Professional Ad Report: Staying Power

Print has been written off so often as being obsolete and unwieldy that it seems a wonder that it is still with us. So why does Kantar Media data for the first half of 2015 suggest that print remains vital? Rebecca Mayer Knutsen breaks down the numbers—and through the conventional wisdom

The digital channel raced into the hearts and minds of pharma marketers with its eye-catching bells and whistles and endless possibilities. As it continues to gain favor among younger generations, predictions abound that digital will bury good ol' print before too long.

Yet print remains very much afloat in the healthcare pool: According to data compiled by Kantar Media, advertising in medical/surgical journals increased 1.8% over the year-ago period, to $168.9 million, during the first six months of 2015 (with a 3.8% increase in ad pages). This comes on the heels of a more robust 9.5% spend/4.1% page increase during the same period last year. The overall medical/surgical market is down from its 2011 high of $201 million, but still—by definition, two straight years of first-half gains belie the print-is-dying narrative.

At this half-year juncture, headliners include the oncology space (with companies playing within it making big print investments), Johnson & Johnson (again the top advertiser) and biotech companies (more bullish on print than expected). As they have in the past several years, the results suggest that digital and print need to learn to play together nicely, at least for the foreseeable future. Kantar Media's data reveal that top advertisers often buy into both print and online outlets. Six of the top ten print advertiser companies are also among the top ten online.

Publicis Health Media president Matt McNally says digital and print serve as an effective one–two messaging punch. The two channels can work well together if marketers learn to orchestrate the balance appropriately. “We're seeing strong digital campaigns that use print materials to close the gap,” he explains. “Each lever plays a role in the big picture.”

While print is still generally acknowledged as the most-used source for physicians, CMI/Compas SVP Nicole Woodland-De Van senses a shift on the horizon. “Those in medical school now are leveraging apps and other digital tools as part of their everyday practice, so print will need to explore the interactive component users today crave,” she says.

A CMI/Compas survey found print ads rival their digital counterparts in attracting physician interest. The survey found that 37% of physicians pause to read pharma/device ads in print, with 29% then visiting a product's website. When it comes to online ads, 26% are somewhat to highly likely to click through, 5% do so frequently and 1% always.

CLICK HERE to see the Top 25 Advertised Categories, First Half 2015 (in a new tab)

“Journals remain at the top of the list of physicians' information sources, and journal readership in print and digital formats is as strong as ever,” says Dave Emery, VP/general manager, healthcare research at Kantar Media. One challenge for advertisers, he cautions, is to avoid the trap of equating a circulation list with readership. Ad exposure only happens when a doctor actually reads a journal.

To fend off flagging numbers down the line, publishers need to get to work. Relevancy will be the number one key to survival. Paul Walsh of Walsh Medical Media, publisher of Clinical Schizophrenia & Related Psychoses, mentions the time publishers have invested in developing strong relationships with advertisers and mining excellent content. “Now they need to leverage those resources to create custom, value-added services, be it print or digital,” he says.

Many experts cast a strong vote in favor of optimizing the digital space, instead of pitting print and digital against each other in competition. “Digital, digital, digital—that's where the market has been heading and will be headed,” Walsh says. “Physicians' eyeballs are increasingly found in digital.”

Oncology, diabetes surge

Marketers in the oncology space, for example, may lean toward digital ads but they use print to drill down the specific categories. Not surprisingly, oncology was the biggest dollar gainer for the period, with a $6.5 million (25%) increase in ad investment.

McNally notes that certain specialties always index high, even when digital performs well. “Cardio and oncology are tech-savvy specialties but their reliance on journals hasn't waned,” he explains. “One channel doesn't replace the other.”

CLICK HERE to see the Top 25 Advertised Brands, First Half 2015 (in a new tab)

Antineoplastic agents, oral anticoagulants and oral diabetes drugs were again the top three advertised drug classes. They comprised 18.2% of the market spend, a 15% jump from the same period last year. The top ten drug classes contribute nearly 33% of the total ad spend.

Oncology is universally hot because of long-term revenue potential. Pharma companies with long histories in oncology are tangling with new firms trying to pry their way into the space.

Diabetes is currently one of the most competitive spaces. McNally says diabetes marketers follow a strategic ad plan. According to Kantar Media, Lilly's type 2 diabetes drug Trulicity and Gilead's hepatitis-C medication Harvoni comprise 15% of the online ad units, shooting the two products to the top of the online advertising group. Trulicity is sitting pretty in the number two spot by dollar spend in print.

Emery cautions not to read into the specialty ad spend too much, as new product activity is largely responsible for investment spikes. Walsh agrees, adding that specialty journals in an active niche will continue to drive forward. The area of psychiatry his publication covers, for instance, is awaiting four drug approvals this year; he's optimistic that his publication's numbers will respond in kind.

The New England Journal of Medicine continues as the leading journal, driven by its ability to serve primary care/internal medicine and specialty audiences. The top ten journals remain a healthy mix of clinical and nonclinical news publications, serving specialty-specific, primary care and multispecialty audiences. The multispecialty sector, the biggest journal group in the overall healthcare market, took the biggest dollar hit, with $5.6 million less ad spend than last year. At the same time, it's still up 1.8% in revenue since 2013.

Big companies, big dollars

The Kantar Media data suggest a sea of change among the list of top advertisers. Johnson & Johnson remained in the top spot despite cutting print spend by $4.1 million, but a few established players are right behind. Lilly, Gilead and Amgen round out the top four—and with Shire and AbbVie in the top ten, biotech companies are well represented on the top advertiser list.

CLICK HERE to see the Top 10 Online Brands, First Half 2015, by Frequency and by Quantity (in a new tab)

The companies contributing ad dollars are a more diversified bunch than in years past, which has experts wondering if it's a more sustainable balance. Kantar Media found a whopping 20 companies represented in the top 25 advertised products, a drastic shift from a scene dominated by a handful of companies a short time ago. Ten of these top 25 products were new or newly advertised, while nine have been in the top 25 for at least the past three years.

“Together this bodes well for journals, with a more evenly distributed advertiser base and with more companies supporting both new launches and established brands,” Emery explains.

Pharma marketers are expanding beyond doctors to snare a variety of HCPs in the ad-placement net. The trend is a conscious response to healthcare delivery shifts putting primary care services increasingly in the hands of nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists. The expanding definition of “point of care” attracts a portion of ad spend, but it shouldn't affect print ads' bottom line.

“There is space for print and other ad vehicles, because what a doctor needs from EMR is different from what she needs from print,” McNally observes.

 Because of the rising number of minute clinics and wider vision of what constitutes point of care, emergency medicine saw a big uptick in print ads this year, Woodland-De Van notes. Emergency medicine was among the top percentage gainers for the period, with an increase of 23% over the same time last year. 

“People haven't stopped watching TV just because of the increase in digital,” McNally says. “Doctors are just like consumers. They can make room for digital, print and other channels like point of care.”

To stay relevant and maintain a steady stream of ad dollars, journals will need to uncover new ways to validate their audiences. “We see that as a trend for healthcare clients in general,” says Woodland-De Van. “They need to foster relationships with various clinical associations, but also give pharma marketers the tools they need to analyze print's impact.” 

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