Pharma on the Move – DigiPharm 2009
September 30, 2009 2 Comments
Rules, Compliance, Regulatory Affairs… There are many reasons why Big Pharma should not engage in Social Media. But apparently the Web 2.0 fever has hit hard in Pharma Marketing as well, since most, if not all congresses deal with this subject. And rightly so, since the change in behavioral patterns of patients and Health Care Professionals (HCP) are profound and can not be neglected anymore.
DigiPharm 2009 was such a congress, organized by Health Network Communications in London, from September 22 till 25. We were invited to present as well, so off we went to the capital of Great Britain. The event started on Tuesday with an interactive preconference workshop (“European Regulatory Strategies for Digital Marketing”), followed by the two day congress and finished off with a postconference workshop (“Strategies for Successful Marketing to the Digital Healthcare Community”). The workshops were attended by about 20 people, the conference approx. 85 people (excluding 15 speakers). A pretty high number I must say, given the time we’re in now (and also related to the various -rather aggressive- phone calls I got to participate in congresses). In this blogpost I will focus on the conference itself.
Digital Media, Social Media and Regulations
With more than 20 sessions it was a full program. It’s important thought to realize that one should make a clear distinction between Digital Media Marketing and Social Media Marketing. The latter, in our view, is about a dialogue, being transparent and authentic, and let the customer (be it a patient or HCP) in the driver’s seat. Digital Media could be an eDetailing without any ‘social stuff’ around it. It’s more a one way communication, rather than a dialogue. Although the importance of Social Media is now fully recognized, still Digital Media plays an important role in the communication strategy of many companies. Four years ago on a similar congress we concluded that Pharma is by far not ready yet because all presentations were about Digital Media (eDetailing, nice Flash sites). This time, at least half of the presentations were dealing with Social Media aspects within the communication mix.
The congress kicked-off by a presentation of Isabel Silva, Director Global eMarketing from Merck, who took us through the landscape of digital media and the new reality pharma is facing. She was focussing on the opportunities rather than the threats and stated that a “Digital environment could be the way that Pharma business can reinvent itself….to create an open dialogue with customers”. Easier said than done, was the common denominator in the audience. And what about regulations? Don’t they stop us at every digital initiative we deploy? “Not true”, said Heather Simmonds, Director of the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA, making ‘the Code’). “Of course there are rules to follow, like there have always been, and will be. But within those rules there is a lot possible. Clause 24 deals with the internet and in our Code of Practice Review Number 53 we even have an article about blogging for example”. “Let us know what you want and we’ll come back with a position”, she advised the audience. She went through a whole list of social/new/digital media tools and elaborated on the fly. She even discussed Wikipedia, which she had personally visited only once….
So if their are possibilities, we might consider using a multi-channel approach towards pharma marketing. Paul Dixey from BlueLight Partners states very clearly in one of his slides: “The Push Model doesn’t work anymore”, according to Paul. Too many changes which result in a more informed person on the other end of the deal. He identifies 5 main areas to deal with when implementing new channel approaches: Speed (pharma is not known for its speed), Knowledge (which company will have the best, up-to-date knowledge), Processes (can you handle to change your processes?), Resources (will you have sufficient resources to implement new and innovative channel approaches?) and finally Culture (is your culture open to change?). Paul suggests Multi-Channel Directors as a new function within pharma, preferably “empowered” according to Steve Jadhav from Astellas, who gave a presentation on team efforts in relation to successful campaign management.
Communities in pharma
Communities are no doubt one of the hottest things since Kotler came up with his 4 P’s, but most companies have trouble either
understanding, building or monetizing them (or all three). The same goes for Big Pharma, where legislation offers yet another potential deal breaker. So are there any success stories? May be there are. Hospira, a global specialty pharma and medication delivery company developed ‘Haemanet.com‘, a platform for hematologists to share knowledge on their profession and thus improving treatment in all hematological-related diseases. “For hematologists, the current communication methods are not ideal”, says Joseph Talanges Jr, Marketing Director at Hospira EMEA. “Journals reach a wide audience but yet the response to comments is slow, sometimes a few months. E-mail is quick, but it’s limited to what you know and is mostly a one to one communication. Congresses happen only ever so often and their only a few websites available”. I would say this is not only the case for hematologists, by the way. Haemanet jumps into this gap by offering a global, 24/7 expert platform. So far so good, because since June they have about 233 registered users from 55 different nationalities. Mind you, this is an expert community, so the absolute numbers are low.
A community from a different type and size is PatientsLikeMe. This patient-driven community collects and shares experiences of patients with certain life-changing diseases (ALS, fybromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, MS, Parkinson, etc). “The first real patient-centered management system”, in the words of co-founder Jamie Heywood who gave a vivid presentation at DigiPharm. “The ability to connect with others, the ability to understand the impact of treatments of the disease is an insight which was surprisingly absent
in online healthcare”, he continued in our interview we had with him. He started together with his brother and an old friend from MIT in 2004, after his other brother was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). “We had so much advantage in managing his disease because all the people we knew, we wanted to hand that over to other people”, Jamie said. And it certainly is an advantage, given the 50,000 members and 10% monthly growth of the platform. Growth which didn’t go unnoticed by pharma companies, such as UCB Pharma which recently partnered with PatientsLikeMe. So what’s in it for them? Jamie: “For them it’s a way to truly understanding the disease (epilepsy – EZ) and giving patients a tool that reflects their commitment”. Interestingly Jamie was clear in his message to the audience: “Patients who’s life is at stake want to hear from the pharma industry. They feel better knowing that Big Pharma is listening to them, working on their disease”.
A clear message from Jamie, and pharma companies are looking for tools to open up these communication possibilities with patients. Take Twitter, for example. The ‘Social Media Darling’ of 2009. With a stunning growth of 1,382% earlier this year Twitter seems to be unstoppable as the new tool for some forms of communication. I say ‘some forms’, because 140 characters
seems to be a bit short for your company’s brochure or CEO’s shareholders preso (though in many cases the latter one would be better if it would fit 140 characters). Although used in many conference (such as this one, see the Twitter feed here) more and more pharma companies starting to explore the possibilities of this platform. “Novartis, Boehringer and J&J belong to the top 3”, according to John Pugh, PR responsible for social media at Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH and together with Shwen Gwee crowned ‘Twitter kings of pharma’. So what do they tweet? “Headlines linking to approved press releases, links to digital resources and relevant media articles, dialogues, questions and answers”. And there it becomes tricky. What can you say in your answer, and what can you certainly not say?
Since it was time to get some answers from the audience, we decided to do just that during our 30 Minutes of Fame. No presentation, just debating on 4 statements. See our previous blogpost for more information. In the near future we will be diving much deeper into the outcome of our little survey.
Overall we went home with a positive feeling. Of course, still many things to do in order to go home with an absolute Wow-feeling (for example, don’t let the conference just fade-out but end with a big bang, a presenter which people won’t forget) but I think DigiPharm 2009 was worthwhile attending. Good venue, good program, professionally organized and great line-up of speakers (duh! ;-)). We see a clear shift in the audience towards a more open and transparent way of communicating with their customers. Also authorities seem to understand the changing landscape, although I have the feeling that a lot of education still needs to take place. Not only at the level of the authorities, but also within the pharma companies. “We are preaching to the converted” was said many times during the congres. And in a way true, I guess. Despite some great initiatives shown to us by the various speakers, how many of us went back to the office, switched on their computers (IE6, no doubt), made their traveling report and dove into the hundreds of e-mails awaiting? Before you know it DigiPharm has become a nice memory, with hopefully some LinkedIn and/or Facebook connections. Who is going to make a difference? How are we going to organize ourselves to take pharma marketing into the 21st century?
We have interviewed Paul Dixey, Jamie Heywood and John Pugh. Stay tuned for these video interviews. Also, once the organization of DigiPharm has released the video of our presentation we will of course share this.