How to Accelerate Collaboration Around Digital Marketing Initiatives

Companies need to find innovative approaches to help brands successfully engage in Internet promotion and social media while meeting regulatory promotional requirements. That’s why Commercial and Compliance functions (regulatory, legal, compliance) must work together as partners, not opponents, to achieve market success. Creating a path forward for alignment drives the top and bottom line, leading to greater market competitiveness and reduced risk, while serving patients and public health.

At an executive breakfast held by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) Metro Chapter, experts shared perspectives on strategies to protect and grow the business as digital communications become more sophisticated. Speakers included leaders from the DIA-HBA Leadership Project, a collaboration between DIA and HBA.

Promotional Churn from Misalignment

Unlike alignment, misalignment adversely affects risk management, business growth and profitability due to promotional “churn”—extensive rewrites and aborted promotional programs that waste time and money. “Rewrites in some companies are almost double the rate seen in others,” says Emma Hyland, Director, Zinc Ahead’s Client Services, citing data from the largest known dataset on the promotional review process. “And some companies abort up to 23% of initiated promotional programs.”

In fact, published studies estimate that more than $2 million are wasted per every 10 brands on promotional rewrites when Commercial and Compliance functions are misaligned. These benchmarks can help industry identify the impact of optimal collaboration on the business.

Best practices for collaboration include:

1. Align on a superordinate goal

“When teams align and agree on the overarching goal, the discussions are no longer about my process’ or your process’ but about desired outcomes,” notes Susan Winters, PhD and workplace efficiency consultant. “This means greater focus on the higher collaborative purpose—a win-win situation for everyone.”

A multi-disciplinary team at Johnson & Johnson saw the benefits of aligning around a superordinate goal when developing internal best practices for digital engagement. Peter Dannenfelser, Director, Digital Marketing, Janssen, a J&J company, and colleagues Philomena McArthur, Senior Director, Regulatory Advertising/Promotion, and Jennifer De Camara, Assistant General Counsel, all agreed that social media engagement is good for the brand, the business and the patients they serve. They also shared the belief that, as members of a leading healthcare company, their role is to help lead the industry, establishing models of compliant and effective digital programs. Their collaboration philosophy is published in the March issue of PM360 (

2.  Be judicious, not judgmental

Highly specialized professionals have their own approach to accomplishing business goals and a duty to be persuasive advocates for professional responsibilities. Healthy tension between disparate functions actually pushes organizations to higher levels of performance. However, when differences are not productively channeled, negative experiences lead to generalizations, judgments and tunnel vision carried forward to future engagements.

Examples of judgmental thinking include:

  • We seem to have the same conver-sation over and over.
  • They say no before they even listen to the idea—with no alternatives.

Another judgment that “agencies can’t produce breakthrough promotion because of regulatory constraints” is a fallacy, asserts Cindy Machles founder of Glue Advertising. “Data show that boundaries are necessary for creativity.”

“Judgments reduce idea generation, negatively effecting outcomes,” adds Lelia O’Connor, President of Ngal So Authentic Leadership Group.

“Because we are human, emotions enter the business realm,” explains Ellyn Spragins, NY Times Award-winning author of What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, (Random House, 2006). “When accomplished leaders reflect on their careers, they regret making collaboration goals secondary to being right, gaining the upper hand, or holding opinions not based on facts. They often realize their accomplishments could have been greater if they’d been more focused on collaborating well with others.”

Examples of non-judgmental thinking include:

  • They want to solve this problem as much as I do.
  • We appreciate one another’s expertise.

According to Winters, “For successful collaboration, teams must move from emotionally-focused to solution-focused decision-making. This requires identifying our automatic, negative and skewed assumptions and reframing them in response to the superordinate goal.”

According to Rob Buccino, President of NeoCortex Consulting Group,“Everyone brings emotional baggage to collaborations. Half of the task of achieving great collaboration is getting the participants to leave their baggage at the door.”

3.  Ensure all team members master the fundamentals

“Digital innovation requires that team members begin with the same knowledge baseline,” asserts Zoe Dunn, Principal of Hale Advisors. It’s a reasonable expectation that marketing teams and their promotional agencies possess a thorough knowledge of regulatory compliance basics. Equally, regulatory compliance/legal professionals need a working knowledge of digital tools and business objectives. Without these basics, it’s harder to contain judgments, impatience and frustration. Mutual respect grows when know-ledge gaps are closed.

Having the same knowledge baseline is particularly important when teams collaborate in the digital realm because regulatory/legal risks and digital platforms are constantly evolving. Team members who don’t master the basics become impediments to efficient and successful collaboration as new terrain is explored.

“Regulatory, legal and compliance executives must feel confident that recommendations are conceived with basic regulatory understanding,” says Wayne Pines, former FDA official and CCC Advisory Board Chair, citing the 2013 study Digital Health: Building Social Confidence in Pharma (

“For marketers with rare disease therapies, social media is an essential channel,” adds Wendy White, President, Siren Interactive. “That’s why we test our teams to ensure programs meet regulatory requirements to streamline approval and reduce risk.”

Recruiter Shellie Caplan says that digital savvy and regulatory compliance know-how are the price of entry for industry positions. Even patient groups have begun to request regulatory education to enhance industry collaboration, notes advocacy consultant Eve Dryer.

4.  Sharing kudos is just as important as kick-off and check-in meetings

Like many leaders, J&J’s Dannenfelser, McArthur and De Camara hold kick-off meetings and pressure test their process with multiple experts. They recognize it is vital to reinforce positive aspects of the collaborative experience, quickly acknowledging one another’s good work and sharing kudos with appropriate senior management teams.

5. Enduring cultural change is a process

Companies are actively working to enhance multi-channel communication through investments in infrastructure and leadership development. However, enduring cultural change requires altering how we think and what we believe about one another. Regulatory, legal and compliance must believe that it’s their role to help advance business objectives. Commercial marketing must believe that it’s entirely possible to enjoy a competitive advantage while operating within a compliant culture.

“With collaboration based on agreed upon expectations, a superordinate goal and trust between teams,” asserts Gerald Mosely, PhD, President, CP&P Development, “industry can change.”

  • Ilyssa Levins

    Ilyssa Levins is President and Founder of Center for Communication Compliance (CCC). Ilyssa helps manufacturers and their promotional agencies save time, money and manage risk, when promoting drugs and devices. She combines her regulatory compliance, marketing communications, and change management expertise to help clients achieve their goals.


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