Last week I sent out some eMails to some thought leaders within our industry to ask them about the breakout and decline of DTC marketing dollars as reported by Nielsen and Cegedim. I received some pretty frank responses that are indicative of the challenges that pharma faces as they try and become better digital marketers. Among the key challenges are people who don’t understand digital marketing, the quest for “shiny” DTC marketing and legal and regulatory teams that just don’t understand digital marketing at all and thus block efforts to move into an era of consumer empowered marketing.
The eMails that I received from people who work within the industry were frank and honest (they know me) and painted a picture of an industry that has to transform its organizational structure in order to make the leap from digital laggards to digital pioneers. Don’t get me wrong there are some digital pioneers within our industry (Sanofi, Millennium) but they are far and few between.
Here are the challenges of becoming digital marketing pioneers according to the feedback I received:
(1) Lack of Digital Marketers – By far the biggest complaint was that there are too many people in DTC marketing who don’t understand digital marketing and tend to go for channels that are more glamorous. This is compounded by organizations that insist that employees “rotate” to a new position every 2-3 years and are replaced with inexperienced marketers. It is particularly frustrating for some agency people who have to school new people on digital marketing 101 principles thus possibly loosing momentum for ongoing initiatives.
(2) Antiquated Legal and Regulatory Teams – I also heard this a lot with one person saying that by the time she educated them on why and what they were doing the door of opportunity had closed. Another said 9 out of 10 digital marketing programs proposed by their digital agency were shot down by his legal and regulatory people even when he had concrete examples of what others pharma companies were doing online.
Now keep in the mind a recent report from Fleishman-Hillard on digital marketing:
Despite the perceived increase of regulatory risk associated with digital media platforms, an examination of regulatory enforcement patterns instead finds that traditional media platforms have garnered more regulatory actions from FDA than have digital media:
- Of the 675 violations examined during the years 2008-2012, 43 percent (n=290) involved digital media vehicles while 57 percent (n=385) involved traditional media.
- Of the 176 regulatory action letters sent to companies by FDA, less than 1 percent (actual n=1) involved a social media platform as the basis for the letter.
- A Warning Letter, the more serious type of regulatory action letter issued by OPDP, was issued nearly three times more often for violations involving traditional media vehicles than those involving digital media.
- The proportion and number of Warning Letters issued against digital media vehicles has declined every year since 2009.
If pharma is to succeed with digital marketing they need people who both understand the channel but also need to remove some of the chains that hold these people back and prevent success. I was able to succeed at Lilly with allowing posts via social media because I took the time to work very closely with my legal and regulatory team to earn their trust. Today a lot of marketers just don’t seem to have the time to do that because they are in their positions for too short a period of time. Pharma can make the leap but we need more pharma marketing digital pioneers. Any volunteers ?