Back to the Books

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Back to the Books
Back to the Books

Medical journals are regaining their spine. Coming on the heels of 2010's rebound was a healthy gain in professional advertising during the first six months of this year. The improvement signals that at least some of the prior year's momentum carried over, in spite of the prevailing pharma marketing malaise.

The total healthcare market (including pharmacy, nurse practi-tioners/physicians assistants, managed care, etc.) rose by 6.6% to $346.4 million year-on-year. Medical/surgical spending was up 10.2% to $199.1 million, while pharmaceutical spending grew by 13.2% to $210.0 million. The top 100 most advertised pharmaceuticals increased outlays by a huge 83.7% to $134.9 million.

Observers interpret the first-half performance as a sign of advertisers' renewed confidence in the medium, which had seemed shaky as recently as 2009. (Jan.-June spending in medical/surgical books tanked by 31% that year.)

Multi-specialty titles led the pack this year with 11.3% year-on-year growth, representing $6.7 million more in the market. Internal medicine, rheumatology and cardiology rounded out the top-performing doctor markets in terms of dollar growth over 2010.

Of the 37 markets tracked by Kantar Media, 25 were up; among the doctor books, pediatrics had the biggest drag on ad dollars (down 27.8% due to big declines among some brands in that segment).


At the individual publication level, there were winners and losers among the market leaders in terms of revenue and page-count changes. For instance, the number one title, The New England Journal of Medicine, shed 116 ad pages in the first half of the year (down 7%), while number two, the Journal of the American Medical Association, crept up about 19 pages. 

Meanwhile, Monthly Prescribing Reference padded its ad pages by 28.3%, American Family Physician was down by 6.4% and Medical Economics went on a tear, bulking up by 49.6%. 

What drove the overall jump among clinical journals? “Many marketers have turned to print advertising in these uncertain times as a safe harbor,” says Richard Roash, president-elect of the Association of Medical Media and VP of Slack Incorporated. 

Indeed, the medium has always been highly targeted, with journals that serve one specialty or subset of a specialty. That can make print a wise bet these days, even as fair-balance requirements have made the medium less economically viable than non-journal media. 

“Cost-per-page for the [prescribing information] gets pretty stiff, and it seems as if every one of the new products from our clients has a black box on it,” says Steve Selinger, VP of media at Compas, the buying arm for CMI and the largest bulk broker of professional media. Advertisers “have come back and said, ‘As long as we can manage that cost, journals are quite viable.'”

Also, when some big classes are up—i.e., multi-specialty, IM and cardiology—it pumps up the whole marketplace. Collectively, those three journal groups put $12 million into the market during the first six months of the year. Clinical news publications grew by 15%.

Publishers with these sorts of titles in their portfolios reaped the returns, including Elsevier (up 16.5% in ad pages), Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (up 5.4%) and Wiley-Blackwell (up 23.1%).

Forest, not surprisingly, is the top professional advertiser in the first half of 2011, with $24.1 million in spend, representing a 15.3% increase over the same period the previous year. That's despite a very strong challenge from Eli Lilly, which ramped up its outlays 115.9%. New faces in the Top 10 include Takeda, thanks to a 98% gain, and Abbott, which hiked ad spend 256.1%.

Pfizer, meanwhile, slashed its print allocation by more than half (51.7%) to $10.3 million, as the drugmaker spread out its media budget. 


The top 25 products accounted for 21% of all ad spend in the market, with $134.9 million. It follows that Forest—which owns three of the top five most-advertised brands (Teflaro, Lexapro and -Savella), plus numbers eight (Bystolic) and nine (Viibryd)—is the top advertiser. 

Among products advertised so far this year, about half were launched within the past year or two. Notably, five of the top 10 had no advertising in the first half of 2009, and three did not advertise the first six months of 2010. Thus, this group added $18.8 million in new ad spend.

Fifteen products dropped out of the top 25, including six from Pfizer and its subsidiaries, such as Lipitor (last year's number eight) and Chantix (number 10 on the 2010 list).


According to Kantar Media's Evaliant online advertising intelligence tool, eight of the top 10 print advertisers also show up in the top 75 companies online, with most falling in the top 25. Two companies were in the top 10 both in print and online: Eli Lilly and Pfizer. 

That's smart, says Dave Emery, VP/general manager, professional health, Kantar Media. Since some physicians can only be reached online and some via print, “To get the penetration a brand manager would seek, you've got to use multiple platforms or you will miss a segment of your audience.”

Overall, Evaliant captured 153 brands on 69 of the professional healthcare websites, which included the major portal sites (e.g., Medscape, MDLinx, ModernMedicine) and journal sites with the highest traffic and ad volume.

Neither Forest (the biggest print advertiser by ad spend) nor Allergan (number 21) has an online presence on the major web sites tracked by Evaliant. Of course, they may be engaging in other types of online promotion, such as e-detailing, e-sampling or microsites.

Or, says Keith Yocum, director of online advertising for The New England Journal of Medicine, it could be that these advertisers have yet to gain a comfort level with online-campaign measurement. “When they decide to use digital channels, I'm sure it will be at the point they can track performance with the same confidence they have with the more traditional analog products.”

At the individual brand level, several of the top online brands (based on occurrences) did not show up in the top 100 print brands (based on insertions), and vice versa. Only Humalog insulin was in the top 10 in both media (#5 online, #7 print). Many of the most widely-advertised brands (those using the most sites) were, not surprisingly, also among the top in occurrences.

While there are lots of choices for marketers who want to use digital media to reach professionals, those sites that aggregate significant numbers of physicians are running low on ad inventory, says Yocum, who foresees “only more growth in this arena.”

The future

The nascent print recovery appears to have lost little steam heading into 2011. Will it continue? While ad spend was a little sluggish in the first quarter of 2011, it accelerated through the end of the second, says Emery, although, “We don't have a good enough read yet on what's going to happen in the next few months.”

Based on insertion orders he's seen, Compas' Selinger predicts a “stable” second half and 2012 for print, although individual markets may continue to fluctuate. “I must confess, for this year I predicted flat to a little up. This is up more than I expected. But I'm making the same prediction for next year and hope I'm wrong by the same amount!”

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