December 15, 2008
By the time you read this, most of the holiday parties will be a distant memory. The champagne is gone, the confetti swept up and the sugar plums have turned into prunes. As I look back through my own party-induced haze brought on by multiple social gatherings, I was amazed at the misconceptions people shared with me regarding the pharmaceutical industry once they realized my occupation. The conversations would go something like this:
“What line of work are you in, David?” asked a partygoer nursing a Vesper.
“I work at a relationship marketing company that services the pharmaceutical industry,” would be my general answer…to which ultimately the following myth-information would be shared:
Myth #1: “You're lucky to be working in pharma! It's the one industry that's recession proof!” While I will admit the industry is not exactly cash strapped, we can't forget that our business is focused on patients who are. And as long as consumers and patients suffer at the hands of the recession, so will pharma feel its effects. Many individuals feel compelled to choose between spending money on their drugs or on rent, especially as our unemployment volume grows. And, right or wrong, the recession can even hurt our industry's credibility as pharma companies are perceived as “fat cats” only in the game for a buck. When a target audience is distrustful of your motives, messaging becomes virtually impossible. The recession also tends to rob companies of their most important commodity: innovative people. When that happens, traditional initiatives become the repetitive norm.
Myth #2: “I've heard that pharma is going 100% to online marketing!” Yes, the most widely viewed websites are those offering health and disease-state information. And many patients do choose to receive therapy content via e-mail. But the most effective campaigns—the ones that drive the highest response rates—are those that blend online and offline marketing. The proper integration of mail, for example, has been shown to increase click-throughs of the e-mails that come before and after. Similarly, better mail response rates are achieved when bracketed by e-mail communications. Also, as long as physicians are unwilling to give up their e-mail addresses, we will still find offline valuable and lasting.
Myth#3: “I keep reading about layoffs in pharma. At this rate there won't be anything or anyone left.” Happily there will be. To be sure, pharma is right-sizing itself in accordance with the environment in which we exist but if anything a “thinning” out is making us all more resourceful and experts at time management. Survival within the industry depends on us doing more with less and this will create an efficient team. In addition to people becoming stronger, our marketing tactics will have to be stronger. As marketing budgets shrink the shotgun effect of old will have to be revamped to be more targeted and inspired by insight.
We shouldn't admonish people for developing and then feeding into these myth-conceptions because in reality they are just victims of a media that tends to deal with extremes. My advice, when confronted with one of these myths, is to calmly acknowledge the perception they have but correct gently and with short bursts of objective information. If that fails, open another bottle of spirit. After all, who can argue with that?
David Zaritsky is managing director, pharmaceutical markets at Harte-Hanks