Archive for the ‘agile methodology’ Category

Pharma Marketing: How We Learned to Deliver Confident Counsel

The transformation of closerlook into the firm it is today started simply enough. We realized that we had become what so many agencies strive for, the “trusted advisor” for our clients.

Trusted advisorBut that wasn’t enough.

The traditional role of an agency has long been one based on counsel. Agency heads would work hard to create a brand around the idea of a “proprietary” advisory relationship with their clients. Traditional agencies often built their reputations on the “big idea.” Success was when the client trusted you to craft a great story to dominate the media gestalt for a moment.

We started down the path of trusted advisor in earnest in 2008. That was the when we decided to focus exclusively on healthcare. We based this key decision on the realization that it wasn’t credible for a small agency to be an expert in more than one domain.
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Big Pharma Makes Moves To Manage Disruption

What I liked most about a recent HBR article was what wasn’t mentioned.

The recent Harvard Business Review article, “How Merck is Trying to Keep Disrupters at Bay,” is all about disruption, and anyone who reads HBR on a regular basis knows that anything written about industry disruption or disrupters owes at least a tip of their hat to Clayton Christensen.

Christensen, a Harvard professor, has written extensively about disruption, innovators and the innovator’s dilemma, highlighting the fact that most large companies, including pharmaceutical companies, are not great at innovation or staying nimble enough to respond to changing customer needs and expectations.

Often it’s the small startup companies who aren’t respected by big companies that wind up disrupting the marketplace. They upend the value proposition in the marketplace, and by the time large and established companies can see what’s happening, they’ve lost market share – or maybe even the entire market.

I think it’s interesting and very compelling that Merck – a large and established company – recognizes this threat and is trying to work from both the inside-out and the outside-in to keep disrupters at bay.

babarThe HBR authors reference another large company, IBM, and how it essentially remade itself 20 years ago under the leadership of Louis Gerstner, who wrote his own best-selling book, “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” on the IBM journey.

The way Merck is doing it really impresses me. Merck recognizes that as a firm it already has certain core attributes, capabilities and priorities that it isn’t going to throw out. But by creating an internal Emerging Businesses (EB) group, it’s also inviting a high level of innovation.

Merck has tasked this small group to look outside the firm, but also, and more importantly, within the firm for new ideas for both products and services. EB created a Strategy & Innovation Council to identify and scale new internal initiatives and a Global Health Innovation Fund to find external partnerships.

Fundamentally, Merck is a products firm. They’re a drug manufacturer, but they recognize that innovation extends beyond new Rx products and into the entire customer experience, which can include other revenue opportunities like services and technology.

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Getting Agile: Stretching Pharma’s Digital Marketing Muscles

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.waterfall

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.

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