PM360 Q & A with Jay Bolling, CEO, PulseCX

Jay Bolling, a healthcare marketer with more than 25 years of experience, can see where the industry is headed, and he wanted his agency’s name to reflect that new direction. So last May, Roska Healthcare Advertising (a name that the industry has known since the 1980s) became PulseCX. Bolling believes the key to successful pharma marketing is in creating superior customer experiences (CX)—and he spoke to PM360 about how to build those experiences and why it is so important his agency becomes synonymous with them.


PM360: Why change your company’s brand when it already has name recognition?

Jay Bolling: That’s the $64,000 question—one that wasn’t taken lightly. Our company has a great heritage in direct and relationship marketing. That is still very much at the core of what we do, but it does represent our past. Over the past few years we’ve gone well beyond CRM, and we wanted to recreate our brand to represent the future. We’ve evolved to focus much more on emotional storytelling and delivering the brand through the customer experience.

So healthcare marketing’s future is in creating more emotional connections with patients?

We strongly believe that the customer experience and customer-centric marketing is the only way to deliver brands today. The idea of creating one-way communications that “broadcast” a product’s features and benefits in the informational age—in this sharing age—just doesn’t make sense. We want to deliver brands through the customer experience and tap into the emotional elements of how consumers engage with products.

You’ve created product rebranding campaigns. How does that compare to rebranding a whole company?

The classic phrase of the “cobbler’s children have no shoes” is usually applicable. It’s hard enough to do one component—update a website or develop advertising—but to truly rebrand and develop the myriad of elements that go into that brand—that takes incredible focus.

We started the 15-month process by examining who our target audience is, what their needs are, how our services meet the needs of the industry, where the industry is going, and how we can be most effective. It required our people to essentially take on a second job. We wanted to approach this the same way that we would for a client.

Why make this change now instead of when you first took over the agency?

Jon Roska started the agency back in 1981, and everything flowed down from him. He was a very strong individual—kind of the Lee Iacocca of direct marketing. When I acquired the company in February of 2010, I wanted to transform it from the bottom up. While we considered changing the name early on, it was not the right time—to transform the agency, we needed to first get the right people on the bus. We also had to ensure the infrastructure was in place to be able to grow in a measured way. After that it was time to engage in rebranding.

What’s the reaction been so far?

We’ve had a great response, which is very comforting because when you step over that edge you think, “Oh my god, I hope I did the right thing.” What has been interesting: People really picked up on the CX. The industry relates to it and understands its meaning. And then there is Pulse, which represents a new focus and energy level.

What’s also been exciting for us internally is this has truly become everyone’s brand. Roska Healthcare was initially developed by someone most of our employees never even knew. But now, this new brand is theirs. We’ve been able to weave our company culture into our brand and experience—together.

You mentioned the importance of people understanding the “CX” in your name. How is your approach to customer experience unique?

We can never lose sight of the fact that no one ever wants to use a pharmaceutical product—people prefer to be healthy. So we look for the moments when our target audience is emotionally connected and willing to engage. These moments are different depending on disease states, brands and lifecycles, it’s important to truly understand how and when people are receptive to information and who they are receptive to. It’s about engaging them first, then inserting our clients’ brands into those relationships based on their experiences.

How do you create experiences audiences want to engage with?

When we developed the Myrbetriq launch campaign for Astellas, we examined how we could leverage different elements to engage our target consumer: A woman who’s likely in denial, probably covering her symptoms, and who has previously tried medications that didn’t work. In addition to branded and unbranded advertising, point of sale promotion and patient education, we developed a three-year partnership between Astellas and the PGA TOUR, which has 40 million adamant, engaged and active female fans, most of them squarely in our target demographic. We created a relationship with them through their experience of the PGA TOUR, not ours, and not with us. And now we’re inserting the brand into their TOUR experience, when they’re ready to engage.

You preach the importance of storytelling. Is that still incorporated into these experiences?

Absolutely, the idea of iterative messaging and storytelling is critical to developing communications. One of the concepts we identified early on through relationship marketing is something we call the three Ps: Personalization, personification and projection.

For personalization, think of Bill Clinton. He could present to 10 million people, but make it feel like he was talking directly to you. Personification gets people to look in the mirror and say, “I never realized that, but wow, that’s me.” Finally, projection allows people to see the future and find the next actionable foothold—not the entire mountain, so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Speaking of stories, do you have a favorite marketing story?

In the past, we worked with P&G in the area of ulcerative colitis—a debilitating disease in which people lose bowel control. We pitched the business around the three Ps in a highly personalized campaign called “My Guide,” which employed virtual guides that touched the hearts of folks. You really felt they were real people, even though they were virtual.

One of the marketing directors asked us, “You know, half of me hopes that you’ve never done this before and half of me hopes that you have.” It was so telling because all of our clients want to do something different to make more of an impact. And it was so classic, because she was really saying, “You make me a little nervous, but I love what I’m hearing.”


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