The biggest threat to the pharma industry

SUMMARY: The biggest threat to the pharma industry isn’t the coming tsunami of healthcare changes. It’s reshaping the company to once again focus on patients instead of profits.

At the end of last year, I worked with a leading cancer company on a test program that involved an email program. We started with research to uncover the needs and wants of current cancer patients (NSC lung) and caregivers. The content was sponsored by the brand but was written by leading cancer physicians with titles like “how to manage your cancer therapies” and “what to tell your Oncologist.”

The first flight had an astounding 78% open rate with an average time off the charts. I put the analytics into meaningful implications only to learn that the DTC person I was working with was told: “it doesn’t support brand objectives.”

All over pharma DTC, people and agencies are coming to senior pharma managers with great, patient-driven ideas. Still, the industry wastes money on ineffective advertising marketing programs designed to bring the brand closer to patients run into the ROI questions.

To a lot of pharma marketing people, everything they do is about generating business. I would argue that they miss a huge opportunity to become more patient-focused with initiatives that can enhance both the brand and company when attacking pharma is en vogue.

When I first started my pharma digital marketing career, I remember adding a feature tour website on PMDD called “tell us your story.” In the first week, we had well over 300 people post stories about living with PMDD, but, more importantly, they had a voice to talk about it, and we’re thankful to share their stories. Brand awareness skyrocketed.

Nothing infuriates consumers more than not being able to have a voice or brands that don’t listen. Pharma may think that’s not important but any agency person can tell you it is.

Pharma C suite executives need to look at their organizations and install a sense of urgency in focusing on patients. The message should be “I’ll worry about the Board and Wall Street, you focus on helping patients to make our company great.”

Patient-focused employees and agencies need to be heard by senior company executives. Helping patients extends more than a prescription medication; it means listening and learning how to manage their health issues.

Any agency person can probably tell you horror stories about working with DTC people who cared only about metrics related to sales than asking, “are we helping patients?”. I see these people as the biggest threat to the industry gaining a reputation for not caring.

I’m still waiting for the “new breed” of pharma CEO to come forward. Someone who understands it’s a business but also someone who can emphasize with patients and caregivers who too often get left behind in a healthcare system that is overly complicated.

I love the industry and I hope the seeds I plant will someday provide shade that I may never be able to enjoy.