Why I won’t be attending Digital Pharma East

noGUEST POST – I’m a Senior Director for a top pharmaceutical company here on the East Coast and manage 6 digital marketing people, but I am not going to attend the Digital Pharma East.  I would like to share the reasons and give you some pause as to whether you should go or use the time, and money, more wisely.

As you contemplate if Digital Pharma East is worth the money and time, consider this, there will be just as many vendors attending the conference as people from pharma and they are all waiting to pounce on our unallocated budget dollars.  In the oast I have found that these vendors are just waiting to get my business card so they can bombard me with emails, phone calls and invitations to connect on LinkedIn.

Now for the meat of my argument.  Look at the presenter’s credentials on LinkedIn.  Is there anyone there that you would really like to sit sown with and have a cup of coffee with?  More importantly has anyone there really set the digital pharmaceutical world on fire?  The answer to that is no.


It would cost my travel budget over $30,000 to let my people go to this conference and I just don’t see a clear and compelling reason to attend.  Richard is right, we need more passion in our area of expertise and people who are less willing to have their ego’s stroked by presenting generic digital marketing on stage.

Every year it seems to be the same people who present at these conferences and for the life of me, I can’t understand why someone from Intel is presenting when Intel themselves is a floundering brand.

Save your money and use the time to get closer to your audience instead.  What works in one company or brand will not work here, but more importantly conferences year after year should make forward improvements in our industry because we are lagging way behind.

16 thoughts on “Why I won’t be attending Digital Pharma East

  1. Well said.

    I’ve written on numerous occasions about why digital pharma conference are impediments to much-needed reforms within the industry on stwem.com, and won’t repeat my arguments here.

    I applaud Rich for publishing your guest post on his blog. Some other industry commentators’ relentless promotion of these events for their own gain (I presume) baffles me on the basis that the impact on trust and reputation in being seen to be associated with such conferences is an opportunity risk that far outweighs any possible financial benefit.

    I salute your good sense in giving them a wide steer.

    However, I would encourage you to consider spending that $30K holding an in-house event yourself on something that offers tangible benefits to all participants, rather than a tan.

    See point 3 here:


    If you elect to do this and it is a success, do me a favour: don’t go to a digital pharma conference to talk about it, OK? 😉

  2. This article really hit home for me. I was just looking over the list of speakers via the flyer I got in the mail and there isn’t one person on that list that I want to listen to. What’s important to remember is that each company is different in culture and willingness to explore new digital marketing. I’m not interested in hearing about what you did because frankly it’s not applicable to my situation. The sponsors are a who’s who of potential vendors and there are too many digital newbies presenting. Good post Rich.

  3. Thank you for having the good sense to post what most of us are thinking. This conference is nothing more than a comedy of ineptitude followed by money hungry agencies trying to get on our good side.

  4. Enjoyed this article and the comments. One of my pet peeves is pharma’s tendency in digital to only be interested in benchmarking itself against other pharma. While I don’t deny that knowing what others in the same industry are doing is necessary, it is limiting in the case of digital pharma, where the industry is behind, as the author points out. And, even more fundamentally because healthcare has multiple stakeholders. So if you don’t look at a topic from all the perspectives, you are going to be missing out bigtime. Spotting an opportunity to go against the tide, I launched the Doctors 2.0 & You conference on digital health a few years ago. We are patient-inclusive, have a mission to improve the patient-physician relationship and we try our best to break down the silos. While pharma is present, they are alongside all the stakeholders and no group dominates the agenda. We’ve put out a lot of content via our blog on http://www.doctors20.com and on Slideshare.com/doctors20 and YouTube.com/basilstrategies. We can be followed on Twitter at hashtag #doctors20

  5. I find the pomposity and negativity of this article quite stunning. While you sit in your ivory tower there are many of us in smaller companies with a staff of none. We rely on the innovation and services of the vendors and agencies to help our bottom line in the Big Shift to digital and direct to patient marketing online. And btw, I hope you and your team are killing it but I certainly haven’t heard about it.

  6. Rob

    The author is not trashing agencies here, rather he is saying that this is nothing more then a bunch of agencies to try and bring in new clients to clients who are more interested in digital marketing then getting business calls from possible clients. If you are a small company you should not look at conferences like this to get qualified help. You need to seek out the best and brightest and these conferences are not the way to do that

    By the way if you indeed do have a staff of none then you are already in trouble and no agency is going to overcome that.

  7. I read the post and comments and I agree that this is nothing more than a chance for pharma marketers to feel good about their digital marketing even if it stinks. As long as conferences like these give people a chance to get their give minutes of fame pharma marketing will be stuck in the past with little relevance to patients.

  8. While the anonymous author is certainly entitled to his / her opinion, it strikes me as odd that he / she is not only bashing this conference (which I personally disagree with), but also encouraging others not to attend. As an objective observer, I wonder if there’s some sort of ulterior motive?

  9. I have such a pet peeve with people hiding behind an anonymous post without owning it. Without identifying yourself, your opinion is not credible and you are just another internet troll causing trouble. Perhaps you don’t even work for a pharma co, perhaps you are a competitive conference company (i.e. ePharma, Eye for Pharma, Marcus Evans). My first recommendation is that you (Wo)man up and identify yourself or no one can really take you seriously.

    I’ve been to dozens of conferences in my career and I see them as useful for many people, the industry benefits from the collegial environment. How else would these marketing, communications, and regulatory people interact with each other?

    If you are who you say you are, wouldn’t we benefit from hearing your successes to help move the industry forward?

    By the way, those vendors help promote your products which pay your salary. It’s an ecosystem and we are all part of it. Without the rest of the industry I doubt your work would move forward either.

    Let me know who you are and I’ll give you a discount code to save you and your team some money (and maybe buy you a beer, if you’re lucky).

  10. The reason that this person would not leave his name is because of the legal and regulatory roadblocks from his company. I know who he is and what company he works for and agreed to post it without his name and title. I should have made that clear.

    If you are a regular reader you know my feeling about these conferences, too many, too little value.The fact that both vendors and marketers attend “dozens of these conferences” while DTC marketing is stuck in the past is a good indication that something is very wrong in my opinion.

    I can also concur that the last time I attended a conference as a company representative I was bothered by annoying follow up calls and emails. While I agree the author’s position is a bit terse I thought that it was something that we need to hear. Rather than having a representative from the organizing company talk about why and how they put on these conferences it might be better to admit that they are a for profit and for them to look at all the conferences and ask “why has nothing changed”…

  11. I have never, and will not ever, choose a vendor from ANY conference or show . New vendors who want to work with arguably the best biotech company are chosen by the work they have done in the last not on manning a booth at a conference where they are waiting to ambush me. Vendors need to be chosen by the work they do not in advertisements. To this end word of mouth works best.

  12. Hey Rich,

    It seems my comment is no longer there, was this done by accident? I can re-post if you like, I’d just of course want both sides of this debate posted. Thanks for hosting and moderating.

  13. Rich, we unfortunately do not allow blog posts for comment from anonymous authors on our LinkedIn group. If the author is willing to take credit for his comments, feel free to re-post.

    I am quite sure if you received an anonymous guest submission for your blog with the following subject line “Why the World of DTC Blog is a Waste of Time”, you would gladly post it. (sarcasm)

  14. This is a sad diatribe, and that is coming from an Executive Director of a large pharma, Like post things you mostly get out what you put in and I agree that this senior director should not go to ePharma East as it seems s/he will not put in enough to get a sufficient ROI.

    As for myself, I think that these conferences are worth the investment but only if you will manage it well. Here are my very brief counter arguments.

    1. vendors can be great for tutors and co-creators of innovative solutions and none will pull a gun on your and make you give them your unallocated budgets

    2. there are plenty of people at conferences who are coffee worthy and kindlers of pharma change and innovation but you would have to be networked well enough and externally focused enough to know that. It is too common that we are not as pharma executives, and we have the unfortunate evidence as an industry to show for it.

    3. if you do not have a learning accountability and report back processes tied to team and company development and business objectives for your self and your team well I see how you could see the investment as a waste, but so much potential opportunity and development is lost when you do not (plan) and you do not (go).

    4. Also, do not let (all or most of) your people go, let your 1 or 2 sharpest persons go to minimize budget. The rest can follow on Twitter. You can also arrange to have multiple people use the single pass on different days, if the conference producer agrees. Additionally, I and my team only go to conference where we can get a train or drive to further minimizing cost.

    5. Also, much of the value of conferences is in the conversations between sessions and over meals and in the exhibit hall where you can customize to what you are there for in particular. The sessions are always a roll of the dice but what in life isn’t. The same is the case with season ticket and my meetings at work all day. 😀

    6. I don’t disagree about getting closer to audience though 1) its not an either/or and 2) we have enough money and time to do both if we are smart about it and 3) we are not spending enough time with customers or with conferences in too many cases. 🙂

    7. I also agree that it is probably not necessary to go every year. Increasingly if you are an active lurker in social media you can get a fair amount of the same educational value you get at conferences. I say the more the merrier.

    Remember, you get out what you put in and you get good ROI via clear objectives and accountability and proactive engagement. This works at conferences like in business and life in general.

    Thanks for the thought starter.

    PS1 – I agree with Zoe,

    PS2 – Rich, I did not see much in this commentators post that the legal and regulatory people in a company would even care about. Hmmm.

    PS3 – If follow up calls from vendors and agencies annoy you that much, you either have poor screening mechanisms or a low threshold for annoyance triggers. Vendors call me all day long, all week and it doe snot annoy me but largely because my voicemail give direction for when I will engagement, I only do phone meetings of about 15 minutes initially, I ask for reads in advance and I have a few upfront questions which questions which very quickly qualify the vendor as relevant and if they are not I usually have a colleague for who they are or I can let them know their ladder is up against the wrong wall. And very often I learn something that I did not know I did not know. Its all about perspective and practice, eh?

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