When I tell people that I work in pharma marketing, I occasionally get a reaction that goes something like this:

“Wow, big pharma? Don’t you guys make stuff up to get people to buy drugs?”

To which I reply:

“Make stuff up? After medical, legal, and regulatory all get involved, we can’t even say stuff that’s true!”

Okay. That’s an exaggeration. Worse, it’s not a very good joke, either. After all, the people in these three disciplines (which I’ll call “MLR” for the rest of this piece) want us to state the facts. They review our marketing materials with one goal in mind: To make absolutely sure that we’re representing medicines fairly and accurately. Since we’re dealing with patients’ lives here, that’s pretty important.

I would never dream of our industry existing without MLR. So why my bad joke about them? For the answer, I would direct you to…well, just about anyone who has ever tried to get an asset through MLR.

Yes, I’m talking to you, you crushed copywriters, you annoyed account managers, you miffed marketing directors. At some point or another MLR has ruined your day by commenting all over your shiny new piece. Despite your best efforts to be buttoned up, you were forced to confront the prospect of having to make changes to what you thought was the world’s most perfect detail aid.

In the depths of your despair, maybe you even hatched a plan to avoid MLR comments on your next piece. I don’t blame you for these thoughts—we’ve all had them. But I do think they’re silly. Here are three reasons why.

1. Comments Let Us Know We’re Doing Our Jobs

As marketers, we have one job: To market. To promote. To bring attention in an interesting way. When the day comes that every doctor and patient is happy reading prescribing information and a medication guide, our jobs will cease to exist. Until then, we remain gainfully employed.

Part of that gainful employment is to say and show and do things in a way that—gasp!—does not exactly replicate said prescribing information and medication guide. When we do that, it means that we’ve taken carefully crafted clinical information vetted and approved by the FDA, and altered how it’s presented.

When I put it like that, you see why what we do is inherently nerve-wracking to MLR. These are people whose entire jobs depend on making sure what we say and show and do is as consistent as possible with our FDA-approved label. And that’s okay! But it also means we’re going to bring them things that push them out of their comfort zones. That’s okay, too. This conflict helps to forge a more perfect communication—one that’s neither misleading nor uninteresting.

2. Comments Are Inevitable

Think about your last experience with showing a brand-new asset to MLR. How many comments did you get? Hint: If you said zero you are a liar, and I don’t write articles for liars, so please stop reading now, thanks.

Of course you got comments! That’s the job of MLR. They must comment. They must be certain that they haven’t overlooked anything that could be dangerous. To paraphrase an old fable, we can’t get mad at MLR for commenting. It’s in their nature.

So…what are we to do? Must we be resigned to an endless cycle of comments on our very special and precious marketing pieces? Yes. Deal with it and move on.

3. Comments Remind Us That We’re Only Human

So far, I’ve been focused on one type of MLR occurrence: You say something that’s true, MLR acknowledges that it’s true but that it could also be misleading, and you both do your dance. But sometimes, it also happens that you’re 100% wrong.

Medicine is hard. Did you know people go to school for like 100 years to be a doctor? That’s because it’s hard. And when you try and write about hard stuff, you’re not always going to get it right. It doesn’t mean you’re a crappy copywriter or an atrocious account manager or a malignant marketing director (I know that last one’s a stretch—just go with it). It means you’re a human being working on some complicated content, and you made a mistake.

You know what I say? Thank goodness. Thank goodness your friends at MLR are there to catch that mistake before it gets out into the world. Maybe buy them a gift card or something to thank them.

Repeat after me: Comments aren’t bad. MLR folks don’t feel bad when they give them, and you shouldn’t feel bad when you get them. You especially shouldn’t try to avoid them, because that’s not possible. All you’ll do is compromise your work before you get in the room, and nobody wants that!

Not even MLR.

  • Josh Righter

    Josh Righter is VP, Creative Director at Calcium. Josh worked in healthcare communications for nearly 10 years, learning how to better collaborate with his MLR friends every step of the way.


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