Once the relationship between pharma and the marketing services and healthcare advertising industries was built on trusting the experience of the professionals. According to this marketing industry pro, those days are gone forever. With our industry gripped in a cost-cutting mentality, and doing more with less becoming the standard, it is now time for the marketing services industry and pharma to work more closely together to measure the effectiveness of our marketing interventions.
When I began my career as a product manager for Bristol-Myers Squibb in the late 1980s, I would be visited by marketing services suppliers and I pretty much had to rely on their word with respect to the effectiveness of their products or services. Although I never asked the question, they would occasionally show me a case study of a similar program they had run for another brand. This way, they reasoned, I could count on the effectiveness of the intervention, but mostly I relied on the deep experience of my senior account person. “Trust me,” he would intone. “I have been doing this for 20 years and this will work.” When you think about it, the marketing services and healthcare advertising industries were built on this implicit trust.
When I moved to the service side of the industry in 1998, as a VP account director for GSW Worldwide, I was taken aback by the notion that my clients would pay me really good money (more than $200 per hour) for my opinion. This, I must admit, freaked me out a little bit. What experience had I accumulated that a large, sophisticated pharma company would be willing to pay over $200 per hour? It didn’t take me long to realize that accumulated experience was indeed valuable—that you could really help your client avoid mistakes that were made in the past.
A few years later I became CEO of GSW Worldwide and began to think about our accountability to our clients with respect to “proving” our programs and campaigns worked. The notion of ROI became a bigger part of the healthcare services industry, but for the most part, the intrinsic value of working with an agency came from having more experience than our clients at developing marketing programs.
I am the CEO of MediMedia Health, which provides non-personal promotional campaigns to pharmaceutical companies. It is hard for me to imagine saying to my prospective clients, “Trust me, my product and services work.” Those days are gone and rightfully so. With our industry gripped in a cost-cutting mentality, and doing more with less becoming the standard, it is now time for the marketing services industry and pharma to work more closely together to measure the effectiveness of our marketing interventions. We have to discover the art of experimenting together so that we can learn the true ROI of our interventions. Think of our marketing programs more like mini-clinical trials. What is our control? What is our intervention? How are we going to measure our results? Why aren’t we running pilot programs on a 1/25 scale to determine effectiveness before we spend $2-3M or more on a given program? We have to implement campaign management systems so that we can adjust our programs in real time to optimize the deployment of our campaigns.
I often hear complaints about the pharma industry procurement departments “commoditizing” our services and putting pressure on prices. I believe the only way out of that is enlisting the help of our clients to prove our interventions drive performance. We have indeed moved beyond the “Trust me, I have been doing this for 20 years” era.
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