While CPG brands move digital in-house, pharma continues to rely on agencies

  •  91% of brands have moved at least a part of their digital marketing operations in-house. (Source: Search Engine Journal)
  • Cost efficiency, greater control, and increased transparency are amongst the biggest reasons for in-housing.
  •  56% of respondents say a lack of existing talent and skills to build a competent in-house team in the biggest obstacle.

The vast majority of pharma companies rely on agencies when it comes to digital marketing. It’s been my experience that the key reason is that they can’t compete with agencies when it comes to digital talent and they don’t understand the value and transparency of having in-house digital people/departments.

I worked with a pharma client for over 7 months to help a manager justify the hiring of 4 people to help with digital marketing. The primary obstacle was, surprise, cost even though w clearly showed that by using internal people overall outside agency costs would decline.

The second biggest obstacle, and this is a big one, was that most pharma companies couldn’t attract good digital talent. I sat in on some interviews for a client in Cambridge for two emarketing people and the talent pool was definitely missing some chlorine. Don’t get me the wrong the candidates “met the guidelines” but no one stood out as “we need this person on board”.

In the meantime pharma digital agencies are adding people, rebranding and expanding. There are some very good ones out there, don’t get me wrong, but having in-house digital expertise can not only really help brand teams leverage digital it can also help organizations build capabilities. At Lilly, whenever one of the brand emarketing people had a successful digital initiative it was shared with all commercial teams.

It all comes down to pharma cultures

Cultures are important and powerful because they determine what your company is capable of doing. Organizational culture is a collection of deeply held attitudes, entrenched habits, repeated behaviors, latent emotions, and collective perceptions of the environment in which we compete.

Digital marketers are perceived as jean and tee shirt wearing pirates who like to work in their own silos. This is contrary to 99% of pharma organizational structures where a matrix environment of all-day meetings, PowerPoints and open offices try to act like a Borg collective. I am reminded how a West coast pharma company took over six months of meetings and presentation to make all their websites responsive. This, as everyone should know, is a no-brainer but pharma loves to discuss why a house is burning down without putting water on the fire.

It’s a good time to be a pharma digital agency but the more money that flows to them the more pharma’s life’s blod becomes lower.