Amidst the almost constant news about job cuts at pharma companies, there are certain positions that seem impervious to change. There will always be a need for brand marketers. That said, the opportunity is especially rosy in the specialty pharma niche since most industry trends are predicting accelerated growth.

Those interested in entering this small niche or making a transition from traditional to specialty marketing, however, should be prepared for the unique differences between the two. Based on our experience, we’ve identified five differences that marketers should keep in mind before considering a job switch.

1. Be prepared to work with smaller budgets. The target audience is smaller, the physician groups are more specialized, and the company tends to be smaller and new to the market, so don’t expect a large budget. In fact, you may have to “justify” every tactic, depending on the product. To push brands, marketers will need to be more creative and selective with their budgets. Additionally, the sales force team tends to be smaller. While they’ll need you to develop the marketing materials, don’t expect too much since they’ll be stretched thin.

2. Have a strong skill set in advocacy relations. Typically, advocacy is not considered a priority at traditional pharma companies. At times, it’s also one of the first tactics to be eliminated. In specialty pharma, advocacy may be the No. 1 most important strategy marketers execute. Usually, there is very little data on the small patient base. Physician specialists are also active in these communities. Advocacy groups can play an influential role in drug approvals, patient education, and potential physician buy-in to specific therapies. Those who have a track record of building cause-related partnerships and advocacy relationships possess priceless skills.

3. Know the drug approval requirements of various countries. Start studying. The drug approval process for the United Kingdom differs from that of France or Germany. Even next-door neighbor Canada has a different procedure for drug review and approval. Marketers interested in working for a global specialty pharma company should have a strong understanding of the different regulatory requirements for each country to establish an appropriate regulatory strategy. If you don’t have a good grasp of the requirements, brush up before the interview.

4. Get ready to work long hours. In general, smaller companies require more investment in time so expect the work hours to be more than the standard 9 to 5. However, those who choose to work in specialty pharma tend to be more satisfied with their careers. The benefits of working in this niche may outweigh the negatives. For example, marketers can walk into a president’s office and express their concerns directly. Decisions are made by a few or by the marketers themselves, instead of layers of committees. Greater job autonomy may mean roles outside of the traditional marketing function. Despite the long hours, marketers in these niche companies truly believe the hard work is worth it because they’re making a difference in people’s lives.

5. Understand that the compensation package may be different. While salary in this niche market may be comparable to traditional pharma, the compensation mix may differ. Depending on their size and the stage of their product development, the comprehensive package may include tiered revenue milestones, stages of approval, or equity. Savvy marketers may be able to help shape their own compensation mix.

  • Steve Murdock

    Steve Murdock is Managing Partner for the Seattle office of Allen Austin Global Executive Search. Murdock was a key contributor to some of the healthcare industry’s biggest brand success stories, including the development, launch and growth of Cialis, Celebrex and Ambien. For more information, visit


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