Tunnah’s musings: Six pharma trends from eyeforpharma Barcelona


An ominous sign that eyeforpharma Barcelona was in its 13th year last week? Not at all, says Paul Tunnah, as he muses on how the conversation has genuinely evolved and what the key takeaways are for the pharmaceutical industry.

I honestly can't remember whether I attended the first 'eyeforpharma Barcelona' event, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't actually in Barcelona when it launched and therefore had a different name. What I do know is that I've attended this annual pilgrimage for all those working at the sharp commercial end of pharma for at least the last four to five years, and certainly in recent times you would hear some of the same conversation around multichannel, patient engagement and sales force effectiveness trotted out with alarming regularity – a kind of Groundhog Day for the pharma industry.

But not this year.

Perhaps I'm getting all misty-eyed and optimistic in my old age, but the conversation seemed to have really moved on in 2016. It feels like many of the subjects that I have been passionately espousing since launching pharmaphorum back in 2009 are finally being embraced by the more innovative elements of pharma.

For anyone wanting the full lowdown, my colleagues and I were live blogging and tweeting in force over the three days, but if you want the highlights then here are my top six trends for pharma to emerge from this year's event. See the full list of this year's speakers here.

1. Content is finally king for pharma

Okay, so I'm slightly (for slightly, read very) biased about how important good content is, given that it's the core offering of my own business, but it seemed like almost every presentation at least gave a nod to it. Customers are bombarded with media from the minute they get up to the minute they go to bed, so if your content isn't professional, informative and delivered through a variety of media types then people won't read, watch or listen to it. Multichannel is now as much about multimedia as it is about technology.

2. Moving from 'push sell' to 'pull engagement'

Building on the above point, there were some truly excellent presentations from individuals within pharma on the important of 'engaging' with customers and building a two-way dialogue rather than simply 'selling' to them. For sure, good content also sits at the heart of this, but it's also a change in mentality, from 'push' selling to 'pull' engagement, whereby the focus of the interaction is as much about listening and building a mutually beneficial relationship as it is about imparting brand information. In doing so, the door to product-focused discussions is opened wider and information to help develop better products and beyond-the-pills services is also unlocked.

3. Digital listening hits the mainstream

Digital listening – it's not a serious form of market research as it's not representative of the broader population, so just for the social media geeks, right? Wrong. Validation of social media data using other forms of real-world data is now taking place and showing it is highly representative and highly informative. Research is now being conducted using Facebook and Twitter with the same rigour as traditional offline non-interventional studies, but with higher volumes of data, quicker and at a fraction of the cost. I believe that 2016 could be the year where digital listening finds itself finally being taken as seriously as traditional market research.

4. Integrating process and people around technology

Technology doesn't deliver solutions, but technology used in the right way does. It's not a discarded early draft of the tagline for a well-known management consulting firm, but a genuine sentiment echoed at eyeforpharma Barcelona 2016. The realisation is that the pharmaceutical industry has spent a LOT of money on technology in the last few years with limited success. What we are now seeing is this investment, now in second- and third-generation technology, now being coupled with the right processes, organisational structure and training. 'Orchestration' is a word we're hearing a lot about with regards to multichannel – the ability to co-ordinate all the different channels using technology. But André Previn didn't just pick up a baton and start waving his way to success – he trained and practised for many years, plus worked with the most highly skilled musicians. Therein lies a lesson for pharma.

5. Getting serious about patient centricity

Does anyone else start to feel weary when the topic of 'patient centricity' comes up? You're not the only one. It's become seriously at risk of disappearing into the realms of meaningless buzzword in recent times in the face of overuse without the substance to back it up. However, challenge any of the Chief Patient Officers, or those in similar roles, in Barcelona about what they have actually done and you start to uncover some really cool stuff – they are walking the talk. But this is more than cool – these initiatives go beyond just good PR for an industry that desperately needs it, but have real substance – patient engagement that delivers commercial benefit around better, quicker trials, or more effective beyond-the-pill interventions as well as also delivering better outcomes for patients. That's the key to meaningful, sustainable patient centricity and it's clear it is starting to happen.

6. Becoming the trusted partner

The theme for eyeforpharma Barcelona 2016 was 'trust' and how the industry could become a trusted partner. Putting aside the slightly kitsch theme for the event of how there needs to be more 'love' between the pharma industry and other healthcare stakeholders (and well done for to Paul Simms for delivering what was actually a rather good opening speech on that topic with a straight face), I am a firm supporter of the notion that pharma needs to restore its reputation and be invited back around the healthcare table without suspicion.

Healthcare systems need pharma, doctors use their products every day and patients would be far worse off without them. So would other healthcare stakeholders have walked away feeling love for pharma if they had been in Barcelona? Probably not – but in view of the above trends they might have left, like me, feeling more optimistic and trusting that the industry is moving in the right direction. And that's not a bad start.

Until next month, feel free to check out the full live summary from the event and form your own opinions and, of course, stay well.

pharmaphorum will be publishing a number of senior executive interviews from eyeforpharma Barcelona over the next few weeks and you can check out the live blog from each day here.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is CEO & Founder of pharmaphorum media, which drives better communication, connection and collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare stakeholders. Its suite of services, from publishing (www.pharmaphorum.com) to content-driven engagement consulting (www.pharmaphorumconnect.com) are underpinned by the common strengths of extensive global networks, a firm finger on the pulse of changing market dynamics and deep expertise in creating engaging, relevant media.

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Andrew McConaghie

24 March, 2016