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As I write this, I have just returned from The Pharmaceutical Business Intelligence and Research Group annual general meeting in Washington, DC. In my time there, I learned two related, obvious but important, pieces of information that set me back on my heels.

Of the almost 400 people in attendance at the conference, about 350 were from marketing research agencies, while only 50 clients were in attendance. Thus, this meeting continued the trend toward a ratio of agencies vs clients that has become increasingly out of kilter. Moreover, the people attending this session, which was well assembled and in an excellent venue, were concerned. Those on the client side were concerned about job cuts and budget reductions, while those on the agency side were concerned by what was generally agreed to be a significant reduction in the revenues and profitability of their organizations. “The party is over” was a theme heard from many sources as they referred to what had, until recently, been the thriving business of pharmaceutical marketing research. The above pronouncement comes as a surprise to nobody in pharma marketing research. The second of my two major learnings at PBIRG, however, was far less expected. Previous years' presentations on how marketing research can assist in helping one brand beat out the competition this year morphed into parallel sessions on prioritizing profit potential in “developing countries.” Attention this time was being paid to geographic focus, strengths and weaknesses of various countries' healthcare systems and how to optimize profitably under their structures.

As I drove away from Washington, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that pharma marketing research had fundamentally changed forever. 

Richard Vanderveer is group CEO, GfK US Healthcare Companies

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