By Sue Lipinski is executive director, management advisor, TGaS Advisors, a division of Trinity.

The pharmaceutical industry has never been more exciting. At the dawn of this new decade, we are seeing incredible scientific breakthroughs in the industry. Gene therapy is becoming a reality, clinical diagnostics combined with treatments are paving the path for personalized medicine, and often under-represented diseases, like sickle cell disease and spinal muscular atrophy, are seeing not just one new treatment, but multiple life-changing solutions entering the market in 2019 and continuing in 2020. With all this change and excitement, there has been a whole lot of change within brand marketing organizations.

When we are out talking to pharmaceutical brand leaders in the course of benchmarking their marketing business units, TGaS Advisors spend time analyzing and understanding their organizational chart. With a robust database of over 200 brand marketing organizational charts and job descriptions, we look across the organizations and find commonalities, unique points of differentiation, and areas where companies are lagging. One thing we find common, across over 70 percent of the charts…open roles. And, critical roles too – leading HCP strategy, leading DTC communications, leading a new product launch. Most of it is due to attrition, some due to brand growth. Talent leaving simply for a better financial package is not the only factor. There are multiple, critical factors at play, notably:
1. The ability to move up a level or two in title
2. The opportunity to be nimble and less siloed
3. The opportunity to learn, both through experience and formal and informal training
4. To get back to the reason they chose the pharma industry in the first place, to make an impact on patients’ lives

In order to formulate a plan on how to best cultivate and keep your talent in the future, let’s take a quick look at where we are now and maybe dismiss a rumor or two (okay, three).

Rumor 1: To be nimble, you need to be lean.

Not necessarily. Recently, TGaS Advisors published a Landscape of Marketing Organizations and found that the bulk of in-line brand teams range between 4–7 in headcount, regardless of company size. As we get into larger pharmaceutical companies, there are plenty of shared service organizations that help with facets of marketing, like speaker programs or analytics. The key to nimbleness is being empowered to make decisions without an overabundance of processes that can be challenging and frustrating.

Rumor 2: There is a big difference in experience between Senior Product Manager and Associate Director.

A key finding from the TGaS landscape, as well as conversations with marketing leaders, is that the average number of required years of marketing experience for an Associate Director and a Senior Product Manager is virtually the same (5.6 vs 5.3). Many job descriptions of these two roles are extremely similar, yet a key reason for an employee to perhaps move to an emerging biotech is to get the coveted ‘director’ title.

Rumor 3: Managing people is a critical skillset to advance your career.

This is absolutely true in most organizations. The irony is that it is rarely listed as a prerequisite below the Executive Director level. Interestingly, those organizations that are ‘above benchmark’ for talent management have also created a career path for subject matter experts – those with a highly technical and effective skillset, that may not want or need people management to advance their area of expertise.

If you are happy and you know it, make a plan.

You have an awesome team, you’ve hit your milestones, now is the time to act and make sure your talent is happy too. Many organizations do not have a formalized career path, formal “authorized” role descriptions for specific titles, or tools beyond a semiannual review. As a marketing leader, you can be a change agent and help spearhead the initiative in your organization. Steps you can take:
1. Assess where you are today. You need to think beyond what you knew when you were a senior product manager at another company. Bring in a consultant, partner with your HR team, assess objectively: What is my team good at? What are the barriers to success? What is the rest of the industry doing with emerging capabilities?
2. Take a look around. Look at emerging biotechnology career websites. Look at some of their job descriptions and verbiage. They are passionate, they are exciting, and they are designed to get courageous marketers to raise their hands.
3. Communicate it, often. A huge flaw is that team leaders do not seek input from their direct reports and cross-functional partners. Worse, they keep it to themselves until they have a ‘big reveal’. Just knowing that a leader cares about their employees and is trying to retain their talent can help stave off attrition…at least for a bit.
4. Remember, it’s about the patients. Meetings are cumbersome. Process is frustrating. Make sure they attend patient ambassador meetings, read market research, listen in on patient services calls. Knowing that their time is well spent makes a difference.