Digital Pharma Congress 2009- Socially Challenged Pharma
April 3, 2009 4 Comments
We all know Social Marketing is the Next Big Thing. Or at least, that’s what we are all saying to each other. Making each other believe that the era of the 4/5/6 P’s is finally over. And of course Big Pharma can not stay behind forever. In a relatively short period the content of pharma congresses has changed dramatically. Two years ago a typical pharma marketing congress dealt with eDetailing, brand management and CRM systems. Now it’s about communities, Twitter, authenticity and transparency. Finally.
It was the first attempt for EXL Pharma to enter the ‘Old World’ with their Digital Pharma congress. Already an established event in the States, they now found the time right to see whether the Europeans are like-minded in the exciting area of new/social/digital media in pharma. And it seems that they are not the only one, by the way. This year alone we have been contacted by two other congress organizations which are planning to enter this space as well. It’s an interesting area to be in right now, especially when you have a story to tell.
We just returned from Barcelona (raining for two days, bummer!) and we look back to -in our view- a succesful first event organized by EXL. Of course not all things were perfect, it usually isn’t – especially when you do it for the first time. But I have to admit that Jason Youner and Bryan Main did a good job in pulling this thing off. Kudos go to them.
Now, let’s dive a bit into the program. I won’t cover all presentations, only the ones which were truly remarkable for me. For the Twitter feed with all tweets during the conference I refer to the EXL website with the Cover It Live feed (or search Twitter with #digitalpharma)
EXL’s Digital Pharma Europe was organized in Barcelona on March 30 and 31. See for the full program here. The morning of the first day was reserved for a workshop entitled ‘Successfully integrating Digital Media into the Overall Marketing Mix’. Sam Trujillo, Director of Marketing Women’s Health explained in a three hour session the view of Bayer Schering on the way to engage with digital media in the marketing mix. Apart from the fact that a workshop usually involves ‘working’ and we didn’t do more than just listening, I did not find his story appealing and at it’s place at this event. His story was mainly focussing on digital media (fair enough) but it looked like the process he was presenting very much described the traditional approach of pharma companies using media: to stay in control. Seriously, I just do not think that putting your commercials on YouTube will generate a lot of traffic towards your channels. Who on earth is going to watch voluntarely a commercial of a pharma company, including the usual fair balance BS? It’s just not the channel for that.
The rest of the day was reserved for more Social Media stuff. So did Jeff Hithcock from ‘Children With Diabetes‘ (CWD) a touching presentation on his social network for parents and children with diabetes. Once started as a virtual space he created for his daughter suffering from diabetes, now a huge online community for thousands of diabetes children. Recently J&J acquired CWD. It’s not clear to me however what’s in it for J&J.
Pharma going social
Another great presentation was from Heidi Youngkin, Executive Director Global Marketing at J&J. She held an informative and engaging talk on her ‘Social Media Adventures’ within J&J. Intruiging to see that a pharma company is already that advanced. No doubt the fact that J&J is a huge company with a lot of FMCG might help, but still. I’m sure that her guidelines will be used as a ‘golden standard’ and reference frame within more pharma companies (I saw a lot of people making notes, since her presentation was not available online). Interestingly J&J started slowly with a blog about the history of the company (nice and safe). After they gained sufficient experience with this new medium they introduced a blog more specifically targeted towards their end users and dealing with more complex subjects. Now they have entered the third stage, going beyond blogs such as participating in the beforementioned community CWD. During the rest of the conference J&J was quoted and cited as ‘Best Practices’ on several occassions.
The first day finished by a lively panel discussion moderated by Len Starnes, Head of Digital Marketing & Sales General Medicine at Bayer Schering. The panel discussion covered the paradigm shift of web 2.0 in the pharma world. Or should we say how pharma lives in the past not using (some of) these technologies. Interestingly it turned out that the FDA was present as well. Silently sitting in the back of the room, observing how Big Pharma is struggling with this paradigm shift. It sure is a pitty they (or anybody else for that matter) didn’t take the opportunity to start the conversation. And where were the European authorities?
Doctors and communities
Len must have done a great deal with EXL😉 because the next day he kicked-off the second day of the event with his presentation entitled ‘Healthcare Professionals’ Social Networks – The Beginning of the End of Pharma Marketing As We Know It’. We’ve met Len at several other congresses and it’s always good to listen to his vision on digital marketing within Big Pharma. This time he gave a sound overview of all possible social networks available for the HCP (Health Care Professional). Although a few big players (Sermo and MedScape) there is still room for niche players like Ozmosis for example. And what about Europe? Well, it seems that Doctors.net.uk and DocCheck Faces are the biggest players on our continent but they will soon face competition by the Powerhouse Sermo which intends to introduce here in the not so distant future. Main question of course is how Big Pharma can participate in these communities. Sermo has a partnership with Pfizer, so is this the way to go? Len was firm in his statement that the pharma industry should observe, research, engage and discuss, but under no circumstances should hard sell. He also did a small poll on LinkedIn which showed that 86% of his network believes that Social Networks will have an impact on pharma marketing within the near future.
Enterprise 2.0 and innovation in Pharma
My presentation was next, talking about the internal use of Social Media in the light of innovation in marketing services. I am always surprised to see that an entire industry just jumps on the bandwagon of using social media for external use and just forgets that they first have to deal with yet another -equally important- community: their employees. Why is it that I can’t find more about my colleagues in Outlook’s address book other than their name, telephone number and office number whereas when I check on Facebook and LinkedIn I can find half of their life? Why is it that even a New Media Specialist is blocked access to YouTube at the office because she ‘might watch YouTube videos all day long’? Get seriouss, executives. Wake up in a new world and embrace yourself for the entrance of the digital natives, people who are actually used to share information with each other (and are hence not afraid to lose their ‘power’ when they do). Or read this for a change. We want to create a common platform within our organization where employees can find our internal blog, wikis, podcasts and share ideas. And if that means that we have to pull-in some people screamin’ and kickin’, so it is. Change is never without some pain.
Yet another great presentation was from Kevin Nalty, Marketing Director Dermatology at a large pharma company which name could not be revealed but starts with an ‘M’ and ends with ‘erck’. Besides his serious job he moonlights as an official YouTube Comedian. His website Willvideoforfood is described as ‘a blog for online video, advertising, viral marketing, consumer generated media and blatant self-promotion’. Don’t know if he really needs a site doing all this since he’s one of the top-10 most viewed YouTube comedians with more than 750 videos seen in excess of 60 million times. He even wrote an e-book ‘How To Become Popular On YouTube Without Any Talent’. Well, I don’t have to explain you that we 100% agree with his vision about the power of video in communication. What we do differ in opinion is that although content is still king, form is becoming more and more important. By that I mean that the basic elements of filming should be carried out well (e.g. sound, lightning, basic rules of camera movement). That doesn’t mean that I think one should make a slick commercial. Please don’t. Some ‘rough edges’ gives it most of the time a bit more genuine look. But I will skip videos where the sound quality is poor, even if they have a nice story to tell.
Now, online video is exploding: Pharma, wake up and start using it!
The last presentation was an overview of the possibilities Google has to offer big Pharma. Interesting in that respect is Google.org, a CSR initiative of Google helping the community with their innovative concepts.
A quick wrap up ended the Digital Pharma Congress in Barcelona. Main take home messages of the audience (well, from people who actually dared to shout it out loud):
That last point was not put in by me, but most probably due to me…
I think it was a good start for such an event. I hope that for next congresses dealing with this subjects participation of European authorities is paramount since they are the gatekeepers of communication possibilities within our industry. Compared to the US Europe is different in that respect, also because we (still) have many different local authorities which can play and are playing according to their rules. The market is changing, people are getting more informed. The question is which information they use in order to get informed, and to what respect the quality of information is improved if Pharma can participate in the discussion. Pharma on the other hand should take it’s responsibility too, by being open and transparent about their products and claims. Pharma is low on the trust-scale, time to open up and fix that. Looking to the people in the audience I have the feeling that Pharma is ready for it. Now authorities, give them the opportunity to do so.
Stay tuned, soon I will post my presentation including the video online.