Over the last few months we have all heard that the drug industry is in trouble because some big name drugs are due to come off patent. I believe, however, that there is a bigger issue for the drug industry, and that is the lack of talent within DTC marketing.

Over the last few years, I have seen a lot of very talented people leave DTC marketing—either because of layoffs or through personal choice. Most of them are glad to be leaving, and very few are looking to stay in pharma marketing because, as one person told me, “It’s just too exhausting.”

Smart brands and companies understand that marketing products in today’s consumer-empowered environment is challenging. That’s why brands like Zappos treat their employees better than they treat their customers. They know that great employees lead to great business and customer service.

In the pharma industry, however, we find that little has changed over the last five years. Sure, some companies are dabbling in social-media marketing, but for the most part we still see the same DTC model—a lot of TV while only 2-5% of DTC budgets go to the Web. And this is at a time when more people are going online for health information and fewer are going to see their doctor.

Too many industry insiders will give you reasons why pharma can’t use channels like social media—excuses like, “We’re a regulated industry”— but we also learned recently that a study of 224 pharmaceutical brands across several social media sites found that less than 1% of posts mentioned adverse events. Less than 1%!

The reason that pharma doesn’t embrace new marketing and is stuck in a rut is that there are too many industry insiders moving from pharma company to pharma company. They know how to game the system and how to survive, but along that path they have lost their passion for marketing and for patients.

Can the pharma industry recruit and keep talented DTC marketing people? The answer is “yes,” but first they have to purge the DTC people who do only what is expected of them and do not push for change. Managers who don’t stick up for people who are vocal need to be shown the door. And we need more marketing disruptors to finally make DTC marketing relevant again.

Senior executives need to get back in touch with the rank and file, and they need to do a better job of listening to why people are leaving the industry. They need to become more focused on keeping talented people and less focused on hiring people from other pharma companies. If they don’t make these changes, then DTC marketing will become less and less relevant… and companies will suffer the consequences.

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof dtcmarketing.com and www.newmediaand marketing.com. He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.

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