Zoey Dunn asks, via an article in Medical Marketing & Media “Is the current agency model a joke?”. She raises some very valid points as someone who has worked in an agency but I wanted to give a view from the client side as I have both worked with multiple agencies on major product launches and on behalf of brands. One thing is for certain though, the current agency model, not only in pharma but in consumer packaged goods as well, is broken.
Zoey says “agencies must get out of the strategy business”. I agree to a certain extent but the exodus of talented marketers from pharma is a liability for the industry. With all the layoffs you have to have a screw loose to want to work in big pharma. Even with all the self promoting awards within the industry when was the last time ANY pharma DTC campaign was recognized as groundbreaking by a non-industry magazine ?
My thought is that agencies need to be thoroughly integrated with the brand team. This means both on and off line agencies. When I worked on the launch of Cialis we regularly held agency integration meetings in New York but it was the brand manager who determined the overall strategy for the brand. My digital agencies did not get more work or bigger budgets without me first presenting my case to the brand manager and developing that business case was my job.
So what is an agency supposed to do when they are presented with a digital strategy that doesn’t make sense ? Are they supposed to just execute knowing that the ROI could be very low? No they should push back but that push back has to be what’s right for the brand not their accounting department. All too often agencies have to bill a certain amount to cover “overhead” and when that happens we all lose.
The best solution is to choose an agency that can become a strategic partner for the brand. One that doesn’t invoice you everytime you talk with them an has your brand’s best interests at heart. It’s hard to do but it should be a KRA for all DTC brand managers.
One point that Zoey raises that I agree with is that most big agencies are going to recommend campaigns that are kind to their profit margins. I have seen this time and time again but I have also seen some digital agencies state that the ROI on digital campaigns was 500% (sorry not buying that). DTC managers need to understand the why and where behind the allocation of DTC budgets. Even now it’s hard to believe that they foolishly allocate most of their media dollars to TV and it clearly shows to me that there is a lack of talented marketers within the industry.
The model has to change but the organizational model within pharma that moves people around like checkers also has to change. If someone is good at what they do keep them in their job and let them excel for the brand and company.
Note: This month World of DTC Marketing set a record for traffic exceeding 150,000 readers via direct traffic, RSS Feed and eMail. I cannot thank you all enough and I am honored to also be one of the top 5 pharma influencers. To me this is fun and a passion because patients should always be put first.