Working in big pharma

question_manMy name is Kevin and I have been working in drug company marketing for over fifteen years.  I sent this post to Rich with the stipulation that he not reveal my full name because I still am working for a drug company in a consumer marketing role.   The more I read about others experiences woking for a big company the more I really believe that the drug industry really doesn’t care about patients and looks at them as simply prospects to be sold.  I hear the chatter about being patient focused but Rich is right in that we can’t really do much of anything without a lot of meetings and showing a clear measurable return-on-spending.

I make good money but that is often offset by the threat of being downsized due to a reduction in sales.  When I am not in meetings I am usually busy trying to update presentations and working with market research to develop metrics that VP’s can understand.  At the start of the fiscal year I usually have enough money to really make a difference but when I try and spend it I usually have to go through weeks of meetings.  We had a great interactive agency onboard when I got here but procurement wanted to consolidate our agencies and now I am working with an agency that I don’t really like.


There was a time when we would send people to top business schools to recruit new employees but over the last few years that has proved to be a waste of time as recent college graduates desire a career with more progressive companies.  I have also seen a lot of good people leave the industry because they grow tired of working in a regulated industry and having to sit in meetings all day long.

I consider myself a good marketer but what we really need is someone who understands eMarketing and can develop tactics that support brand KPA’s.  I tried to hire someone but there is a real shortage of digital talent and a career in the drug industry ranks low on the list.   My agency usually just gives me lip service and I have yet to see them develop anything that is digitally creative.

Since I work for a company that has some products coming off patent there is a rumor circulating that there is going  to be more layoffs.  This comes at holiday time and it’s hard to work without having a knot in your stomach every time I hear about layoffs.  This in turn has led to an atmosphere of people going through the motions as well as a philosophy of trying to please everyone so as not to be seen as a non-team player.


When you add it all up my career in pharma is coming to an end as my choice.  As much as I could stay here and collect a paycheck I want to do a lot more than that but the obstacles are just too hard to overcome.  Even though I was just promoted to director level I am going to look for a new position outside healthcare.  If you think I am alone you are mistaken.

A lot of people say the new healthcare laws are a big challenge for the drug industry but I would say that the bigger challenge is retaining talent that is leaving big pharma in droves.  Without great leadership and a willingness to change the way we work pharmaceutical companies are going to fail to meet new marketing challenges.  At the core of the industry is the mentality of making numbers and as long as that is prevalent people are going to do what is best for themselves not patients.  I hope it will change but I have seen very little change within the industry.  I can’t say I will miss it but I came with the belief that we were providing patients with medical opportunities to lead a better quality of life.  Now I realize that it’s more about the business aspect than actually helping patients.

4 thoughts on “Working in big pharma

  1. It’s unfortunate someone who advocates so strongly for the patient within the industry has to go “incognito” to voice his disappointment. More unfortunate still is people like Patrick seem to have no problem with this version of the “real world.”

  2. Karen: Since he is looking for a new opp outside of pharma he did want to use his real name nor the company he works for. All I can say is that it’s a top 10 pharma company

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