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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Agenda 2018 Special Feature: The song remains the same

Written by: | | Dated: Friday, February 16th, 2018

The names of the tools may be changing, but the goal for brand managers remains the same in 2018: getting as close as possible to real patients and their needs.


Anyone with a teenage child might be inclined to feel that technology drives humans further apart, not closer together. But pharmaceutical marketers are betting on the opposite view. In the past year – and the coming one – brand managers have been and are continuing to grasp for any tool at hand that can help get them closer to the physicians and patients on the other end of their communications. Big data, programmatic targeting, analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality; it all sounds like computer science class at MIT, but the goal remains very much flesh and blood. Has it been working? Will it work? Is 2018 the year of the great turn? We at Med Ad News asked folks inside the industry what we thought were the key questions for the year. Here’s what they told us.


Med Ad News: What was the word of the year in pharma marketing for 2017? Why? What will the word of the year be in 2018? Why?

Melissa Barnhart, senior VP, media, CMI/Compas: 2017: Data. We are not at a loss for data, it’s about focusing on making the data meaningful and actionable.
2018: Individual. Understanding your audience has always been of critical importance, and now we have better tools than ever to reach individuals with information that is valuable to them. Instead of marketing to the masses, ensure you’re reaching the individuals who will have the most impact.

Jay Carter, executive VP, director of business development, AbelsonTaylor: The word of the year in pharma marketing for 2017 was definitely “APPROVED!” The number of new molecular entities approved in 2017 (46) is greater than any other year since 1996. And that’s not counting other high-profile approvals like CAR-T and gene therapy products.

That’s BIG news in an industry where investment in launch is critical to early-term and long-term success. It’s VERY BIG news to the agencies and promotion partners for pharma, as new product launch is a time when marketing spend is generally at its highest.

The word of the year in pharma marketing for 2018 will be “data.” Make that BIG DATA. The growing availability of near real-time access to HIPAA compliant “scrubbed” EHR data, combined with the data warehouses that are already accruing for major brands, offers Pharma the opportunity to really tailor communications to HCPs.

Let’s be clear, though: while data is the word, it’s not the solution. The solution to Pharma’s problem is to find important relationships in physician data that companies can react to. We like to use a simple paradigm that makes this clear:

– “If I knew….” Knowing when a newly diagnosed patient gets one of your brands, or when a physician switches one of your brands, is big news. Getting that information is a major blip on brand radar.
— “Then I could….” Information yields the opportunity to determine what reactions are indicated, and Pharma companies can tailor their reaction based upon the overall brand plan and ecosystem. Certainly seeing your brand used – or abandoned – can prompt a company to deliver promotion to address the issue. Algorithms can help you decide what action to take. For instance, we can now correlate whether activity by a clinician is driven by medical education vs. sales calls vs. other inputs like local managed care access.
— “So that….” As always, “so that” is the key – so that a company can implement local action to address both opportunities and threats.

Robert Ehrlich, CEO, DTC Perspectives: Premium-pricing. Marketers have discovered that high-priced drugs in small, targeted markets do make sense for mass media campaigns. What used to be drugs entirely focused on medical provider marketing are now marketed like statins and anti-depressants. The consumers are not told in the ads the price can be 100 times higher than their other drugs, but few will pay retail. I expect 2018 to be no different.

Justin Freid, senior VP, search engine marketing and emerging media, CMI/Compas: 2017: Influencer. In 2017, we saw pharma finally take advantage of the opportunity on social media. Many brands worked with social influencers, whether social advocates or KOLs, to establish credibility in the social space or reach new audiences and join the conversations.

2018: Voice. In 2018, we will continue to see virtual assistants become part of our everyday life. We will become even more dependent on our voice to gain access to information. Pharma will need to understand the inner operating elements of voice assistants and optimize their content in a way that they never have before.

Paul Shawah, senior VP, commercial strategy, Veeva Systems: Last year’s marketing phrase was Content Marketing. In 2018, this concept will get a boost from Artificial Intelligence.

Pharma marketing is more complex than ever, with exponential growth in the number of sources and types of customer data. Analyzing all of this data has become too overwhelming for humans alone and requires machine learning to manage and link the data for timely and actionable insights. Further, it has become increasingly critical to understand and engage with a broader group of decision-makers – providers, payers, patients and where they are in the buying journey. This extensive and complex go-to-market approach demands that life sciences companies make better use of this broader body of data and derive predictive, programmatic insights from this data to guide their strategy – and even improve their approach to content marketing.

Artificial Intelligence, and in particular machine learning, will be a core underpinning of any winning marketing strategy. In 2018, companies will significantly scale their use of AI for a wider range of commercial applications because extracting the right insights from big data is crucial for the kind of personalization that is now required for commercial success. With greater scale, applications such as predictive customer engagement will become more ubiquitous. And, marketing success will closely align with the ability to connect and analyze more disparate data sources, and operationalize these with programmatic recommendations on the next best action.

Dave Sheehan, chief marketing officer, Outcome Health: 2017 was the year of transparency across various industries, leading to the development of industry-standards for viewability metrics and third-party verification. In parallel, agency transparency has been key – marketers are demanding tighter contracting processes, fee structures, and reporting. At Outcome Health, we’re proud to have adopted the most rigorous platform and campaign audit standards in our industry and have received certifications across 15 distinct areas including Advertising Delivery Process, Inventory Management, Click Measurement and Documentation Standards. We demonstrate transparency and ensure the integrity of our data through direct, platform-generated campaign reporting and we are constantly adding more checks and balances through the automation of our data and analytics processes.

In 2018, our word of the year is really more of a phrase – “personalized medicine meets personalized marketing.” Marketing the novel and complex drugs entering the marketplace requires a consistent, reassuring, one-to-one message to the patient. Once a patient can fully understand the science, benefits and risks associated with their treatment, they will be more likely to stay on their therapy.

Johanna Skilling, head of planning, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide: Before weighing in with my humble opinion on pharma’s word of the year, I wanted to check in with the experts at Oxford Dictionaries on their criteria for such a noteworthy decision.

According to, The Oxford Dictionaries’ WOTY “is a word or expression that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months…reflect[ing] the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and [has] lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”

Oxford’s WOTY was “youthquake.” Other contenders included “Milkshake Duck.” Neither are terms we hear every day. So how to evaluate our industry’s cultural narrative?

Contenders for our 2017 WOTY must surely include “data,” and its corollary, “data analytics.” 2017 is the year when pharma embraced the need for actionable information that can build business. There is a new focus among agencies and other partners on sourcing, aggregating and learning from data about consumer and HCP behaviors, and ultimately how those lead to sales.

At the same time, there’s a growing narrative about humanity, empathy and caring. At CES, one of the trends to watch was “assistance,” in the form of AI, robots, and VR, all technologies that can enhance the human experience.

So if 2017 was a year when we talked about data and analytics, here’s hoping that 2018 becomes the year when we balance that out with talking about human beings: the patients, families, doctors, nurses, and the caring, compassion, and empathy that will add new value to healthcare.

Allen Stegall, principal, director of strategy, Scout: For marketers, the word of the year, this year and every year, should be RESULTS. What are we seeking to accomplish? You know, in unvarnished terms that matter the most. What is our sales goal? Are we on track or not? Are we taking share from competitors? Are we strengthening our brand and our company? Do we have unequivocal evidence that our marketing plan is working? Yes, RESULTS is an old school word, but it’s also the word that matters most.

Of course, there are a lot of other perfectly good words that are periodically added to the vocabularies of marketers. Words like “engagement” or “scalability” or “analytics”. But let’s be candid, there are some questionable words too, and they are sometimes the most overused (“Ecosystem”, anyone?).

Focusing on RESULTS keeps us all honest. It also helps keep the team in touch with the big picture plan and its effectiveness. And, it provides clear and timely feedback when there is a need for reevaluation or adjustment.

Destry Sulkes, chief data officer, WPP Health & Wellness: The word of the year for 2017 was programmatic. It seemed 2017 was the year of intense interest in the massive strides taking place outside Pharma, and recognition that we all needed to get much more educated on the benefits, and risks, of using all of our marketing technologies to full effect. In other words, though most organizations had acquired highly sophisticated technologies to keep pace with non-Pharma peers, there was a growing gap between the vast capabilities and relatively traditional methods used in marketing efforts.

The word of the year for 2018 will be effective. Innovation has driven lots of new approaches for reaching customers, both clinicians and patients, yet the jury is still out on what works and what doesn’t. Although it looks like the consumer packaged goods sector and many others will thrive on “voice” in 2018, the Pharma sector will be more focused on identifying the fundamental digital and data strategies, including remote patient monitoring, that deliver immediate and scalable results. Voice will still be more of a “shiny new object” to be explored, but not a major driver of growth.


Med Ad News: What’s up next for marketing technologies in 2018? What new tech tools in the brand manager’s toolbox will make the biggest impression? And what tech tools are wearing thin? Why so?

Marc Benjamin, CEO, Convergence Point Media: Marketing automation has come of age to the point that turnkey, trigger-based strategic marketing plans addressing the entire omnichannel spectrum should no longer be a pipe dream, or even an aspiration, but the gold standard in the here and now. Historically (and I’m talking, say, up through 2013), paid media and patient or professional CRM were almost completely independent initiatives. No more.

With “cost of entry” digital tools now including nearly infinite programmatic access, retargeting by segment or custom behavioral triggers, cross-device consumer profiles, social media monitoring, page-level whitelisting and multichannel lead scoring, marketers live in an unprecedented nirvana. The power of CRM can now extend across the entire digital ecosystem – media, direct and website creating an omnichannel continuum that is a brands’ lifeline to efficiency and growing meaningful audience relationships like never before.

What’s wearing thin? In pharma, the bloom is off the rose for correlation modeling that endeavors to build high-propensity patient profiles by identifying broad demographic and behavioral attributes seen disproportionately among those diagnosed with a given disease or likely to be prescribed a particular drug, and then targeting lookalikes with similar profiles. The predictive power of attributes like geography, household income and favorite TV shows simply does not rise above the noise when it comes to actionable lift on more direct and meaningful health signals.

Chris Cullmann, head of digital, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide: Every year there are new tools that capture a huge share of voice in marketing circles. This year is no different. Bots and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven marketing tools are becoming an increasingly more common part of the healthcare marketer’s vernacular. From customer service tools that can chat with patients to services available via voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, AI solutions are delivering value to audiences and expanding the success of communication programs.

Where AI is making differences both big and small in the marketer’s suite, an area that has fallen flat for the healthcare communicator is the consumer wearable. Although there is a tremendous benefit to patients and caregivers in having profile data for key health metrics, creating proprietary solutions for specific categories has proven to be a high bar for execution at scale. All is not lost on this effort because so many of the experiences we have accumulated in addressing wearables can be immediately mapped to the Internet of Things (IoT) space. Providing in-home solutions can help bridge at-home care with physician dialogue and improved outcomes.

On the heels of CES it becomes very easy to enthusiastically map new technology and emerging categories to our brands. We should be inspired and not be afraid to challenge ourselves and experiment, borrowing the ethos of the startup and entrepreneur space.

Robert Ehrlich: The next big thing is virtual medicine where patients will rely much more on feeding their symptoms, data on vitals, and history to online providers. If Americans are going to keep expecting same day or next day access to a doctor, this is what will be an alternative. It will not happen overnight but expect insurers, government, and other payers to push this approach. Sophisticated home diagnostic devices are increasingly available and will be the basis for quality online visits to providers.

Justin Freid: Pharma’s integration with virtual assistants has the opportunity to truly shift how we treat patients. As we create customized experiences for patients through virtual assistants, it will provide the opportunity to increase adherence, track patient health and ultimately provide better health outcomes. The connection of this technology to wearable devices that monitor health will only increase the potential we have to truly offer patients help beyond the pill.

John Marchese, executive growth director, the Sudler Network: The next big thing is EHR. To be clear, electronic health records are not a new concept. Healthcare marketers have been talking about EHR strategies for years now. To date, however, implementing tangible and successful programs within EHRs has proven to be an elusive goal. All marketers know they NEED an EHR strategy, but often times the “why” and the “what” are not as easily defined. The amount of EHR systems, various opportunities offered, and legal/regulatory hurdles have prevented marketers from being able to truly embrace these systems (and the data that comes with them) as a key tool in their marketing efforts way beyond a simple media targeting tactic.

As we move forward into 2018, marketers are going to realize that effective EHR strategies can allow them to reach their customers more often then they currently can, and at a point of time when the most impact can be made: Point of Care. As more and more physicians have adopted and experienced EHR systems in practice, the quality of data and opportunities for support within the system have grown. Beyond that, the sophistication of HER providers and data aggregators helps to offer up endless opportunities. We will see an increase in more traditional targeted communications within these systems, but that experience will lead to even more. Marketers will soon be able to utilize the aggregated data from within these systems paired with the ability to message within them to provide physicians and patients real-time information which can lead to better interactions and, most importantly, outcomes.

It will be critical for all marketers to have an effective HER strategy for 2018 and beyond. What’s most important is that we embrace it as more than just a media opportunity, commit to working through the logistical challenges and ensure the strategy answers the question: “How can this help my customers.”

Michelle Potts, VP, buying services and deliverables, Compas Inc.: In 2018, I think Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will continue to take off from a marketing perspective. As pharma navigates through the potential of VR/AR from concept to implementation, marketers will gain deeper insights into its unique nature. In a crowded and loud market, it will be critical for marketers to create a multi-sensory approach to engage with both patients and doctors. VR/AR provides that opportunity for a personalized interaction providing product information, education and promotion.

Dave Sheehan: Promotional technology will take a backseat to new digital tools that enable brand managers to more effectively communicate and interact with patients. We also expect to see increased spend on near real-time campaign analysis to drive overall campaign performance.
Augmented reality and artificial intelligence have certainly made a big splash on the healthcare scene, but because these technologies have not been widely adopted in the marketplace, their value was not fully realized in 2017. Hopefully we’ll see more of these technologies utilized in the real world in an effort to help patients better understand and manage chronic conditions.

Arno Sosna, general manager, CRM, Veeva Systems: Augmented Reality (AR) is the next big thing. It will soon become a powerful part of physician education as more companies master the technology. In 2018, life sciences companies will begin experimenting with this new format to create HCP presentations that improve learning with 3-D demonstrations. With AR, physicians can visualize how a drug works or receive in situ training to better understand the steps of a complicated procedure more fully. Clinical researchers can better monitor their studies, and nurse practitioners can be trained more precisely how to administer drugs with unique delivery mechanisms. AR can also help better educate patients about medical procedures and treatments during community outreach programs or through patient portals.

More use cases will evolve as this promising digital technology becomes mainstream, especially as consumer-friendly devices such as the iPad Pro incorporate features that enable AR. This will be the next type of content that agencies and brand teams will leverage to deliver more immersive experiences with customers.

AR will not necessarily replace any specific tool in the marketer’s toolbox but will instead enhance what marketers are already doing, including social media and mobile marketing strategies. It opens a door to new types of content, for greater creativity in how reps and marketers engage with customers. However, there are some marketing tools that are starting to lose their impact – particularly disconnected, one-off brand web portals. There are too many, making it nearly impossible for HCPs to keep track of all their different logins. So, rather than enhance engagement, password-protected portals impede access to valuable information. Expect more portals to be replaced by personalized mobile campaigns that speak directly to what HCPs want and need, right where they need it most.

Destry Sulkes: Though there will be a broad array of new programmatic and other technologies, brand managers who connect internal teams of data, analytics and regulatory will be poised to win. To date, there are still very few examples of brands who are fully leveraging all the rich data their colleagues are buying and analyzing, and have frequently run into regulatory hurdles when trying to put the insights to work in the market. This is the year that joining up internal teams starts to emerge as a real game-changer, the data assets have been maturing, and with them, the strength of actionable insights. It’s time that entire portfolios start to use their organizations’ broad data resources effectively and bring unheard of levels of service to all stakeholders, from payors to physicians to patients.


Med Ad News: Lawmakers in California and New Jersey took steps to limit payments by pharma companies to physicians in 2017. Are we in for another burst of regulation in this area? How might it affect brands’ marketing plans?

Mary Anderson, president, Ogilvy CommonHealth Medical Education: Last month, providers who work with pharmaceutical companies as paid advisors and speakers saw themselves deleted from the rosters for such activity. Effective January 16, 2018, New Jersey has limited payments by pharmaceutical companies to $10,000 for each provider. This regulation was introduced by the attorney general as part of an overall campaign to limit the undue influence of pharmaceutical companies on the prescribing habits of providers. New Jersey’s move is significant because, unlike other states like Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, it actually caps compensation and puts the reporting responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the provider. The cap impacts “bona fide” services, including any unaccredited or third-party engagement, such as promotional dinner meetings and participation in advisory boards. One very important exclusion to the rule is payments to providers and their institutions for clinical trials. However, educational events pursuant to the trials, such as the compensation to these providers for sharing data at presentations as part of a promotional program for an approved drug, look to be included in capped activities.

It is possible that, once the New Jersey rules are in action, other states will reevaluate their regulations and look to impose similar caps. We can only hope for some measured consideration of the impact of the New Jersey regulation before copycats emerge. This New Jersey regulation comes as part of Governor Chris Christie’s “swan song” campaign to address the opioid epidemic. Some have raised concerns that the proposed rules ignore the benefit resulting from a strong, collaborative relationship between providers and pharmaceutical companies and it misrepresents the nature and intent to the pharmaceutical-provider engagements. There is no doubt that pharmaceutical company efforts and dollars go a long way to keep our providers educated and that peer-to-peer education is a key way that this communication is achieved. The impact of this regulation on the communication of the newest treatment advances, which have the potential to improve patients’ lives, remains to be seen. We should all keep a keen eye on the impact in this next year.

As with all changes in the status quo, this development opens the door for exploring new ways to fill the gap for how we communicate and educate on treatment advancements. The caps force an opportunity to engage more and varied providers in educational events delivered across a wider swath of channels, including digital communities and in social media spaces. It could also facilitate a shift in the type and number of sales representatives that pharmaceutical companies employ. The caps will decrease the number of providers that can be engaged in New Jersey for pharmaceutical talks, but it does not impact the number of scientific staff that pharmaceutical companies can employ to speak to providers. This opens the door to a different peer model where pharmaceutical company-employed providers, who don’t prescribe but are equally trained, can come out and speak to practicing providers – GSK is among the companies that has applied this approach already. For healthcare communication professionals, the new regulation facilitates the need to build clinically relevant educational content that will contextualize benefit beyond the individual treatment and allow pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the greater patient-centric educational and informational needs in practice. In summation, the caps could positively result in more patient-focused engagements, dollars spent on accredited education and clinical research, and the employment of more scientifically trained pharmaceutical staff with responsibility to educate and interact with their peers in practice.

Melissa Barnhart: There will likely continue to be additional limitations on what payments and activities pharma companies are allowed for direct compensation to HCPs. We’ll likely continue to see a shift toward other means for creating opportunities for KOLs and HCP colleagues to interact virtually, in lieu of in-person meetings. Our Media Vitals data shows that HCPs are open to alternative ways of engagement. For example, when asked about how they notice branded pharmaceutical content and/or advertisements, 61 percent said they notice content at least once a week through mail, 49 percent via email, and 49 percent via a search engine. HCPs are also interested in new technologies, 30 percent say they are very/extremely interested in Telemedicine, while another 24 percent are interested in Virtual Assistant Software.

Robert Ehrlich: Regulation intensity depends on which party is in power. If Dems regain control of both the House and Senate, we can expect much more regulation. Trump is no friend of drug makers and will likely accede to the anti-drug lobby.

Louisa Holland, co-CEO, the Americas, Sudler: We should anticipate ongoing scrutiny of payments to physicians – this will remain an important topic whether it spurs new regulations or not. As marketers, we should focus more on whether or not the payments are for meaningful work with physicians. As long as the work we do with thought leaders and practitioners reflects an earnest need for guidance and insight (rather than veiled promotion), then the payments are justified. The voice of the expert is increasingly important given today’s pace of discovery and the complexity of new medicines, so we need to partner with experts to ensure that our communications are well designed and meaningful. Finding appropriate patients for previously untreatable rare diseases is a perfect example of how expert insights combined with appropriate message dissemination can help our clients improve patient outcomes. When developing a brand’s marketing plan, keep the voice of the expert in “the mix” and make sure that your physician interactions (and any accompanying payments) support a meaningful exchange of relevant, care-focused information.

Dave Sheehan: Increased regulations necessitate a paradigm shift away from traditional tactics, such as face-to-face sales rep interactions, toward digital methods to further engage with HCPs. Leveraging in-office technology during the HCP-patient conversation allows brand marketers exclusive access to promote their latest therapies – providing information that patients and HCPs should be aware of in order to make the best health decision possible.

Destry Sulkes: Really hard to see this turning around, the optics aren’t good and neither pharma nor physicians seem interested in pushing for changes in this arena.


Med Ad News: How do you foresee pharma’s marketing media mix changing – or not changing – in 2018? A little less DTC, a little more interactive, and a sprinkling of PoC? How will the various channels develop and change in the new year?

Melissa Barnhart: Behaviors are shifting with technology, as smart home devices become ubiquitous, yet people aren’t giving up their traditional media. We now have people using voice search, mobile search, desktop search, website browsing, magazine and journal browsing, email reading, social media interacting and TV watching. So the media mix is expanding, and we need to focus more on the individual. We need to media plan to account for what each person wants, what drives them, what influences them. Although technology makes things more complex, it also in some ways makes it easier and more possible than ever before to engage at that individual level, because we can harness AI tools to capture trends and affinities to develop the right media mix that will move the needle.

Making sure they’re properly communicating with each other is how we can effect change. The most important thing pharma marketers can do is to understand where and how people are searching for information and making sure your brand is there, easy to find, wherever they are.

Marc Benjamin: Any answer to this question that takes the form of “more of this, less of that” is just wrong-headed given the seamless digital grid and marketing tools available in 2018. Every brand has its own blueprint for success, and nowhere is that more true than for specialized Rx pharma brands.

The ability to tap vast digital and direct insights using real-world digital analytics and crowd-sourced survey tools allow marketers to build distinct, custom segments and map out the marketing journey that will take each from their current state to the brand’s desired state of awareness or behavior. Channel mix is no longer a templated affair – we can now see and influence every step of the journey, from first ad impression to website actions to email engagement to social behavior. Message sequencing, use of triggers and split-testing can now be applied.

Channel planning itself has become obsolete – the digital ecosystem is now an artist’s palette, triggering connections for CRM and marketing automation across the spectrum.

Robert Ehrlich: The DTC media mix has evolved slowly. We can expect increases in digital and POC, but nothing dramatic as we see television and print still dominant. Unless FDA gets practical and recognizes consumers can click for more information, we will not see social media or word search increase.

Rob Enos, media director, AbelsonTaylor: Three things will drive the shift in media mix in 2018.

Number 1, we need more use of data for digital advertising; go where the rich information is.

First, our clients need to embrace conversion tracking at the source. Employing a hybrid of both auto-tagging and manual tagging can compensate for the limitations of both while getting the analytics we need, such as placements (where we place ads on the content network), keyword positions (what position the ad appeared in on Google Search) and display targeting. None of this is new, but not enough campaigns are properly set up with the client’s IT in mind to smoothly implement this kind of serious reporting.

They also need to embrace greater use of active intent advertising vs. contextual targeting alone. Again, not a new concept, but encouraging suppliers to allow this level of targeting will help improve the performance of campaigns in a world that increasingly demands quality traffic over quantity. Active intent essentially delivers ad messages in real time that are more directly connected to user interest at that time. It also takes into account user history of the page she’s on and attempts to match why a user would be on that page with a custom message. Contextual targeting is mostly driven by specific terms or keywords that could appear within online material to which the user is exposed.

Number 2, we’ll see more performance-based, and fewer awareness-based, tactics; engagement is becoming king.

In spite of the lifecycle of the brand, the level of new information being released (i.e. new indication/clinical data), and size of audience demand for content or asset engagement are becoming a greater KPI than how many people are aware of the message or brand. Quality site visits, dominated by metrics such as time on page, bounce and, more importantly, converting visits to action (i.e. registration, requesting info, etc) are much closer to gauging intent to use than whether or not someone recalls the ad or how many people visited the site. Content partnerships for hosting, content syndication for dispensing, and repurposing materials into interactive channels are continuing to be popular ways to extend the use of assets without incurring large creation costs. Further, getting suppliers to offer solid cost per engagement or cost per conversion rate models over cost per impression/exposure models must go hand- in-hand with these tactics. Finally, this is resulting in less reliance on standard display messaging and more on native/video and rich formats.

Number 3, we believe the industry can and will demand better protection against ad fraud, including Botnet fraud (never actually viewed by humans) and Adware fraud (not properly loaded for a person to accurately view them). According to Statista, the estimated cost of digital ad fraud in 2017 was $16.4 billion across all industries.

Most Pharma clients are expecting ad agencies to be the party primarily responsible for ensuring ads are properly served. Viewability protocols only go so far. There are no standards to evaluate what suppliers are doing against fraud (not that they are ignoring it), but we need to formalize audits of point-of-care placements and other location-based (hospital, convention) placements as well. If we leave these things up to individual suppliers, we will not only get varying degrees of quality but also put dollars at increasing risk.

Justin Freid: For many, many years pharma has been dependent on broadcast TV. As consumers, we are shifting our consumption habits to non-linear TV, streaming services and content warehouses such as YouTube. Pharma continues to be one of the top spenders on traditional linear TV. Agencies and brands will need to begin to shift their strategies to the channels and technology their audiences are adopting.

Point of Care will also continue to develop into an extremely powerful and important channel. With new technology providing brands opportunities to be at the point of conversation between HCP and patient, there may not be a more influential opportunity.

Liz O’Neil, senior VP, channel strategy and research, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide: 2018 will not be the year of a media mix shakeup in pharma marketing. Media budgets will continue to rely on the proven channels that work hard on the brand’s marketing objectives and have positive returns. The approach to marketing continues to be grounded in a clear strategic vision and performance metrics that justify mix. There is more competition for marketing budgets inside companies, which encourages a disciplined approach to media investment, making data and measurement plans essential.

DTC spend has continued to increase year over year. Expect that growth to continue. Broadcast television and online video will continue to be a core part of many brands’ channel mixes as a critical channel for awareness. The current categories often need longer length commercials, which drive up cost, but for the biologics and other growing categories, it seems to be the DTC channel of choice.

The shift from personal to non-personal HCP marketing will encourage a more personalized and data-driven approach to the professional mix. Non-personal promotion is getting more sophisticated and more personalized to drive the behavior changes needed, as technology supports a more robust channel mix that leverages the extended work day and the blurring of home and office.

The expansion into the frontier of new channels will happen but will not likely substantially shift the budgets, yet. Experimentation is vital to Pharma to ensure they are ready for the future. We have seen this happening in newer channels such as Electronic Health Records and Facebook. These channels will see growth for the brave brands that have successfully cracked the code. The new world of voice technology and voice assistants will drive testing for tomorrow.

Dave Sheehan: As they say, if you’re not changing, you’re not growing. Although more “traditional” media tactics will continue to be staples in the pharma marketing media mix, I foresee 2018 as being a year of increasing adoption of new and innovative tactics – including digital and interactive PoC solutions. In fact, between 2014-2016, PoC investments grew 10 percent year-over-year and are projected to grow to 15 percent between 2017-2020 to reach an estimated $847 million. This explosive growth is driven by a variety of factors that signal the value of in-office platforms, including expanding access and evolving strategies such as education, adherence, and patient support programs.

Destry Sulkes: The strength of DTC continues to grow, the array of marketing mix models deployed to assess it always seems to find value, regardless of the breadth or narrowness of the Rx or target audience. Certainly PoC is in a sharp growth mode too, the concept of reaching HCPs right in the EHR is too alluring to pass up, though the ROI studies will be able to tell us in a few years what type of interventions work best, since not all EHR interventions are identical. Mobile also will see rapid growth, reflecting the broader societal trends to spend more time in that channel. Another area of growth is likely to be treating HCPs more like consumers, and messaging them across all their devices and sites, with limitations that will emerge as more lessons are learned from new programs.


Med Ad News: What skills or offerings are brand managers going to expect from marketing agency partners in 2018 that they might not have expected in 2017? Why so? What other changes might be brewing in the agency world?

Marc Benjamin: This is a very timely question. Addressing this with my media agency hat on, more and more pharma marketers seek an agency partner that can deliver integrated digital strategy and accountability for KPIs with direct brand business value. Pharma media agency expertise must extend beyond planning and buying, beyond impressions and clicks – it must include fluency across channels, from awareness down to 1:1 direct communications, from paid ads to mobile alerts to social posts – and in the principles of both reach/frequency and bottom-of-funnel CRM ROI.

Now that every touchpoint in the digital journey can and should be orchestrated as part of a continuous journey, the lines between media, website and CRM have dissolved, and agencies must broaden their perspectives to take full advantage of these new opportunities.

Brian Doherty, executive VP, managing director, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide: The original quote has been attributed to any one among a list of great thinkers of history, from Benjamin Franklin to Mark Twain to Pascal. But regardless of who first uttered the phrase, its application feels more appropriate today than ever before: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

Yes, brevity is the soul of wit, and moving into 2018 it is also a required ability for how we sometimes tell our brand stories and change the habits of our audience – not an easy task. How much time and space do we need to be creative, to stand apart from the crowd, to deliver a message and to still measure an impact?

In an age where attention spans are so challenged that Twitter was met with resistance when it recently doubled its character capacity from 140 to 280, we are confronted with the need to break through and convey in a way that will be much more succinct and will test our patterns of development.

In an effort to model the success seen with YouTube bumper spots, some television networks are already testing six-second television ads as a way to complement longer content.

The healthcare marketing world of 2018 will need to respond in kind. Success going forward will include finding the time to write the shorter letter.

Robert Ehrlich: Agencies are going to need to get more efficient in targeting. Big data is a skill that agencies are going to have to utilize to give marketers more efficiency and effectiveness. They are also going to need to understand how medicine will be more virtual and how that will impact getting the branded message out. Of course, agencies need to get better at making great ads, both on television and print, as DTC has been on air for 20 years and breakthrough ads are harder to do.

Justin Freid: As I look to hire senior level team members, I am continuing to look for those who understand the technical side of the business. Having an ability to create brand strategies is still a must, but being able to understand a client’s tech stack and how it can be applied or improved is just as important. How we buy media is changing, being able to think like a programmatic media buyer or a search engine marketer is also a key ability for talent. Finding people who can mold the technical side with the strategic side are hard to come by, but can truly be catalysts for an organization.

Piers French, strategic growth director, Ashfield Healthcare Communications: Healthcare companies are no longer competing solely with other healthcare companies or other sources of pharmaceutical information; we are competing for attention with giant entities like Amazon, Google and Facebook. Patients and physicians will benchmark our communications against companies outside of healthcare and will expect a far higher standard of customer experience.

As a result, brand managers will need their agency partner to create communications that do more than just differentiate their brand: they will need to push the boundaries of healthcare. I anticipate agencies to be selected based on their ability to bridge the gap with consumer-focused companies; as well as offering strategic consultancy and creative campaigns that are strong enough to cut through the noise and reach our audience, whether they be a patient or a physician.

We envision that brand managers will look to their agencies to propose strategies that treat HCPs or patients as people, rather than audience types. We expect less discussion about channel usage and more discussion about their audience’s barriers, drivers, frustrations, aspirations and demands. By understanding people on a human level, we will create more campaigns that matter and ultimately improve lives.

Dave Sheehan: Lately, we’ve seen an increased focus on how we can help “prime” ads with specialized content to get patients in the right mindset before seeing a brand ad. Content may cover condition information, patient testimonials, and questions to ask your doctor. By priming a brand message with relevant, synergistic content on a similar topic or condition, patients are more receptive to the message and likely to take action.

Destry Sulkes: Using data and analytics consistently throughout the planning, segmentation, insight mining, creative development, platform optimization, and content/channel selection processes. To date there has been immense variability in when and how data is used, and brand managers are recognizing the value in a more consistent, data-driven approach to craft and execute more effective programs. These are new skills, and we can see new programs popping up monthly from academic institutions offering training on these hard skills, which then need to be fine-tuned through a health lens.

Tim Wohlgemut, senior VP, TGaS Insights: In a word, brand managers are going to expect innovation from their partners in 2018. Biopharma companies increasingly expect their partners, agencies and vendors to contribute to innovation. Two factors are accelerating the demand. The massive changes experienced within both pharma and healthcare are accelerating, and technology, regulation and customer expectations are changing rapidly.

What we DON’T mean by innovation: Pharma companies do not expect their agencies to bring them shiny new objects or just the latest gadget, technique or marketing toy. They don’t expect change for the sake of change.

What we DO mean by innovation: Pharma companies expect processes, mindsets and a company culture that produces relevant new ideas that can be tested and scaled. These ideas must, of course, align to the goals of the pharma company and the brands and people being supported.

Innovation isn’t something that happens once but again and again. When pharma companies experience innovation from their partners, it colors everything about how they are perceived. TGaS calls it the “Innovation Halo.” Our data shows that when pharma managers experience “innovation” with a vendor, they like that vendor more in all areas of satisfaction, not just the ones most closely related to innovation.

Our Vendor Insights data on how companies rate their vendor experience shows that the likelihood to recommend increases 15 percent when an innovative experience occurs. For those familiar with the Net Promoter Score calculation, it means the experience of innovation moves the average customer from a “neutral” to an active promotor. Satisfaction levels increase an average of 8 percent across 10 different measures of satisfaction. The greatest increase in satisfaction occurs among perceptions of responsiveness and expertise.

The pace of change is clearly accelerating. Pharma companies should look for innovation in their vendors, and vendors should look to create a culture of innovation in their companies. TGaS has found that although satisfaction increases across the board (the Innovation Halo effect), responsiveness and expertise are the qualities most highly correlated with the experience of innovation.


Med Ad News: What does patient engagement mean to you? And how can marketers do it better?

Melissa Barnhart: Patient engagement is an interactive experience – it’s two-way and valuable to both sides. Marketers can do it better by making sure they are where patients are looking, making sure they’re making it easy for patients to find the information they need, when they’re looking for it. The right message, right time, right channel. We can and should be going outside our industry and look at great customer service examples for inspiration. Here’s a great example: a client knew a major barrier to adherence was a very long pre-authorization period. So they took a page from FedEx’s play book and offered up a sort of tracking service so patients could see where they were in the process. It didn’t make things move faster, but it kept them informed rather than waiting and wondering.

Robert Ehrlich: Patient engagement means providing relevant disease and drug information to prospective and current users. It also means supporting patients as they use the drug or device marketed by having online and phone access 24/7. Clearly the drug industry is not doing too well with patient retention and compliance and having the right patient engagement strategy is critical to growing sales. Given the drug industry has image problems, patients are skeptical that drug companies care about them. The drug industry needs to learn to delight their end users with a great product at a fair price, with easy access to experts who can answer questions on drug use.

Piers French: Patients are looking to improve their lives, to feel empowered and have all the information they need, when they need it. Our role is to facilitate patient engagement by removing barriers to this information and ensure that patients feel supported.

The only way to do this is to get a deeper understanding of what patients actually want – not what we think they want. Because of this, we look at their behaviors, focusing on barriers to the information required or support needed. That is why we talk a lot about empathy, because ours is not a transactional relationship where a patient thinks: “I want this information.” Rather, they often have a question that needs an answer and gives them support and our job is to help them find a range of articles addressing that question, and reflecting their need at the time.

We must get better at engaging and supporting patients. We need to take a keen interest in understanding them not just as a user / customer but understanding them as a person with all their individual needs. So rather than saying we will address all patients through a certain channel, what we really have to do is make information available across all platforms where they may seek help. Our engagement planning must not stop at providing a website.

Nareda Mills, president, patient solutions, Ashfield U.S.A.: Patient engagement means truly understanding the needs and challenges of your patient population – not once, but on an ongoing basis in order to maintain their involvement towards the ultimate goal of improving adherence, reducing readmissions and achieving better outcomes. You cannot effectively do this without co-creating the patient experience plans along with the patients and their prescribers and also not forget to tap into the insights of the care partners. Care partners often have as much, or more, influence on a patient starting, and ultimately staying, on a treatment regimen than one may think.

Marketers should be conducting regular advisory boards with patients, HCPs and care partners well before they launch a product to understand the needs their patient population will have. Once a product launches, it is also important to check back in with these key stakeholders to determine if any adjustments should be made to the patient experience plans. Often times, when we reach the post product launch phase, there is very valuable feedback to be gained from patients, their HCP team, and their care partners regarding access to therapy, the education they may need to mitigate side effects, the challenges they might be facing to remain adherent and to be successful in managing their disease.

Dave Sheehan: Patient engagement means activating a unique patient at the exact right moment with the exact right message to accomplish the desired outcome. How can we do it better? First, the more we can tailor the call to action and value proposition to the environment and mindset of the patient, the better the chances are that a patient will take the desired action and ultimately initiate treatment. Secondly, we need to move beyond mere promotion to truly connect with patients on an emotional level. Point of Care is precisely and uniquely positioned to accomplish this by reaching patients while they are making healthcare decisions.

Raffi Siyahian, principal, president of healthcare, Scout: For years our industry has talked about getting away from treating patients as patients. Yet, there seems to be considerable opportunity for improvement in the way marketers engage patients and caregivers. The future of successful patient engagement will surround personalized approaches. Today’s technologies and data resources give marketers the opportunity to gather myriad information about how their patient audiences like to receive and consume information about their health needs. Through these resources, marketers can also understand how their patient audiences are addressing their health needs beyond their prescription medications. This gives marketers the ability to do two things: 1) build CRM programs that can be highly tailored and specific to segments of their patient audiences, and 2) engage on a more personalized level in conversations in the social space, or through events and organizations where their patient audiences are spending time to better their health, beyond prescription meds.

Generally speaking, patients don’t want to be treated like patients. They want to be treated like people who are thriving while dealing with their health challenges. And, they want people or entities who are speaking with them about their health to understand their life beyond their health challenge. Marketers who build a human, personal relationship between their audience and their brand (without losing focus on delivering the essence of their brand message) will see stronger loyalty and results.

Destry Sulkes: In pharma terms, the bottom line is adherence. We have all seen the low rates of patients still on their medications after 6mos and 1yr. To truly “engage,” a patient needs to emotionally connect with their recommended Rx and other lifestyle changes, and find new ways to adapt to their condition. Getting a patient to that place takes incredible human insights from marketers and their agencies, and is not a simple matter of SMS reminders or building more apps. Instead, we all need to dig deeper into each condition and learn from the people who live it, across a spectrum of individual reactions, and be able to shine the light on what matters. Only by realizing that men would rather be dead than dull did Ogilvy come up with “the most interesting man in the world” campaign, which led a lot of men to choose Dos Equis.

Joe Youssef, engagement strategist, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide: Patient engagement is an agreement. It is unspoken and acknowledges that in return for your time, attention and consideration, I am going to provide you with something relevant and of value. Relevance is determined by context (time of day, location, device), and value is what the consumer’s stated or inferred need is.

Marketers can improve patient engagement by recognizing that patients are people and are not defined by their disease. Speak to them as such. Identify what needs you can satisfy. Is the individual in need of emotional, supportive or functional help? Doing so starts by identifying unmet needs and pain points. Research, such as telephone-depth interview, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and social listening are invaluable when asking the right questions. Invaluable insights can be derived from this research and set marketers and their brands up for successful patient engagement.

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June 2019 Focus: Payer access, biotech/biopharma, DTC, rare diseases, and more!


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