It’s been fascinating to observe technology become more and more of a foundation for pharma marketing, and not just in the form of digital media. We are now seeing new technology tools and processes that enable us to author medical content and get it approved faster than ever. Many of the new Agile and Lean software development processes are making their way into the pharma marketing world.
The Old Waterfall Method
Traditional medical content development, just like in traditional software dev, has tended to follow the waterfall method.
Key medical claims will get approved by medical, legal, and regulatory (MLR) staff before going to medical writers. After the writers are done and the promotional copy is finalized, it goes back to MLR where it gets reviewed. It’s not unusual for there to be more than a few rounds of revisions before it can be handed off to designers to develop the visual messaging. And then it goes back to MLR for review.
Only after the design sign-off milestone will it go to the interactive team to build the project… and then back to MLR. Traditionally, if even one page or section is rejected and sent back for revision, the entire marketing program will need to go through the review process again.
This can be a very long drawn-out process, often taking up to six months to develop and approve a simple website. Heaven forbid that new customer insight is uncovered mid-project that suggests a change in the words or images! This would force the process to start over back at the top of the waterfall!
Becoming Afraid to Innovate
This approval gauntlet often leads brand teams and their agency teams to avoid content or marketing innovation. They fear repeated revisions leading to missed deadlines and budget overruns.
Agencies learn to self-censor. They hesitate to bring innovative ideas to the brand team for fear of getting shot down. And brand teams begin to measure agencies based not on their creative but on their ability to get stuff through the regulatory review process quickly. This is a frustrating and dysfunctional arrangement, to say the least.