Are agencies leading DTC marketers down the wrong path?

KEY TAKEAWAY: With the drain of DTC talent more DTC marketers are relying on agencies to recommend and lead DTC marketing initiatives, but are they leading them towards what’s nest for their agencies or what’s best for the brand?

Not too long ago our group developed a great online marketing plan for a drug targeted at postmenopause women.  The plan included some native advertising written by the leading thought leaders on menopause and sexual function.  In testing the program with women the results were overwhelmingly positive with our audience and a short test online at two sites produced a click through rate of close to 20%, 20%!!!!!!!  

We were ready to roll with the campaign, but after three weeks heard nothing from the client. Then we got the call “we decided to spend mots of our budget on TV spots”.  Hah?  I tried to fight the wind because I knew this was the right thing to do but was unsuccessful.  In our weekly meeting one of my colleagues sent me a deck that their ad agency had presented which emphasized TV and de-emphasized online.  It was full of garbage and I immediately called the agency account person and told them that in our test we had a click through that was unheard of but she just said “we feel that TV is the best way for rapid uptake of the product”. The DTC Director went with their agency’s recommendation.

Half a year later, a new DTC director sent an email asking what had happened to our online program.  I told him, via a phone call, what had happened and did not pull any punches.  He then informed me that they had severed relations with their ad agency and were starting over as the sales targets were not met.  I gave him the name of several really good digital agencies but have since lost contact.

How often are big agencies leading pharma DTC managers astray?  A lot more than you would believe.  Too often the great digital agencies are shut out at the expense of the big off-line agencies and brands suffer.  Sure, DTC marketers should know better, but too many good DTC marketers have left our industry and thus they rely on agencies that may not have the brand’s best interest at heart.

The ad industry has to take a substantial share of the blame of bad DTC.  They are using their “B” and “C” teams to develop creative and too many are fighting for their overhead, and survival, instead of doing what is best for the brand.  Hopefully this will change and change soon because if not DTC is headed in the same direction as the Titanic.


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