When did Pharma miss the Innovation Pride Parade?

File under: Global Pharma Marketing, Healthcare innovation, Pharma innovation

A recent article identified four basic skills that new leadership in pharma needs to be successful in the arena of consumer health. The author, Michael Winter, addresses the topic from his perspective as an executive headhunter, with the expertise and obvious vested interest in helping to find, source and
pride paradeplace talent.

Winter observes that the capabilities, talents and skills that built pharma into the very successful industry sector it has been aren’t necessarily the same attributes that will make pharma successful over the next 5, 10 or 20 years.

“What got us here won’t get us there,” has never been truer than it is in pharma today.

The Skills Needed
The clinical research and development skills needed to produce new drugs will always be critical to pharma’s success, but our approach to the marketplace needs to be rethought and adjusted. The kind of marketing expertise needed in today’s environment has more common with successful consumer goods companies than traditional pharma.

This realization has spawned a growing contest for talent between pharma and consumer goods companies. In some cases pharma is trying to poach senior consumer executives. To be successful, however, pharma needs to first make itself an attractive destination for this type of experienced hire.

Most consumer executives look at an industry like pharma and say, “I don’t know… It looks complicated. It’s a highly regulated industry. They’ve got business model challenges. They’ve got brand issues. I’ve done well on the direct consumer side. Why would I ever leave my successful career here and move over into health? That just seems like a recipe for disaster.”

The Innovation Pride Parade
So before we can even identify and attract really good consumer executive talent, pharma itself needs to go through a bit of a brand refresh. A friend commented that pharma “missed the innovation pride parade,” and he’s right. Pharma didn’t miss innovation, because that’s what it does — it epitomizes science, high tech and innovation, but yet somehow it did miss the pride parade. It gave up its spot to companies like Google, Apple and Facebook.

Pharma has some of the best scientists and technology in the world, and although pharma’s technology is vastly different than Google’s, it’s just as sophisticated. Drugs are basically biological software, and pharma uses high-tech devices and methods to scan molecules, formulate biologics and interpret the human genome. Pharma really is a high tech industry, but it has never positioned itself that way. Right now, pharma lacks the sophistication to manage its brand in the marketplace — skills that Google and Apple have mastered.

In order to attract the level of consumer executives that will help transform the industry, pharma needs to reposition itself as essentially the ultimate high tech, innovative industry. Pharma needs to be cool.

Next week, three strategic benefits to being seen as a cool company.


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