Healthcare leaders from the five largest ad holding companies answer three questions.

Q1. Business impact: COVID-related turbulence has grounded in-person rep details and medical conferences while giving a shot in the arm to virtual meetings and non-personal promotion. As clients have cut marketing budgets, where have agencies under your purview felt the greatest impact on their business, and what have you done to mitigate any fallout?

Mike Hudnall, Global head, WPP health practice

Answer: There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impact on all of our lives, both within and beyond day-to-day work. We have been very focused on helping our clients lead the way during these challenging times. Almost overnight, our world and business has shifted to become almost entirely remote, and I’m incredibly proud of how our people have adapted. Communication and information are critical to support patients and healthcare professionals — particularly those living with chronic conditions and the most vulnerable. How we do that and the tools that we use to do so have changed dramatically for sure. Our priority is our people, and we are very much focused on shifting our capacity to the areas where our clients’ needs are greatest.

Donna Murphy, Global CEO, Havas Health & You

Answer: Any company that had a physical engagement strategy has had to completely retool its business plans for 2020, and perhaps beyond. Without question, many health companies in the past have depended on conferences and individual sales details to communicate with HCPs. Based on the changing landscape before COVID-19, our team had already been sourcing new virtual engagement methods and tech solutions to reach both HCPs and patient communities. Upon the COVID-19 impact, we mobilized a central task force that expedited the revision of plans and partnerships with the globe’s leaders in virtual engagement across our entire client base. We’re experiencing one of the most profound digital migrations of our time, and it’s an exciting time to find new ways of operating that will impact the health and wellness categories indefinitely.

Alexandra von Plato, CEO, Publicis Health

Answer: My greatest concern, always, is the health and safety of our team, and once we were confident that everyone was secure, we seamlessly shifted to remote working. In partnership with our clients, we’ve experienced great productivity and, in some cases, increased levels of client collaboration. We’re fully equipped to adapt and accelerate around the digital business transformation agenda that the crisis has prioritized for many clients. Our solutions are designed to help mitigate the impact on sales model transformation as well as understand the impact on HCPs and patients.

Ed Wise, CEO, Omnicom Health Group

Answer: We’re already deep into multichannel/non-personal, so COVID’s pivot to digital has actually replaced any reductions. NPP has always meant non-personal promotion, but our goal is to make it very personal — just not delivered live. We’ve made this easier for our agencies by simplifying access to Insights 360 (our HCP database), so they can create virtual, one-to-one promotion that’s informed and insightful. We’re even developing a product that enables reps to do this, turning them into “micro-marketers.” That’s the future: a data-driven, personal/virtual hybrid.

Helene Yan, Chief client officer, health, Interpublic Group

Answer: The most significant COVID-related impacts have been shifts, rather than reductions, in scopes: We’ve pivoted rapidly (literally overnight, in some cases) to help our clients as they reset timing, reimagine launches and move from in-person to virtual meetings, details and telehealth platforms. Recognizing that the need for empathetic and authentic health communications is at an all-time high, all of our creative and media health networks have stayed ahead of the curve with thought leadership on supporting our clients, HCPs and patients as they adjust to this new reality. 

Q2. Healthcare landscape: The pandemic has inspired some unlikely partnerships — among them Google and Apple — and a wave of innovation, while also diverting attention from drug-price reform. Where do you expect the biggest post-COVID changes to the healthcare landscape, and what should biopharma marketers watch out for as we emerge from this crisis?

Mike Hudnall

Answer: COVID-19 is certainly inspiring new partnerships and accelerating innovation — and I’m inspired to see how the industry is coming together to solve this crisis — whether that’s leading the search for a vaccine, supporting government response to COVID-19, or opening new areas of collaboration providing critical supplies or personal protective equipment. 

There is no question that COVID-19 will have a lasting change on the healthcare landscape.  We’re advising our biopharma marketing clients to visibly help solve the crisis and meet the needs of their patients and physicians now while also looking ahead to a “new normal” when we emerge. It will require a focus on key priorities like supporting significantly increased usage of telemedicine, ensuring patients and communities have proper access to the medicines and treatments they need, pursuing new collaborations and partnerships across the health industry and accelerating technology transformation and innovation plans.

Donna Murphy

Answer: If there’s a silver lining in any crisis, it’s that people come together to find solutions. Six months ago, you may have never imagined operating the way we are today or using the suppliers or partners in the ways that we are now. I see technology being a much stronger force in health as we look forward, I see telemedicine becoming a much more robust experience and a permanent part of how we engage with the physician community. I see more digital education and virtual conferencing across the entire health landscape and I see new online patient communities emerging. People are incredibly open to partnering to find solutions right now.

My single greatest piece of advice would be to not expect to simply press Play on the plans that you had prior to COVID-19. Our world has changed, and we all put our collective focus on health as perhaps our single greatest priority. Moving forward, our work together will become even more important as we look to support our systems, patients and physicians as best we can as an industry.

Alexandra von Plato

Answer: COVID-19 has accelerated HCPs and patients’ facility and comfortability with digital platforms. While patients eventually will return to more face-to-face interactions with their HCPs, telemedicine has proven to be incredibly scalable and effective, and in some cases, superior to the current clinical experiences for many patients and HCPs. While telemedicine won’t completely replace live office visits, it will enhance and supplement the doctor-patient relationship in many therapeutic areas, and biopharma marketers will need to understand how they can leverage digital platforms.

Additionally, the crisis also has shed light on the fundamental shift in the ways that HCPs are accessing and sharing information. While we already knew that HCPs were using social media platforms — such as Twitter — to gather and share information, the revelation that crowd sourcing and social sharing has become the preferred means through which HCPs are communicating is undeniable.

Ed Wise

Answer: One of the biggest changes we see is how COVID will influence patients. One of our agencies, Snow, fielded a survey of more than 650 patients and found two overwhelming issues. First, the pandemic has disrupted treatment routines and created a need to connect and manage health virtually. And second, it’s had a serious financial impact. So as we emerge, brands will be challenged if patients won’t show up for them, don’t have a good experience engaging with them or can’t afford them. 

Helene Yan

Answer: As we prepare for a post-COVID future, it will be tempting to plan for things going back to “normal.” What we’ll really need to do is write a playbook for the next normal. This includes: Navigating the backlog of medical care that has been on pause due to delayed procedures, less preventive care, and decreased medication adherence during this crisis. Revisiting assumptions on the role and effectiveness of in-person meetings and in-office promotion — especially as many physicians are focused now on the immediacy of keeping their practices afloat and ensuring staff safety, in addition to patient care. Supporting patient communities who are increasingly comfortable with sharing their health data and accessing health services via telemedicine platforms; and at the same time, may be facing economic hardship that can lead to reduced care and access to health insurance. In addition to economic impact, the patient experience will be impacted for a long time as patients have had to prioritize and/or put off managing their health in order to feel safe. We just launched YuzuYello, a patient services specialty practice, to address this — understanding and predicting what patients will need and expect, and supporting them to create strong relationships with brands for better health outcomes. 

Q3. Life-sciences industry: There is an internet meme that’s framed like a multiple-choice question: Who led the digital transformation of your company — A) CEO, B) CTO or C) COVID-19? “C” is circled. The current coronavirus crisis offers one such opportunity to make necessary change, maybe even to solve problems that previously had seemed intractable. Where will the life sciences industry itself take advantage of this unprecedented period to implement real change?

Mike Hudnall

Answer: The pandemic will shape our life and business experiences enormously. While solving the COVID-19 crisis must be our collective priority right now, there is no doubt that it is effecting significant and lasting change including compressing what would have been years of technology transformation into months. As the “new normal” takes shape, the life sciences companies that emerge stronger will be those that step up to take real action and are recognized by the world as the leaders that are helping to solve this crisis — including helping the world return to work. Also critical will be companies’ ability to accelerate their transformation agendas to better support patient centricity and access. I expect we will see the leaders in this space further leverage new partnerships and collaborations across the industry to inspire further change.

Donna Murphy

Answer: First and foremost, my utmost sympathy goes out to all of those personally impacted by COVID-19. There are families all around the world who have dealt with illness, lost loved ones and had profound financial loss. We have to continue to support one another and our greater communities as we look at a world that’s going through a very challenging time.

As a serial optimist, I’m always looking for what value we can draw, even from the most difficult of circumstances. I do see incredible advances in the speed of innovation and advances in technology, silos within the life sciences industry coming down, workforces looking at new ways of operating and a newfound respect and heroism for healthcare workers and pharma companies. I believe that long term, we’ll remember this time as an unbelievable challenge, but also a time where our industry stepped to the forefront of consumer conversation, we adjusted the ways that we worked together and where health and wellness came forward as the world’s leading priority. 

Alexandra von Plato

Answer: Real change is driven by embracing true patient-centricity, and that means treating patients like customers who have choices and who vote with their wallets. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the awareness and need for pricing transparency, valuing patient’s time and convenience, and truly understanding and embracing the engagement value chain — from L&D to LOE — in order to effectively improve patient experience and thereby demonstrating that better patient experience ultimately delivers greater health and business outcomes.

For life sciences, the key is recognizing the fundamental shift in healthcare marketing as advertising and sales to healthcare marketing as the means to realize patient engagement. When healthcare marketing embraces its role as facilitator of patient engagement, marketing becomes about outcomes.

Ed Wise

Answer: Necessity is the mother of reinvention, and we hope one positive outcome will be the digital reinvention of how brands market. Even before the pandemic, rep and hospital access had been in decline. It’s forced many clients to jump into digital and virtual to engage with, support and sell to customers more deeply than ever. Ironically, this has been energizing for us as partners, because what were sometimes viewed as “innovation experiments” have now become necessary ways of marketing. And it’s forcing how we connect digitally to get even better.

Helene Yan

Answer: This crisis has forced a unique breakdown in our collective habits: many typical patterns, routines, and mindsets have been unlearned, and this presents the life sciences industry with a remarkable opportunity to reset — to encourage new behaviors that support greater access to health across a broader patient population. Taking advantage of this moment to fast-track the development of virtual and in-home patient care platforms; and accelerate adoption of digital health, remote diagnostics, home monitoring and home testing.