The days before things got complicated
It was simpler in the days, before DTC and CME and a host of other acronyms crept into the mix. Just as it's hard to conceive of life before e-mail, it's difficult to imagine when the only tools available to the pharmaceutical marketer were journal ads, “detail men (yes, men – at least until the ‘80s)” and direct mail. But simplicity had its pleasures.
“You were focused on the creativity and the advertising and spending as much of your budget as you could effectively,” says Bob Girondi, an ad manager at Wyeth in the ‘70s and now EVP, media research and development, at CMI. “There was none of the focus on return on investment that there is now.”
In 1966, Medical Economics and Medical World News were the big mass-market medical journals in town. The “mini-mass” class of journals were in their infancy. Consultant hadn't launched, and Patient Care, which arrived that year, met with some befuddlement. “When we went around to the pharma and advertising community to introduce it, they said, ‘What is this, a magazine for nurses?,'” recalls Lew Miller, who co-founded the journal with Gus Fink. “We kind of popularized the notion that doctors provided patient care, too.” There were few audits of journals and advertising before David Gideon (who later ran MM&M) started PERQ in 1972.
“There was a lot more socializing with the clients,” says Art Wilschek, who started out as a product manager at Breon Labs and now serves as New England Journal of Medicine head of ad sales, and president of the AMP. “They weren't bogged down by 100 different forms of promotion, and there were a lot fewer regulations.”
Growth in ad revenues a difficult read
Pharmaceutical spending on journals has remained largely flat over the past 15 years. “Taking inflation into consideration, we're probably down a bit over the last 10 years,” says Eugene May, director of marketing research at ACNielsen HCI. “It just seems as if nothing is taking hold.”
However, spending hasn't gone down since the advent of DTC; total ad revenues has nearly doubled over the last 15 years, appreciating steadily from $431 million in 1990 to $846 million in 2005. Publishers may be rushing into custom publishing and the med ed space while coming to terms with the Internet, but there is money to be made in journal advertising (as the recent equally frenzied merger and acquisition cycles show), even if the growth margins aren't so great.
Where did all the ad managers go?
Execs like Burroughs Wellcome's Cliff Parish and J&J's Ed Steele once led medical advertising, dictating promotions and working closely with agencies.
In the '70s, power passed to brand-based units headed by product managers. As brand teams grew, product managers began delegating to promotions managers—recruited from sales, rather than advertising. The shift added accountability. But media planning lost its continuity, as managers from different constituencies jostled for resources. That's been exacerbated by a fast turnover in managers.
1962: Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendment Act signed by President Kennedy, Oct. 10, imposing requirement that advertisers run brief summary. Inspired in part by Thalidomide tragedy, the law also required drug makers to prove a drug's efficacy and receive FDA approval before they could market it.
1966: Gus Fink and Lew Miller launch Patient Care, in the first of the “mini-mass” journals, in January 1966, targeting generalists rather than the entire universe of practicing physicians, as traditional journals do. Generalists account for half of physicians but upward of two-thirds of scripts.
1972: David Gideon founds PERQ, January 1972, using computers to automate many media functions, analyzing and tracking journal schedules and advertising. The company revolutionizes the business of media planning and buying.
1994: Clinton healthcare plan pronounced dead in the Senate on Sept. 26. Advertisers breathe a sigh of relief.
1997: FDA approves broadcast DTC draft guidance, Aug. 8, effectively enabling it by eliminating requirement that ads present the entire brief summary. Suddenly, journal advertising has company in the marketing mix.