Establishing Effective Co-Promotion Guidelines for a Successful Partnership

Co-promotions work when everybody knows what to do, when to do it, and wants the team to win. Here are eight guidelines that help joint ventures succeed.

Successful co-promotion begins with alignment around the brand. This is the critical rallying point: it fosters clear communication and diffuses the possibility of turf battles and budget wars that too often derail successful co-promotion efforts.

Without this alignment, your agencies might:

  • Duplicate efforts,
  • Compete for internal resources, e.g., medical, legal and regulatory, marketing operations, etc.,
  • Prioritize based on their individual needs, rather than the needs of the brand,
  • Miss opportunities for synergy,
  • Create confusion, both internally in your organization and externally among customers,
  • Waste time, resources, and money making the same mistakes individually without the collective knowledge that’s gained in a truly integrated team environment.

Having worked on several multiagency teams, we’ve seen both the good and the bad.

Borrowing from the best brand managers and agencies, we’ve developed a set of Interagency Best Practices that are critical for successful integration to and increase productivity, eliminate duplicate efforts, minimize political turf battles, and ensure coordinated execution.

By implementing these practices, you will reap benefits for both your internal and external teams by harnessing the best of each individual in each agency without wasting energy on ego-driven agency posturing.

Making these best practices work requires dedication and commitment by the brand. You can’t bring agencies on board and walk away. You have to monitor their progress to make sure they have regular ongoing interaction that’s focused on the brand’s goals, not their own. Similarly, it requires commitment from the agency partners. Working together, the agencies have to agree on a brand-focused agenda that supersedes their individual agendas and subordinates their self-interests to the common good.


It sounds simple, and it is. The most effective managers conduct extensive brand immersion exercises for their agencies, steeping them in the culture of the brand and the organization, clearly defining and communicating the brand’s vision, and aligning all the players around the brand.

When Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals re-launched Actonel for treatment of osteoporosis, there were multiple stakeholders involved—several agencies, plus various internal departments both at P&GP and at their co-promote partner sanofi-aventis. There were a brand-identity agency establishing brand hallmarks; a direct-to-consumer agency managing a multi-million dollar TV campaign; a PR agency creating earned media opportunities; an interactive agency in charge of online promotion; a professional agency responsible for promotion to HCPs; and Roska Healthcare, responsible for direct-to-patient initiatives.

Internally, there were the brand teams, marketing operations and medical, legal, and regulatory teams at two different pharmaceutical companies.

Even though there was an urgency to coordinate the timing of everyone’s activities to meet a specific launch date, “Job One” was to get everyone oriented in the culture of the brand and what it stood for. The time invested in building the co-promotion team around the brand principles paid off because it established a common mindset and laid the foundation for the interagency, inter-departmental cooperation.

To make it work, you need to set up a series of all-agency meetings. Get your medical, legal, regulatory and marketing operations teams involved in the team integration process. Conducting this type of all-agency meeting ensures that everyone is working with the same information from the start. Be sure to allow enough time for the stakeholders to interact and get to know each other—full-team lunches, dinners, and group activities go a long way in team building. It’s easier to cooperate with people you know. But you can’t stop there; you need ongoing communication among the agencies to keep them aligned. Bring them back together quarterly or semiannually so that you indoctrinate any new team members into the fold and reinforce the concept of brand-centricity with the veteran members.


It’s important to establish who’s responsible for what right from the start. It will make life simpler for you and your agency partners because it minimizes duplication of work and makes sure nothing is missed. Developing clear budgets and scopes of work for each partner will also maximize your resources. Don’t worry too much about minor crossover. It covers the seams.

A good example of this crossover is in the online space. Working as the patient agency for the launch of Yervoy, a new immunotherapy for advanced metastatic melanoma from Bristol-Myers Squibb, we’re developing the patient website, but another agency is responsible for placing online media to drive traffic. We worked closely with the online media partner to develop a list of keywords and search terms consistent with the site content to optimize search results.


Having to compete for limited legal and regulatory review resources can create frustration for agency partners, especially when one agency’s project is prioritized over another’s. Having a consolidated calendar sets everyone s expectations around the brand’s priorities and eliminates the desire for one agency to “butt in line” with a pet project whose time has not yet come.

The calendar should drive the agenda for regular all-agency meetings. These should be done at least weekly in a launch situation and no less frequently than every two weeks for non-launch promotion periods. In addition to keeping all projects on track, the most important aspect of these meetings is to share learning across agency partners.

In the case of the multi-media campaign for Actonel, the consolidated calendar was essential for making sure that materials were reviewed in a timely manner to meet the different production timelines for print, television and information kit fulfillment. The consolidated calendar allowed us to obtain approval for over 40 promotional pieces in five months, and meet all the deadlines to create surround sound impact in the marketplace that led to Actonel achieving the $1 billion milestone shortly after re-launch.


Each agency and internal department has its own expertise; but on the successful team, everyone knows how the pieces fit together. When each agency has a clear sense of their value to the overall effort, there’s greater security and confidence in the roles each team member plays, and it enhances the likelihood of a successful outcome for the brand.

It’s especially important for your internal stakeholders to understand the big picture and where each agency fits in. At the time of the Actonel relaunch, we conducted a copy-review orientation meeting to review the entire program. Each agency presented how their program components fit into the overall marketing effort to increase the review team’s understanding of how everything fit together. Their understanding of the big picture significantly sped up the review process by eliminating the need to explain each piece individually at each review.

If the brand manager doesn’t have the time to lead agency coordination, it’s a good idea to appoint one of the agencies to do it. We, for example, led weekly inter-agency meetings via teleconference to share project status and work through cross-functional issues that spanned multiple partners. We created program charts that highlighted responsibilities and mapped out integration among all partners to execute a comprehensive marketing plan collaboratively across disciplines, agencies, and other key partners.

You may appoint your professional agency to be the keeper of approved claims and references. Have them create a “bible” of chapters and verses to share with the other agencies. Allowing open communication among the agency partners takes some of the burden off the brand team and keeps them from becoming a bottleneck.


When Cephalon was involved in a co-promotion with Alkermes for Vivitrol, an injectable product for alcohol dependence, we worked on a multi-disciplinary task force called The VINE Team. Its charter was to ensure that all of the key players were working with the same key information. In addition to representatives from the internal departments of each company, the team included a direct-to-consumer agency, a public relations agency, an interactive agency, a professional agency to head up promotion to HCPs, and us.

Our role as the target marketing agency was to concentrate marketing into geographic regions where the brand has the best chance for success based on the prevalence of alcohol abuse, the presence of specialist physicians treating alcohol abuse, sales representative coverage, and the location of treatment centers and alcohol abuse counselors. We call the areas where these factors come together in the highest concentration opportunity zones, or O-zones. The precise geo-targeting demanded strict control over the distribution of promotional tactics conducted by the multi-agency team, adding another layer of complexity to coordination and information sharing.

The very fact that this multi-disciplinary group had its own name created an atmosphere of cooperation and information sharing among the members. The team met regularly to review status of all current projects and to prioritize most-critical items. Most importantly, individual agencies shared new materials as they became available for distribution so that the other team members could integrate them into their own tactics where appropriate. As the target marketing agency, we coordinated the timing and tactical deployment of each agency’s efforts in each O-zone to achieve a surround sound that reached all target audiences—consumers, referrers, and prescribers with geo-targeted promotional synergy.


One of the keys to success in any co-promotion is to get the agency partners to share information in a timely manner for the good of the brand. In these cases, whenever an agency comes out of a medical, legal, regulatory review with new information about approved language, they shared it with the other agencies to streamline future reviews and avoid frustration on the review team. Maintaining this atmosphere of transparency among agency partners takes the burden of coordinating information sharing off of the brand team’s shoulders. It also accelerates the review process and increases the number of tactics you can get approved with the reviewer resources you have.


Following these guidelines for working with multiple partners will result in big benefits for you, your brand, your agency partners and even your budget. They create efficiency across all partners and channels, and allow you to prioritize the projects that are most important to the brand and streamline the approval process. Opening the channels of communication among all the partners gives them the vehicle to share information, coordinate timing to create promotional synergy, and ensure consistency of branding and messaging making your life easier and your internal and external stakeholders happy. When you start with full-team alignment around the brand, implementing all of these co-promotion best practices comes naturally. Clearly define the scope and budget for each partner and insist on regular all-agency meetings. Let them know that you expect them to communicate freely with each other for the good of the brand. Have the agency partners develop the consolidated review calendar so that they own it and are bought into it. Help them to understand the importance of each one’s role, to leverage each one’s strengths and share information to make everyone’s job easier. You’ll find that these best practices lead to better brand advancement at a lower cost with a synergy that makes the process work better for all involved.


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