Pharma not ready for imminent future

QUICK READ: Changes are on the horizon for healthcare and pharma, yet very few pharma companies are prepared for the changes that are coming. People within the pharma industry are still caught in back-to-back meetings that last all day, and decision-making, even for simple things, can take weeks and months.

Last fall, as a client was getting ready to launch a new drug with DTC, we spent months trying to determine who would be the brand’s face in TV spots and on the web. We had headshots of talent from our agency, but there was a fierce debate about who should be used. Some thought the woman the agency chose was too young, others thought she was too old, and some didn’t even like the color of her hair. The debate went on for over two months, delaying the launch of the DTC spot.

While President Biden is proposing tightening loopholes in the tax code that allow pharma to hide profits offshore, most companies would start to think about its implications. On the other hand, pharma continues to schedule meetings that last all day, and even employees who work at home are burning out.

According to HBR “given the fact that mothers, more often than not, are shouldering the increased responsibilities of caring for kids throughout the pandemic, it comes as little surprise that 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from burnout. In fact, working mothers are 28% more likely to experience it than working fathers. While research shows that nearly 100% of managers rate themselves as supportive of employees with families, only half of their subordinates agree”.

With remote work, which socially isolates people, there is an added component to consider: loneliness. Research demonstrates that while obesity reduces longevity by 20%, drinking by 30%, and smoking by 50%, loneliness takes the cake, reducing life expectancy by a whopping 70%. It’s safe to say that practicing self-awareness and establishing a healthy work from home lifestyle could be what keeps you safe for the long term.

The pandemic has provided the perfect opportunity for executives to review how their organizations do business and ask, “what can we do to get faster and better?”. Agencies are used to excessive meetings with clients to implement DTC, but some say that the problem has become worse. “I think it’s a lot of people trying to defend their jobs by having a say in even small decisions,” an agency VP told me.

  • 47% complained that meetings wasted their time the most at work. 
  • 45% felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they attended.

The other elephant in the room is the size of the sales force. Research shows that, in some specialties, the sales force is essential, but they are not in others. Pharma has spent tens of millions of dollars paying for company vehicles that have pretty much remained idle during the pandemic. The question that’s going to be asked eventually is, “how can we cut costs?” The answer is usually personnel reductions.

  • The salary cost of an hour-long meeting with 5 attendees (from specialist to director level) is $338 USD. Calculation here.
  • The cost of poorly organised meetings is $399 billion in the US in 2019 alone.

I keep hearing about the digitalization of pharma and how that’s going to save money but what few executives realize is that a lot of upfront budget dollars are needed to truly embrace digital.

Right now, CEOs are focused primarily on revenue management in terms of extending patents or launching new drugs, and they are overlooking the bloat within their own companies. I’ve talked with many people within the industry over the last few weeks, and they are preparing for what they feel are future staff reductions. “I understand that our industry is under pressure to both generate revenue and profit, and I believe that in the near future, major layoffs are coming,” one DTC manager told me. Another said, “we’re probably losing millions of dollars because people are in too many meetings to make decisions that could have an immediate effect on sale,” a DTC Director told me, “now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Zoom meeting.”