We asked our panel to look ahead into a coming year of reform, patent cliffs, economic turmoil and elections, and tell us:
- • What issues are going to keep you up at night?
- • What silver linings do you see in the looming clouds?
- • Are there any stealth issues that aren’t yet on most people’s radar?
Executive Vice President, Intouch Solutions
Pharma companies are faced with a plethora of industry challenges. The patent cliff is becoming reality, pipelines aren’t what they used to be, physicians have severely limited rep access, and we have yet to see where healthcare reform will net out. Never mind that we are “still” waiting for Internet and social media guidance from FDA.
There are many unknowns. And this is not an industry comfortable with unknowns.
On the bright side, certainly these challenges are causing the industry to re-think the way it does things and look for innovative solutions to challenges. For example, I’m excited to see pharma companies embracing the idea of providing value beyond the pill. That means a better and broader understanding of valuable products, tools, and services they can provide to patients and physicians, and serving those up. The industry suffers from a poor reputation, and it feels as though many companies are ready to do something about that. I’m also encouraged to see the shift in mindset from broadcast marketing via traditional channels to embracing the opportunities digital and mobile hold for reaching customers on their terms. It took dramatic changes for pharma to see the ability of the digital medium to reach customers when and where they are seeking healthcare information.
I consider the mobile channel the next “stealth” issue. Sure, everyone is talking about apps and iPad details and other shiny objects when they talk about mobile. But very, very soon, our customers will be accessing the Internet more frequently on their mobile device than on a desktop. I don’t think most pharma marketers are truly ready for that shift.
Director of Strategy Services, AbelsonTaylor
Whether revenues have gone up or gone down, conversations among agency leaders during the past year have reflected the same timbre: It’s been among the most uncertain. The past year, along with the next two, are years of the cliff for many blockbuster brands as they lose billions of dollars in sales to generic entrants.
With less revenue, pharma clients are increasingly focused upon productivity. They have certainly shared this concern with all their key partners, looking to insure that their agencies are delivering the best value possible. Innovation has always been a discussion point, but now an agency’s ability to drive business at the leading edge is an essential factor in its productivity. Brands are being consolidated to fewer agencies, and that process will continue.
The issue, therefore, that keeps most agency managers up at night is the risk of getting consolidated out of a key piece of their business and revenue stream. This is always a concern, but is even greater in these volatile times. Hard times often lead to cutting the size of teams, which can lead to cutting corners in quality. I worry about maintaining quality and economy. I worry, too, about staying prepared for the future, and of making sure we maintain our solid infrastructure.
And I’d finish with a question for brand managers: Do you have your agency’s back? Do they know you’re in their corner? Are you doing what you can for a great partner? Knowing that makes a huge difference in how well your agency’s team sleeps at night.
CEO and President
Publicis Healthcare Communications Group
Healthcare is one of the few industries that have sustained steady growth through this difficult economic environment. This isn’t surprising given data demonstrating that the effort to reduce current treatment-focused costs has promoted preventative health. That sentiment is what is keeping the industry growing and hungry for fresh ideas to connect and inform people.
A technology-based solution is often viewed as a magic bullet—a cost-effective way to reach audiences with a tailored message. However, if companies are to capture the attention of any modern patient, or health-oriented consumer, they will need to provide information and value instead of asking them to do things.
Peer-to-peer social interaction has the potential to transform the pursuit of health by allowing people to share advice and knowledge. Consumers are already driving greater health information dissemination across country borders, shrinking the global divide, and ignoring established norms, practices and even regulations.
This ongoing open dialogue means that marketers need to embrace the reality that consumers are increasingly crafting the message they want to hear and determining how they want to hear it. The challenge is not limited to the United States: consumers in France, China, India and Brazil, are behaving the same way. We will see more patient communities crop up, as their personal experiences show them room for improvement or the need for information.
Companies delivering goods and services to healthcare customers can more effectively involve patients and caregivers by tapping these communities and understanding that messaging needs to provide value on a global scale. There is an opportunity for manufacturers to work with healthcare providers or community groups to create and recommend reliable websites, information sources, and social media sites that might benefit the information-seeker.
This type of innovative thinking will accelerate over the next few years, spinning out new ways to connect with people seeking information about health and wellness that we are not even thinking about today.
Associate Director, eMarketing and Relationship Marketing,
What are the black clouds on the horizon? The same that inflicted insomnia in 2011: 1) the continued need to innovate in getting relatively more done with relatively less, 2) customers’ relative flight to mobile and earned media from desktop, paid, and owned media, and 3) the continually declining value proposition of the traditional pharma sales & marketing model.
As to silver linings—and every cloud has one— we have opportunities to: 1) be smarter in how we work, experimenting with better work and team-working methods and tools; 2) learn to care for ourselves and each other and better drop those usual, but less value-adding, tasks we can so easily become mired in; 3) continue up the adoption curve on mobile and earned media to meet the customers where they are; and 4) reform the pharma customer experience to better integrate personal, semi-personal and non-personal media to make our information and services more conveniently and relevantly available in support of better patient outcomes.
If by stealth issues, you mean topics that I think bear more presence in our industry discourses, I would say: 1) ePrescribing and eMedical Records and their implication for therapy utilization and education; 2) CRM integration and operationalization that transcend our traditional internal silos; 3) customer experience strategy and its implications for keeping up with changing customer requirements in an age of mobile, on-demand access and convenience, the likes of which are delivered by Amazon, FedEx, American Express, etc., which we must increasingly prepare to compete with in the lifestyles of our customers.
Two big issues that will challenge the current way of doing business will be the impending patent cliff and the impact of the first year of the Sunshine Act. There will be a significant amount of restructuring as blockbusters lose their patent exclusivity. Pharmaceutical companies will have to refine their go-to-market strategies and will be tasked with doing more with less. Additionally, physicians are understandably concerned about how the new legislation of the Sunshine Act will affect them and may pull back on pharma events as a precaution.
[As for “silver linings”], change historically means that new thinking is required. Effectively engaging with HCPs will continue to be a high priority, but pharma may need to re-imagine how they do so. Technology products and services provide new opportunities to connect with pharma’s target audiences and deliver outstanding results, but also elicit fear of the unknown. Core to successful implementation is not only the willingness to think differently and to embrace change but also to accurately assess the needs of the target audience. Understanding, for example, that HCPs are only interested in participating in new venues if they intuitively see the benefit at the outset is an important lesson to learn. Pharma companies can gain significant insights from clinicians who are highly engaged with their brand/therapeutic category and with each other, but a successful initiative is one where the expectations of the participants and the sponsoring company are clearly defined before the project begins.
I’m not sure it’s a stealth issue, but the outcome of the 2012 election could seriously impact healthcare once again. The future of ObamaCare and deficit reductions will weigh heavily on pharma’s mind and may require rethinking their overall marketing strategy, both in terms of domestic market segments and markets outside of the United States.
R. J. Lewis
President and CEO, eHealthcare Solutions
The issues keeping all agency and supply-side partners up at night are the struggles that our industry is facing in terms of patent expiry and a weak pipeline to replace these brands.
Marketers have to do more with less each and every day, including working with smaller teams as industry itself continues to right-size to a post-blockbuster era. I’ve seen more ex-clients who are now finding alternative careers than I’ve seen in a long time. The revolving door of pharma has always moved quickly, but it is swinging faster than usual, which makes it difficult for brand teams to focus on long-term projections, and to be measured on long-term results.
This creates the opportunity for pharma to better leverage online and digital marketing tools. The digital landscape moves quickly, can be adapted based on performance, and can show results quickly, making it ideal for this type of changing client landscape. We are seeing customers start to walk the talk about shifting from product-centric companies to customer-centric companies, and ironically, the change is often being driven by the digital side of the businesses. When customers are using tools such as social media and online forums, YouTube, and the Facebook “like” button to literally “vote” products up and down, it is hard to pretend they don’t exist. Today’s pharma customers, both consumer and professional, are screaming to be listened to. Companies are finally taking strides to move beyond ignoring their customers, and are attempting to figure out how to dialogue in a highly regulated industry. Baby steps, while small, still represent progress.
CEO, closerlook, Inc.
The hammer is about to drop on marketing budgets. While there will still be discretionary spend on mobile and tablet pilot projects, executives are looking for great productivity from their marketing spend. Unproductive tactics must be prepared to surrender their pound of flesh.
The silver lining is that this greater scrutiny should lead to more customer-focused physician marketing. Unfortunately, many brand leaders may not have the data or insight to know whether the problem is a bad tactic, wrong target, or poor execution, and across-the-board budget cuts just punish existing physician relationships and confuse new ones.
This opens up a vital opportunity to fix the core problem once and for all by moving from an inside-out perspective (my product, my message, my tactics) to an outside-in focus (individual physicians, individual needs, unique experiences), and translate that into a fresh marketing strategy.
An industry executive recently asked me how she should be measuring the ROI of individual tactics in a multi-channel world. There is an answer to that question, but it wouldn’t be helpful, because the question itself is wrong. We should be measuring ROI at the physician level based on how we are serving that customer. Building the CRM capability to not only understand but also serve customers at the individual level will be one of the biggest challenges—and opportunities—in 2012.
David M Paragamian
Group Company President, Huntsworth Health, for the ApotheCom and ApotheCom ScopeMedical agencies
The new year, 2012, has the potential to be a great, turning-point year.
Let me explain my optimism.
First, we have all heard the steady drumbeat of the ominous news: big pharma patent expirations in the tens of billions of dollars, real global economic pressures, increased public and regulatory scrutiny of the industry. Marketing plans where “flat” is the new “up.” These pressures are real, and absolutely have the ability to make an industry that is conservative by nature even more conservative. There will be those pharma and device marketers whose plans for 2012 call for safe practices (“let’s avoid a warning letter at all costs”), whose plans call for “let’s do more with less.”
I also believe—here’s the optimism part—that there will be some marketers who will see this year as a time to do things differently. Who will take “smart risks” to get to true innovation in their categories and brands? The opportunity will be in truly doing things differently: looking at new partners; looking across industries to learn from CPG; or looking across oceans to see an innovative idea from an emerging market that may have applicability here. Here’s a simple example: In the growth hormone marketplace, what has driven true market share changes among the players has been an innovative pen delivery device. To oversimplify: the package, not the molecule.
Henry Ford once famously said, “If I ask my customers what they want, they will demand a faster horse.” There are lots of promising product pipelines out there; there are lots of smart, dedicated marketers out there. The spoils in 2012 will go to those brave enough to take the smart risks and to do the hard work of innovation.
Managing Partner, RCW Group
Looking ahead to 2012, it is clear that both the U.S. and global economies will face serious questions and obstacles, and the pharmaceutical industry is no exception. With blockbuster drugs going off patent at an increasingly high rate, generics have absorbed a significant portion of revenue from leading pharmaceutical companies. It is estimated that the top 50 pharma companies in the world will lose $82 billion in the Japan, U.S., and EU markets over the next 3 years as a result. In light of these changes, promotional budgets are falling, leading to increased pressure on communications agencies to find innovative, low-cost solutions to client concerns.
Additionally, analysts have noted that oncology products and orphan drugs show the strongest potential for growth and revenue in 2012.
Much has been made of the digital revolution and its influence on healthcare advertising, but I’m particularly intrigued by the potential for social media to improve patient compliance. Estimates suggest that only 4 in 10 patients currently take their medications as directed, but with more widespread availability of interactive tools, I expect that number to improve drastically over the next decade. The improvement of patient compliance represents a real opportunity for communications agencies—one that has the potential to improve the health of patients around the world.
President, Topin & Associates
Attempting to predict the future is risky in the best of times. Attempting the same during an election year can easily turn out to be a fool’s errand. Too many variables in play. Too many forces in conflict. And too many media outlets creating headlines out of campaign rhetoric. The more dependable predictions will have to look past the election and focus on 2013.
Even so, there are a number of influential factors that we can make some safe predictions about:
- Three million more baby boomers will enter their Medicare years, which means more cost pressures on an already stressed system and manufacturers.
- Additional elements of the Affordable Healthcare Act will become operative. Most importantly, on January 1, 2012, legislation to formalize Accountable Care Organizations with new payment processes and quality standards will take effect. Along with the legislation will come additional stress and confusion as the decibel level of political discourse rises. Never a good omen for the healthcare industry.
- And as has been the case for a number of years, the approval of New Molecular Entities (NMEs) and devices will continue to remain sluggish as the R&D pipeline for major blockbuster drugs remains sparse. So generic drugs will continue to gain share as specialty drug and delivery system launches drive launch activity and reduce forecasted revenues.
As far as our industry specifically, we’re bound to see certain trends continue during 2012. More manufacturers will consolidate. Digital communication will grow. Rep access with shrink, as will the overall number of reps on the street.
Overall, 2013 will be the year when there’s either substantial change or more of the same. We’ll either see a shift to a regulatory environment that mitigates the pressures on costs and opens the channels of product development…or we won’t. So any predictions of substance about the future are officially on hold until mid-November 2012.