In our personal lives, all of us have multiple responsibilities, some of which stand in opposition to one another. We can’t choose between parenting our children and holding down our jobs. We have to do both. We can’t choose between paying our taxes or spending our money as consumers. We end up having to do both. That’s why it always strikes me as odd that some seem to think they must act in the interest of either their company’s shareholders or of patients. All stakeholders count, and the business can only be sustained if we fulfill all of our responsibilities.
As a business leader, a proud mother, and recently grandmother, I’ve been interested for a long time in how parents reconcile all the kinds of demands that life throws at them. You can’t just choose between physically minding your child, working at your job, going to doctor’s visits, grocery runs, cleaning, mortgage, and taxes. It all needs to fit in somehow, and if one of the pieces gets neglected, all of the other pieces will also be impacted. The only saving grace is to know that millions of others have done it before and succeeded, so it must be humanly possible to handle the challenge, even if it means making compromises.
Brand managers and directors also have to reconcile demands that—at least on the surface—compete with one another. They need to nurture the brand for it to thrive and grow into a product that succeeds in the marketplace. And that means being pulled in many different directions: Shareholders demand one thing, regulators another, patients yet another, and then there’s still HCPs and payers to take into account. In that situation, what does success look like? To prioritize one stakeholder over all others? Far from it. The “baby” thrives the most when all of the responsibilities are met, which will also end up benefitting all of the stakeholders.
When faced with seemingly competing priorities, parents tend to rely on a network of support, most often family. Similarly, patients and caregivers nowadays seek out others like them. And when I look at the brand teams I know, I see a preference for agencies that are at least partly made up of former “brand parents.” It’s just so much more comforting to know that your partner knows where you’re coming from and understands the exact needs at any given point in the product lifecycle.
The biggest challenge I see for “brand parents” is getting the multidisciplinary support their brand needs. The agency world is a mix-and-match of specialties, and it’s understandable that there’s a reluctance to deal with several vendors. However, that’s like saying your child doesn’t need a pediatrician if you already have an allergy specialist. Just because the fields have areas of overlap doesn’t mean you can ignore your child’s need for, say, vaccines. Ideally, agency partners seamlessly work together, which is why it’s often a good idea to look at agency networks that unite all the specialties biopharma brands need to grow tall and strong.
And like every child has individual needs, every brand is different. A brand for a niche, orphan condition is likely better served with a focus on patient engagement, while potential blockbusters will be well advised to put more dollars behind blanket efforts in traditional and digital advertising. Brands that treat conditions that are underdiagnosed or dismissed by doctors have much to gain from an HCP focus. But to customize one’s focus doesn’t mean that nothing else counts: Just because you have a child that’s a math genius doesn’t mean you don’t also need to teach her reading and writing. In much the same way, patient engagement is not optional. One way or other, the brand will be exposed to patients, so it’s worth putting the necessary care into managing that relationship. That’s not an expendable, feel-good exercise. It’s an essential part of equipping the brand—any brand—for success. The question is really only what kind of patient engagement, and how much of it, makes sense for the business case.
Graduating as Best in Class
Fortunately, this line of thinking is now becoming mainstream. The champagne corks popped in celebration of our agency’s big win this autumn. Finally, after years of establishing patient engagement as a key success factor for biopharmaceutical companies, we’ve amassed enough credit to our name to be recognized as the PM360 Agency of the Year. While we sensed that this year had to be our year, there remained an element of surprise among us and our fellow contenders. It’s now official: Any well-run biopharma company will prioritize patients in all facets of their business.
This amazing industry-wide recognition is certainly validating and satisfying, and the most important thing is to remember the many people who contributed to getting here: Our employees, our clients, and the many patients who put their trust in us and decided to find their voice and share their story together with us. Like all the children we raise, this company too needed a multidisciplinary team in order to graduate as best in class.