I was recently at a pharmaceutical company’s speaker’s training meeting. Having served as a speaker and advisor for several companies in several disease states over the past 15 years, I have been to many of these. Over the past several years, under the current regulatory environment, these programs have become remarkably similar regardless of the company or product.
However, this most recent speaker training was a bit different. While many of the elements were familiar (reviewing the promotional slide decks, obligatory compliance presentation, modest meals, etc.), the overall tone and feel was quite different. Upon entry to the pre-session dinner, which typically has little decoration or fanfare, the absence of sponsor signs and displays were noticeable. More surprising: The fact that the messaging was not product specific, but rather company specific.
Signs about partnering with the company to care for patients were present. And display booths were demonstrating non-branded resources for patients, provider and speakers. In one booth, attendees could even donate to the charities that the sponsor supported. Prior to the opening session the following morning, the screen on the big stage showed a continuous loop of quotes from famous people about leadership and teamwork. The training began not with how the product or company was doing in the marketplace (what I have termed the “line slides”), but rather with the two-minute “commercial” made for company meetings that discusses the company’s mission and values—typically intended to motivate employees.
At first, this noticeable difference struck me as odd, a bit overwhelming and bordering on “cheesy.” However, given the meaning and consistency of the message, I quickly began to have a much more favorable impression. The sponsor was clearly trying to show they were committed to patient care and wanted me to partner with them to improve patients’ lives, which as a physician, resonated with me very strongly.
While this type of internal marketing is very common in all industries, I have never seen it before at a speaker training. When a pharmaceutical company markets to physicians (including their speakers and advisors), the messages are almost always product specific, and sometimes competitive in nature.
Marketing the company’s core values directly to physicians is something very rare—and yet it makes complete sense. While this may seem logical for speaker training (i.e., we want you to partner with us to help patients, not just be a shill for selling our products), I believe that this type of company-specific messaging could work well at the field level in the one-on-one pharmaceutical representative-to-physician interaction.
Potential examples might include detailing—not on products—but on the company’s mission and vision, a non-branded “Slim Jim” on the company’s portfolio and future directions, or a request for physicians to partner with advocacy groups that the company supports.
A recent shift has been seen in industry promotions toward providing value instead of selling a product. However, it is hard to provide value for certain products that are well established, well covered and have no new data. Partnering with physicians goes beyond and complements providing value. The industry should consider more ways to partner with their prescribers, rather than just pitching to them.