Getting pharma's upfronts in order

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With network upfronts slated to occur in May, buyers and planners in the pharma space will consider TV spending for the coming programming season. Given the volatility in the market, what should the current upfront model be for pharma?

Andy Donchin

Director, national broadcast


The upfront picture is clouded by the writers' strike. Although we hope it ends soon, it could positively affect the upfront process. Economic pressures have resulted in fewer pilots, but new programs could be introduced more evenly throughout the year. Presentations could become more focused with more attention to digital extensions and client needs. The negotiation process will continue, but the timing may be more favorable to advertisers. But the general erosion of ratings points—strike or not—has made every advertiser, including pharma, think of “where else.” That's easier said than done, because TV is still unparalleled in reach potential. Most pharma spending is against an older audience. Network television is still a big driver, but there's also some attractive syndication and targeted cable. We're trying to maintain what works and tweak what could be better.


Joan Mikardos

Media director


The upfront model for pharma really depends on the individual situation of each pharma company. There are significant pros to participate in the TV upfront, but only if it makes business sense to do so. If your company needs complete flexibility, you just need to be aware of the trade-offs that may need to be made with the buy (e.g., higher cost, a less than ideal programming mix, etc.). Pharmaceutical advertisers can use other media, like online, to efficiently “buy back” GRPs lost to scatter premiums. Online advertising should play a greater role than it currently does for pharma. It's highly targetable, efficient, accountable and flexible. At the end of the day, pharmaceutical marketers need to follow a process that makes sense for their company, not what makes sense for the networks.


Liz O'Neill

VP, media director 

EvoLogue (CommonHealth Consumer Group)

The overall channel model for pharma should be based on intersecting patients in channels that they already use and understand with compelling, educational content. The timing of the strike could be an opportunity for branded entertainment and other content distribution channels that can provide a richer experience for the patient. I would be sure to participate in the upfronts, as TV is still an important channel, and sitting out did not prove a successful strategy in 2007/2008. Pharma should ensure access to the limited new scripted programming that will be available due to the writers' strike. We will likely see some tough negotiations again. A year from now, more will be watching online and possibly even on their Google phone. As advertisers, we need to make our content compelling and relevant to the viewing experience of our targets.


Karen Coleman

SVP, director

Spark Communications

Pharma clients must weigh the risks and rewards. Pricing in the short-term marketplace has been significantly higher than in years past. While many marketers would be advised to buy as much as they can in the upfront, the changing regulations could leave them on the hook for unused inventory. For marketers that can switch out a product for another, moving the majority in the long-term upfront would be advisable.  For those brands that have more uncertainty, placing less upfront is the route to take. There's less efficiency, but that is off-set by the flexibility this option provides. Marketers need to place a value on the media “real-estate” they want to own.  If there are category exclusivity situations, those will likely not be available in the short-term marketplace.


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