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He who dares wins

The benefits of including medical experts in your brand planning team
Everyone who works in pharma knows that a significant part of their year is dedicated to strategic planning. As soon as the latest five-year rolling plan is signed off, work begins on the next five years. Templates are completed and everyone loves spending days in whacky meetings talking about the great new insights you have gathered since the last planning cycle. A huge amount of time and energy is focussed on engaging the internal team. Is this one of the best opportunities you have to engage your external experts or KOLs? Could this deliver a better plan and are there other upsides of this engagement?

Why not select a team of experts and run a parallel planning process?
Immediately, I can hear anybody who has read this far mutter “we don’t have time to do this”. Lack of time is the most commonly cited reason for physicians not changing their clinical practice - even when the change will save time in the long-term because patient outcomes are better. We propose that by investing time in engaging experts in your planning, the resulting group of engaged experts will save you enormous amounts of time briefing and planning individual activities once implementation begins. (I know, you don’t actually care about this, you’ve got a new job by now!)

How might this work in practice?
Using the standard planning process, there are a number of opportunities to engage your experts. The most efficient way to do this is probably in an advisory board setting, but smaller focus groups or even structured 1:1 meetings would work.

At an advisory board or similar, you could run the following sessions:

  1. Environmental changes impacting your therapy area (new guidelines and their impact on clinical practice, new data and its impact on clinical practice, hot topics in disease management, new treatment algorithms)
  2. Competitor landscape
  3. Brand SWOT analysis
  4. Critical issues for your brand
  5. Which aspects of patient management require change in clinical practice?
  6. Power brainstorm for tactical programmes.

If this can’t be done as an advisory board, consider smaller groups, covering parts of the above. You may already do some of this with a select few of your experts, but to really influence your plan, you need to do all of it with a range of experts.

Which experts should we include?
While the temptation will be to include experts that you know and that are close to your brand, if you are to see the value of this approach in delivering a better plan, you need to include a broad range of experts. For any brand, you are likely to be running some disease awareness and some differentiation activities. You need to have assessed your group of experts in terms of their ‘progressive disease management’ and their ‘brand loyalty’. Once you have done this, you can select experts from across the spectrum.

Generating true engagement
None of the above is really rocket science, nor is it too time consuming. However, the key to using this as a tool to develop better engagement of experts in your plans is to make sure you keep the dialogue open. Following the advisory board, it is critical that the advisors are contacted regularly to keep them informed about what you are doing with the information and ideas they provided and also how the actual plans are evolving. This can be done through bi-monthly webinars or, at the simplest level, via email.

I am happy with my planning process, why would I do this?
The benefits of this approach are two-fold. You can leverage the clinical insights generated by running these sessions to build a more robust and relevant plan. If you ask them for their views of the big ticket changes in the environment over the plan period you are likely to be able to sift out the really big things that will affect your plan. And if this is done in an advisory setting, you will be able to hear and assess the impact on the group as a whole, rather than get many individual viewpoints, which could be misleading.

But more important than delivering a more insightful plan is the real and lasting engagement you will have generated with this group of experts. When it comes to implementation, they will be aligned with your thinking. This will save hours in discussion as you try to agree what’s important to each of you at a later date.

15th November 2013

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