Underscore, an ROI-focused health and wellness media strategy, planning, and execution company, recently made a change in leadership when it promoted Chris Tuleya to EVP, Managing Director. While Tuleya will still report to CEO Lauren Boyer, he is now responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the company, including the sales team, account team, project management team, and the media team. PM360 spoke with Tuleya about his plans for the company as he takes on a greater leadership role, how the industry is adapting to the constantly evolving media landscape, and what trends in media pharma marketers should be paying particularly close attention to.

PM360: As you take on this new role, what would you like to accomplish at Underscore now that you have these increased responsibilities?

Chris Tuleya: One of the things we’ve always been good at is our relationships with clients and bringing smart ideas—and smart people—to the table. As a small shop, it is not about the quantity of the talent you hire, it’s about the quality of the talent you hire. With the industry trend of increased consolidation, I want to continue to focus us on the niche of really knowing the audiences, especially in the pharma space. Being able to know who the physicians are we’re targeting, what their behaviors are, and how that applies to media. And on the patient side it’s how do we embrace the technology and get in front of the right audience, knowing the pharma restrictions that exist in the media space.

As an organization that focuses only on media and does not dilute its expertise by handling creative, we have to ensure that we have that relationship with our partner creative companies. That means helping them understand the programs we’re recommending and helping them understand what’s going on in the marketplace. Media has the power to drive and influence creative, rather than the other way around.

Considering the increased consolidation and those bigger companies or networks that are acquiring other companies in order to try to fulfill all of the needs of their clients, how do you remain relevant as more of a niche company?

I see our niche as a huge benefit to our clients. For example, when you buy fresh food at a farmer’s market, you get better products by purchasing locally grown and produced food; your cheese from a local dairy provider, etc. It may require a slightly different approach from just going to the big box store, but you are getting better quality product. Marketing is no different.  It’s about being really good at what we do—providing the best product and services—which is media.

What media is defined as has probably evolved the most, so I should probably clarify that we are heavily involved in the tech side. We do a lot with data, and our end goal of being able to measure media better. The value we bring to a company is our knowledge and understanding of the marketplace and providing them with measurable solutions.

We’re always going to struggle with getting potential clients to understand that value in a world in which they are trying to save money and consolidate costs. But it comes down to helping our clients understand that we can improve their performance and bring their brand to the next level.

You alluded to how media is changing and media planning and buying is evolving because of tech and programmatic. However, the industry has been slow to adopt that. What has been the biggest challenge in trying to help pharma adapt to this new environment, and the new options they have when it comes to media buying?

A lot of our clients are open to media evolution, but it ultimately comes down to med legal and the comfort there. Marketers sometimes stop short of even pursuing opportunities because they believe med legal will not allow them to go forward. Therefore, education has become a large focus of our organization.

Collaboration is one of our core values and we weave it throughout all of our interactions. Whenever we present a new opportunity, we encourage our marketers to engage med legal right away. We believe that transparency of data and early buy-in and education are stepping stones for media success. We often do trainings with med legal to help them understand programs and data so there are few, if any surprises.

This collaborative spirit allows us to achieve the greatest success for our clients. We bring media partners to the table with our clients, and we find that that’s valuable. Because they’re the experts in what they do, and we’re the experts in what we do, we aren’t going to be able to vouch for a Medscape program in the same way that they will. Our job is to ensure it aligns with our goals and objectives, but ultimately performance and success is a collaborative effort. That becomes a huge differentiator for both our clients and our media partners.

Considering personalization and targeting are much more important now, and to achieve that you have to use the kind of data that might make med legal uncomfortable, how are you able to convince them what you are doing is compliant?

We found it’s not in our best interest to convince them. It’s in our best interest to educate and show them exactly what’s happening. Every med legal team will have a different opinion. Some teams are a little bit further advanced and are willing to take a bigger risk.

Discussing the nuts and bolts of the process has been extremely helpful. By really explaining when someone goes onto their phone, or their computer, or they come home and I now have the ability to target them at home, what does that actually mean for the person? It’s then making sure med legal is 100% comfortable with it, and what the risks are.

It’s also being transparent, so if they ask us, “Is there a chance something could go wrong, here?” I mean, of course, right? No matter what we try to do is, there is no 100% guarantee. We just want to make sure that everyone understands all of the different pieces and allow med legal and marketers to make truly educated informed decisions.

Another aspect of personalization is not just delivering it to the right audience, but also delivering the right content. Underscore was involved in the #SeeWomen campaign for Sun Ophthalmics in which you appealed to female eye care professionals with content about female leadership. How important is it now to engage with a target audience on a more personal level with content that might not have anything to do with the brand or disease state?

I’ve always said if you’re starting to research someone or something, do a search and find out what shows up. Because the things you find are probably huge influencers on them and what drives their decision-making process. Social is the same thing. Log onto Facebook and search a disease state, and you can immediately understand some of the influencers behind what patients are doing.

Transitioning from messaging via brands to advocacy groups has been a shift in mindset that we have been spearheading. Advocacy groups, as well as the different open forums, that allow marketing or messaging are a great venue for reaching audiences at a more personal level.

It has also become significantly more challenging to reach people than it was 10 years ago, because of where people are getting their content, from a social perspective. We used to do studies—and Google did as well—that helped us understand what people trusted, and at the time they would go to brand websites for information. But that number is going down. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to the brand website, but it’s later on in the decision-making process when they have already been given a script.

And while we know that social is an opportunity, if you can’t have a two-way conversation with your audience without any risk then is that really utilizing that channel properly? So we are looking at partners we can align with in terms of social, since it is going to be a huge, huge thing moving forward.

When it comes to measuring the success of these campaigns and demonstrating ROI for clients, what metrics are best to allow them to see the value of these campaigns, beyond what people might typically think about?

It’s still a huge challenge on the consumer/patient side to measure ROI. I hate website visit metrics and click-through. While we might still include those in a report, we typically like to do brand and performance studies. In some cases, we’ll partner with clients who have their own ability to do these studies and in other cases we’ll look at data partners. But the patient side is always going to be complex, because there is always that grey area between engaging in the brand and ultimately getting on script. You have the physician who could change it and even the pharmacy, in some cases.

Patient ROI is going to continue to be a tough one to measure. We might just do brand awareness, and other cases it might be a little more DR, like the old-school download a coupon, get a copay discount, things like that. That’s why where we focus on the patient side is really understanding who that patient is, what’s the data driving the decision, and trying to be as targeted as possible, so we can at least have the confidence that we know we’re reaching the right audience. For us, our measurement is focused on knowing we are reaching the patients.

On the physician side, we’ve been able to get a lot more physician-level data—we have honed the ability to understand what physicians are engaging in our programs. And you can tie that back to Salesforce data or other data the client has and see what kind of impact has been made, such as a lift in the number of scripts written.

On the physician side, it’s about making smart decisions. For instance, if you are given a list of 110,000 targets, you want to understand the value of different segments and drill down on who are the doctors we want to influence. We consider ourselves experts in being able to decipher who our target should be.

Finally, as media has undergone some changes in terms of targeting and data, do you foresee any trends or other changes in the near future that pharma marketers need to be aware about?

I don’t even know that they’ve totally onboarded onto the current landscape. I’d love to see them be able to utilize what other industries are already doing.

With that said, one of the biggest trends we’ve seen is definitely geotargeting, and the ability to understand at a micro level where someone is and what their behaviors are. We’ve tested a couple of campaigns, in the past, using digital outdoor targeting, so targeting around a hospital or doctors’ offices. Ultimately, I’d like to see the two worlds merge more, where pharma combines the traditional media that has always been successful, with digital to ensure that you don’t have the waste that you’ve had before. For instance, digital TV is a huge opportunity when planned and executed properly. By embracing the challenge of honing the data in a useable format for the pharma industry, the possibilities are endless. Once the data meets everyone’s needs, the data can be used by our marketers for an even more refined landscape of efficient and effective targeted media.

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