PM360 Q & A with Michael McLinden Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Mc|K Healthcare


Michael McLinden handles the strategy and planning half of the Mc|K Healthcare partnership, and recently he decided to change things up a bit. This summer the agency announced a company reset—one without UCB’s Neupro U.S. business, which the agency has handled since launch. In a way, the agency is getting back to its roots—providing great strategic insight in an environment where creative sparks fly. But the agency is also adjusting to the new healthcare landscape and how it can help pharma clients re-imagine their role under this new outcome-based model.

PM360: What led to this company reset, and what kind of changes are you implementing?

Michael McLinden: Last year, my partner Breda Kenyon, with whom I started Mc|K in 2003, retired. It was a good time to take stock and figure out where the agency was going forward. When she and I got into this, it wasn’t because we wanted to be business tycoons. The things that were important to us were intense strategic and creative engagement with our clients, and a chance to make a difference every day.

Breda had this equation: Great people equal great work, equal great clients. And it’s a circle, because you keep getting more great people, more great work and more great clients.

But somehow we’d gotten to a point in which when people around the office talked about success, it was about what boxes were being checked off what punch list and what the title said on their business card. I wasn’t hearing that same energy and excitement about the big ideas and about strategic engagement. And so we stepped back and said, how do we get back there?

You also decided to end your Neupro relationship in the U.S. What lead to that decision?

In some respects, from a dollar standpoint, it’s a big thing. But from a company culture and evolution standpoint, it’s a little bit more of a natural evolution. Neupro will always be near and dear to me. It was one of the first major clients we won.

But I think if you go back to where we’re trying to be as an agency, we launched the product, we’ve taken it through three POAs, and it’s moving into the mid-life phase of its lifecycle. Now it’s going to be more about administering the brand moving forward, and less about doing the deep dig and coming up with the big ideas that drive the brand in exciting new ways. So it’s an opportunity to move on. They get to have some new perspectives on the brand, and we get to try and build the next new Neupro.

As part of this new agency model, you have also said that you want to help pharma companies re-imagine their own business models and move away from one based on just selling chemicals. Can you explain the goal behind this switch and how you can accomplish it?

Almost every pharma company we’ve run into has the same question: “What is the next big thing?” I don’t know how long you’ve been in the business, but I go back to the ’80s, and in that time, you could almost set your watch by the the latest flavor-of-the-week.

And that’s just not where the game is being played anymore in this much more complex and interconnected healthcare environment. It used to be that at the end of the day the business came down to “I make a chemical, I put it in a box, I put it on a shelf in a pharmacy, and then I run ads and details and other things to get physicians to prescribe it.”

That’s not the model that our clients want to operate under, and it’s not the model that’s going to return value in the marketplace. We have to help our clients take different and broader roles in producing the best possible results for their patients and for healthcare providers. That might mean creating programs that help ensure patient compliance. But it may also mean taking a bigger role in disease management. For some clients, we’re looking at going to an insurance company and saying, “Forget about just our product. We want to work with you to make sure that your patients have the best therapy available to them at any time, whether it’s the expensive branded product or the cheap generic.”

That’s what I’m talking about when I say we have to change our focus and look at who we’re involving and how we’re thinking about the challenge of creating value as a pharma company.

Do you think medical marketing will need to evolve even more as healthcare continues to change?

I get so frustrated that for so many people medical marketing is, “I have a product that I’m going to sell you.” Medical marketing, or any marketing, is about aligning one group’s resources with market opportunities and challenges so that you create value on both sides.

There’s one undeniable trend in our business: It’s no longer about looking for the average result that the average drug produces for the average patient at the average dose, because we’ve all been doing that long enough to realize that there is no average patient and there is no average response.
That’s how we now have to think on the pharma side of the business. That we’re not going out to the average doctor with the average message that tested well with the average creative. We have to start saying, “How do we engage very specific people to make sure that we’re addressing their specific challenges and needs?”

And we’re already increasingly seeing that on the patient side. While so much of DTC is still in the mode of Dorothy Hamill skating on the pond, talking about arthritis, and trying to get people to drive demand for a drug, I think going forward patients want to interact in a different way. They want to know, how does this therapy work? What are the experiences of other patients? We’re going to have to figure out how to facilitate these dialogues without running afoul of OPDP and PhRMA guidelines.

Do you see any new trends that pharma should be prepared for?

I hope to see some evolutions in the market that allow for a little bit more direct feedback. For instance, there are patients who complain about a $25 co-pay on a product that is saving their lives, and then they go out and spend $80 a month on facial scrubs. Pharma needs to find a way to regain this high road with patients and say, “Look at all of this value that we are bringing to you. Value that’s the result of years of painstaking research of the highest level of scientific endeavor in terms of how we make it, how we test its purity, how we make sure that it gets to you and is on the shelf in a way that we can document every pill and every vial.”

We need to do a better job of having patients see that value and the quality that pharma brings into their lives.


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