakthrough strategy?

So, here are our ten top tips for those of you who are looking for a different result and ready prepared to do something different. This is what we think a great agency should possess and be prepared to reveal:

1. The best people. Those working on your account will be more motivated if they are properly financially compensated, if their employer invests in them, if they receive training and development and high levels of pastoral care. You need your agency to bring the light, to be net-givers of energy. The best work is borne out of the strongest relationships. You need to have the right feelings about the people – ideally the agency will use a third party (objective) organisation to measure and monitor internal morale.

2. Robust real-world values that mirror those of your own team and company. It is true that if an organisation doesn’t stand for something, then in effect, they stand for nothing. Pragmatically, when agency teams understand the values they are expected to adhere to, they will operate within the parameters of those values. For example, a transparent organisation will value integrity and openness. An agency that values the relationships it has with clients will value empathy. Great, high-functioning teams need empathy and let’s face it, you hire an agency to change the shape of a marketplace. Don’t you?

3. Recognition and alignment to the needs and requirements of the healthcare sector. Globally, healthcare services are in crisis. It is a bizarre irony that if all the innovation, all the medicine and therapeutic progress made by companies like yours was adopted then this would not be the case. Your agency needs to share and champion your mission.

4. Some degree of financial transparency. No private company will or should tell you everything, but many procurement people still hold perceptions that were created way back in the ‘good old days’. Agencies don’t make huge profits anymore. A recent survey showed the global average net profit was 9%, while achieving any level of reinvestment requires a 20% net. You want your agency to be operating in good financial health if the relationship is to be sustainable.

5. Clarity when it comes to the management of your money. How does the agency allocate your budget across the stages and phases of a campaign? Risk needs to be mitigated. You need to know there is a well-managed process that ensures the agency does not move from one stage to the next without your team knowing the previous stage has been completed successfully.

6. An experienced, consistent team working on your projects, not just presenting at the pitch. Clients go to agencies to improve their marketing or medical affairs strategy. It is thus ironic that beauty parades (otherwise known as pitches) often showcase the most experienced and strategically capable people who are subsequently never seen again. Often, your agency team will end up being be a more cost-effective, less experienced one. Make sure you are going to get what you believe you are paying for.

7. Expect your agency to be collaborative. Way better than any beauty parade is a test project. Agencies can easily spend between £20,000 and £40,000 on a pitch, and if they don’t win, you can be sure someone, somewhere is paying for all that lost investment (probably you if you’ve just awarded an agency your work). A good agency would rather their capabilities were tested on a small project rather than pour resources into a pitch. (This assumes you’ve filtered out those that aren’t compatible via a thorough credentials process – ideally including visiting your shortlist of agencies to meet the team face-to-face and experience first-hand how they work).

8. Real, relevant experience – healthcare requires a multitude of capabilities.You should ensure the agency possesses this expertise, for example, in the following areas: creative, digital, scientific (medical education and disease awareness), brand and communication strategy, insight mining and research, meeting and workshop facilitation.

9. Award-winning – not all agencies enter their work for awards because this is, in itself, expensive and time-consuming. However, being able to benchmark your campaign against the rest of the market is pretty good way of making sure you’re making a reasonable investment and it is a confirmation that the agency understands the asks and challenges of the healthcare communications world.

10. Agree business objectives and measurables at the outset. Last but by no means least, no one should ever embark on a new project or campaign without first agreeing the objectives (ideally the business objectives – worst case scenario the communication objectives). What difference to your company’s future do you expect this campaign to make? What are the key performance indicators you are looking to fulfil? A good agency will have smart, real-world ways of measuring the impact of any campaign they produce (and we don’t mean the number of hits on a website, readership, a theoretical awareness or recall). What we do mean, is having access to factual and numerical evidence that measure how the campaign has changed beliefs and behaviours.

Why are we, an agency, offering this advice? Why are we giving you the opportunity to look beyond the magic curtain? Well to be frank, we care most of all about our mission. We want to make a difference and we believe the best medicine of all is communication. No medicine is effective without it. We want to do extraordinary things for extraordinary people. Now you have to decide if that applies to you and your team too.

If you believe you too deserve the extraordinary then get in touch. Test us and see how we perform against the above criteria, because your company’s innovations and the patients they were developed for deserve only the best.

By Stephen Page, Page & Page and Partners

20th October 2022


Company Details

Page & Page and Partners

+44 (0)20 8617 8250

Contact Website

The Ministry
79-81 Borough Road
United Kingdom

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