The biggest challenge facing pharma? Its own organisation and culture

Richard Meyer says US pharma marketers have to focus on benefitting patients, not return on investment.

The biggest threat to innovation is internal politics and organisational culture, which doesn’t accept change and is not willing to try new things to reach today’s empowered patients.

According to Gallup, ‘the changes affecting organisations today are colliding in ways they haven’t before’. Nowhere is this more applicable than in pharma which has been losing good people over the last few years and continues to be entrenched in a sales-based culture that puts Wall Street ahead of patients.

Over the course of the years, our consulting group has seen first hand the rotating door of talent within direct to consumer (DTC) and healthcare professional (HCP) marketing. It’s not uncommon to start a project with one person and finish with someone who must be briefed on what it is we were hired to do. It not only takes away valuable time, it often results in a change of direction without the proper assets needed to do a good job. There have been times when we have simply turned down work because clients are unrealistic about what to expect with smaller budgets.

If you want examples, look no further than some big product websites. There is no way that that some of these sites conducted usability studies or did research with their audience. They seem to have simply told their agencies to “build us a website with this budget”, an approach which can only tie the hands of an interactive agency.

In other instances, DTC jobs are being filled by people who don’t have consumer marketing experience. They come from the sales force – people who only know that their job is to make numbers. Marketing, by the way, supports sales. Our group has had to spend countless hours ‘teaching’ newly-appointed marketing people on internet marketing 101. To them the internet is a maze of endless dollars, while TV gives them the glory they want in order to make a name for themselves.

Pharma executives need to stay on the bridge and chart a course through the changing healthcare storm. They should be preparing their organisations for rapid change while, at the same time, recruiting and retaining talented people who find meaning in helping patients navigate the complex world of their own healthcare. They must also sell internal influencers the idea of taking measured risks to engage consumers who want a better quality of life.

Marketing to HCPs has already started to evolve through the use of online marketing. There is acknowledgement that the sales force is becoming less effective but, in the meantime, DTC marketing is stuck in a funk. Sure, there are some brands and companies that are pushing the envelope, but they are few and far between. Too many people and companies are still slaves to the balance sheet and, in the process, patients are becoming a distant memory.

Will pharma respond to the challenge? I believe that it can, but the voices of the good people need to be heard over the voices of the people who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Read more from Richard Meyer:

Why you need a better online strategy for black box products