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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Musings from Cannes – Healthcare Communications – is the engine running out of fuel?

Written by: | | Dated: Wednesday, August 17th, 2016


By Max Jackson
Sudler & Hennessey



I guess most people coming from Cannes might be struck by the latest trends in healthcare communications – the penetration of digital, the rise of the informed patient and the continued dominance in the prizes of ‘Good Causes’ rather than product promotion. However for me the biggest and most dominant theme that emerged both in observing the attendees, and also in talking to my peers across the industry from all specialties and geographies, was talent – or to be precise the lack of it. This is not to say that our industry does not have a plethora of amazing people, and many of those were in Cannes, but emerging talent at the middle to senior level seems conspicuously absent both at the event and in the industry as a whole.

Talking to industry peers, the same cry emerged time after time – “the biggest limiting step to growth is lack of good people”. At the senior level there are plenty of people circulating at the end of their careers, capable certainly, but not the future of the industry. At the junior levels we see hugely talented individuals coming into the industry, contributing strongly for two years, and then moving on. At the middle level – the lack of true talent is both striking and frightening. Like the ‘60s song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” we seem to lose our brightest and best just at the time when they would be most valuable.

And the fight for the available talent pool means that those that do remain can command pretty much any asking price, at a time when agency margins have never been under stronger pressure. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this two-fold situation may very well be terminal for the industry as we know it without strong and concerted actions.

And yet the final thing that struck me about Cannes was that whereas I heard a consistent voice on the problem, there was a strange silence on how to fix it and even more disturbingly a resignation that this was the state of affairs and it was irreversible. I think as an industry we need to take responsibility for the situation. We have inadvertently created environments that are not conducive to retaining the best minds. We have let other industries take over the mantle of cool and fun, and increasingly we are seen as hard work for less reward. We have failed to develop the talent we have attracted and I think failed to give clear enough career pathways that are both motivating and realistic.

My suggestion is that as a group we need first to own the problem, and as an industry (not as individual agencies) we need to come together to look for ways to solve or at least improve it. As a final musing, I think meetings like Cannes are a lost opportunity to get the best minds in our industry to work together to solve the burning issues that affect us all. Far too much time is spent in one-way communication, with a nod to discussion in the somewhat stilted and time-warn panel discussion format, whereas it would (in my opinion) be far better spent in true discussion and problem solving. The fuel of our industry is running out and if we don’t want it to stall, we all collectively need to take action now.

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