Pharma insiders: Enemy of change

same olPOST SUMMARY: “Always hire talent, even if you don’t have the perfect spot for them yet”. That quote is from an article on The Top 5 Hiring Lessons from the Nation’s Best Execs and while a lot of us would like to believe it’s true, we know that it is in fact just the opposite, especially within biopharma.

Once again, I have read that a certain person, well known within pharma circles, has changed jobs.  This is the 4th time he has a new position and while he is active in pharma social media circles, he doesn’t have one significant accomplishment helping to launch a pharma product or grow sales of an existing one.  However, he always finds a way to present at pharma conferences to an audience that is impressed with great looking slides rather than actual accomplishments.  Welcome to the world of pharma insiders.


One of the reasons that pharma marketing has been in a funk is the simple fact that there is a lack of people who are willing to change processes to focus on patients.  Instead, most pharma people are too busy attending meaningless meetings from morning till night and trying to “get along” with others rather than rock a boat that very much needs rocking.

My personal belief is that most pharma executives are afraid to hire smarter people than they are.  They are afraid that people won’t fit in or that these people could invoke real change. This is very much an industry problem and frankly it hasn’t changed in a long long time.  A colleague of mine, who has spent a long time within the industry, recently left after over 10 years with one organization.  When I asked him why, he said “I just grew tired of grind of trying to get the organization to acknowledge that patients have more power in choosing health care treatments and that we needed to do more”.  He continued “I have seen an influx of people that just don’t have the personal tools needed to be pharma marketers.  They were good at politics, but getting along with others is just a small part of succeeding”.


Last week, after working with a potential client to get their business for over a month, I turned down the opportunity to work with them because I could tell no matter what I did their culture was not one which was ready to embrace the kind of change needed to succeed in digital marketing.  The Director I was working with said “yes, I know, it’s tough to get things done here” and that in a nutshell describes a lot of organizational issues.

To those organizations that are embracing change and hiring smarter I salute you because you are laying the foundation for a competitive advantage.  For those who are not, you don’t realize it, but there is an iceberg dead ahead.

In response to John Mack’s article on my post I said

“John: When we join a company, any company or industry, we have the opportunity to both add value and bring change to industries or organizations or we can play it safe and try and fit in. Right now the pharma industry is very much in need of change and change agents or else the industry, risking its very future as a viable business.

May I remind you that your friend has no substantial accomplishments adding value to ANY pharma brands or growing sales of existing products. It’s easy to throw up your hands and say “the hell with this” and become an industry outsider, but in doing so we are giving up on the people we very much need to help. Our job is not to take the easy path, it’s to try and take the road less traveled and implement change. We have to be willing to do what we feel is right rather than just playing it safe. I was able to do this with a community forum in on a launch product as well as develop a pharma website that was number 1 in conversion. I did it via a lot of hard work and hours, but I am proud of what I did and the value I brought.

You miss a lot by never having worked in a pharma organization or as a consultant and while I enjoy your posts you need to see the problems the industry faces within the organizations. If we are hired and we are not willing to try and change people/reams than we are just working to collect a check and what we do is too damn important for that.”

10 thoughts on “Pharma insiders: Enemy of change

  1. Richard: I am a regular reader of your blog and of all the posts I have read over the last few months this one really hit home especially the response to John. I work for the number one pharmaceutical company in the world and I am sick and tired of doing the same things day in and day out. I have done my best to hire outsiders who will bring about new thinking and make change when necessary and although I could make more money working for an agency I choose to stay inside and try an bring about the changes we need to better compete in this new decade of healthcare marketing. Keep writing and call out the phonies who have fancy titles but lack substance.

  2. Richard–I agree with you completely. Some pharma companies did try to hire outsiders to implement change and were successful for a few years. For example, Schering-Plough had their Strategic Leadership Unit–of which I was a part. When the new “typical pharma” CEO came on board, the group was eliminated and industry insiders were brought in. All those years of pioneering work were gone in a flash. Years later, other forward thinking companies in big pharma are trying to replicate what was done there–but with little success. Keep on ranting! It’s good for the industry!

  3. Wow,I thought it was just me but you hit the hammer squarely on the nail. I’m sick of dealing with agency people who gave big titles but really haven’t had the patience to do anything within our industry. What’s worse is that they are everywhere and people actually listen to them!

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  5. Holla! Every word above resonated like a big ol’ bell for this e-patient – pharma companies have, a number of times over recent years, invited me and other patient voices who are also well versed in change management and comms strategy to share some insights with them.

    Each and every time, those who asked for the input were delighted at what they heard, and wanted to put some of our recommendations into practice. Not a one has actually managed to do so after running head-first into the change prevention wall of “this is how we do things here.”

    It’s a systemic problem throughout the medical-industrial complex, but is particularly embedded in pharma, given that industry sector’s cult-like mantra of “all bow to shareholder value.” The fix would be actually LISTENING to the savvy patients who can help them re-tool their messaging. But, sadly, they’re too busy telling us, repeatedly, to “ask our doctor about” [whatever], with no ability to hear us saying to them “you’re not HELPING, folks.”

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  8. Good thoughts and resonant.

    That said, where is the part about what can and should be done about it? Where also is the acknowledgement that this is not a pharma specific matter but a habit of most all “old and successful innovator’s” and thus their dilemma as Christensen taught us.

    Additionally, while change has its enemies ultimately they can only slow but not stop it. The fact is that change continues apace, the question is who will survive it.

    Thanks again for the thoughts.

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