The pharma industry is built on innovation. However, marketers within the industry are hamstrung by three common fears—punishment, change and the unknown—that it must learn to overcome.

In this issue, PM360 is celebrating innovation in pharma and pharma marketing, but unfortunately many companies are stymied to innovate because of fear.

I know a thing or two about being afraid. In 2004, I signed up for a marketing internship in Japan. Four hours before I was to depart, I received a phone call from my contact who informed me that due to confusion with the date and time he would not be meeting me when I landed at Narita Airport. There would be nobody to help me board the train to Tokyo Station, navigate the busiest public transportation station in world, purchase tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, and introduce me to my host family. Instead, I would be alone. My plane was leaving in four hours, and my Japanese language skills left much to be desired. At that moment, I experienced fear. Okay, maybe not intruder-in-your-home kind of fear, but it was unsettling.

In pharma marketing, we are often confronted with situations that instill some kind of fear in us. I see decisions being made out of fear of punishment, change and the unknown. But we shouldn’t run from our fears. We should face them head on.


The FDA exists. Or at least, I believe they exist. I’ve never met someone from the FDA, which is interesting because they now affect my career and—by extension—my life in a myriad of ways. Regardless, the FDA exists, and they send letters.

These letters terrify pharmaceutical marketers, and they should. These letters are sent when the FDA finds fault with marketing or business practices, and are usually accompanied by a hefty fine. These letters are supposed to frighten us and—through that fear—make us compliant and law abiding.

However, this leads to the industry reacting out of fear instead of being motivated to act in the best interest of the patient. We pass on ideas that could truly inform or provide value. We read articles citing past FDA letters that scare us into shifting strategies. Too often the conversation is about what FDA letters mean for us, the pharmaceutical marketers, and less about what the FDA letters mean for the patient.

Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging open defiance of the FDA. I am saying that when the FDA has not provided clarity—which is often the case in digital pharma—we should move forward in the interests of the patient, not stand frozen in fear of a letter. And when the FDA provides clarity that could hinder our ability to serve the patient community, we should unite as an industry to clearly explain the harm such decisions can cause.


Things today are different from the way they were 100 years ago, and I think most would agree that this is for the better. If you don’t believe me, try to imagine a dentist’s office without Novocain. Change is an inevitable part of life. We fear change, but want things to be different. . .improved. . .better.

Look at the ever-changing world of marketing, media and the digital environment. The way we leverage TV is changing. The way Google determines site quality is changing. The way people are using Facebook is changing. And consumer expectations towards pharmaceutical companies are always changing. But by embracing change, we open ourselves to the opportunities they provide. These opportunities are the ones that are going to deliver real ROI and a real difference to our clients and their customers.

We need to start viewing change as an opportunity, not as a threat. We need to surround ourselves with people who want more than business as usual. We need to identify roadblocks to change and eliminate them. Because change is coming, whether we like it or not.


The unknown has found a lasting home in digital pharmaceutical marketing. Because of our lack of FDA guidance, we seek to stick to the areas we know and understand such as TV, web banners and paid advertising. We fear areas that feel unknown, such as search engine marketing, social marketing and dynamic content. Yet these areas provide the most interesting and promising opportunities for growth.

Fear of the unknown is the most challenging for the pharmaceutical industry. It is also the one most often leveraged by individuals to push their agendas. They say you shouldn’t move forward. You should take steps back and wait for someone else to do it first. But if everyone waits, no one moves forward. We need voices that encourage progress, push forward and work to mitigate fears while championing innovation.

Again, I am not advocating completely throwing caution to the wind. Caution and a conservative approach can help remove risks, solidify a position and mitigate fear. What we need is the courage to admit we are venturing into the unknown. And we need the bravery to say that it is what is best for our clients, customers and patients, regardless of fear.


My trip to Japan without my guide was a fear I could not ignore. I got on the plane, made my way through the labyrinth of an unfamiliar country and arrived safely to meet my host family in Japan.

The trip had an interesting impact on the rest of my time there. For the rest of the summer, nothing fazed me. I had to navigate so many difficult situations that I learned to trust my instincts, even if it was a little frightening. My trial by fire left me without fear, and I was stronger and more confident because of it.

As an industry, we need to embrace our fears. We have to be willing to accept risk instead of fearing punishment. We have to stop listening to those who fear change and instead open up to those who see opportunity. Most importantly, we must be willing to step boldly into the unknown and look for ways to innovate marketing in the face of new technologies and new ideas.

On the following pages, PM360 presents 50 examples of innovation from companies, divisions, people, products and services—50 incidences where the industry did not let fear get in its way. Hopefully, these can provide inspiration for even more risk-taking, trailblazing and, yes,

  • Nathan Stewart

    Nathan Stewart is Manager, Search Marketing at Intouch Solutions. Nathan began working in digital marketing and advertising after graduating from college. He quickly fell in love with search engine optimization and has been doing it now for almost a decade.


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