Digital health perspectives: Fonny Schenck

Rebecca Aris interviews Fonny Schenck

Across Group

In our digital and social media themed month we interview digital health expert Fonny Schenck of Across Group.

Our latest Digital health perspective comes from digital expert Fonny Schenck. With a strong pharma background combined with eight years in the digital CRM space, Fonny set up Across Health in 2007.

Across Health is a fusion consultancy that focuses on the pharma industry with a specific intent to help companies navigate to the new normal for digital in life sciences. Across Health aims to help companies transform their organisation into cross-channel leaders.

Interview summary

RA: One of your speciality areas within pharma marketing is fusion strategy, could you explain a little more about this please?

FS: When we started working in the digital space people viewed digital as either a saviour of the company or something that was totally separate from the rest of the business. We disagree with that. We think it should be seen as part and parcel of an overall customer-centric approach.

Digital will have to be integrated with other channels, in most cases. And that’s what we call fusion.

There is a saying by an Austrian media specialist who says if new channels arrive old channels don’t disappear they only get a new meaning, and I think that is true for digital. It gives long-standing channels, like reps, meetings etc, a new meaning.

Digital may play a role in specific areas that the reps used to cover, and the reps may now have to focus on specific other areas than before. Digital &amp, reps will continue to exist alongside each other, but they should be co-ordinated and merged.

The word digital is still being used, but more and more people rightly start using multi-channel, cross-channel to reflect their broader approach.


“It’s not about big data, it’s about the right data.”


RA: Why is it so important to integrate your digital pharma marketing strategy into your marketing mix?

FS: Digital is very often seen as a separate approach – and is very often agency-led. Many people now wonder what the impact of their efforts has been, and very often there is no ROI, because the tactic perhaps was not ideal in terms of reach or impact. Such business-critical questions are rarely asked upfront.

When you plan you should start with the overall view, and then have a specific section that you devote to digital where you align a few interactive tactics…and that does NOT necessarily have to be a website – all pharmacos have way too many already.

Marketers often either look for something really innovative, or they choose for the very basic website approach, both of which may not fit with the brand strategy.

RA: What advice can you offer on optimising CRM technology?

FS: What is still very much the case today is that is being used as an SFA tool and the customer data in the system are really simple: demographic data, value-based data and call reporting data… But that customer is not only interacting with you through reps…indeed, he is a cross-channel customer, who may have touchpoints via websites, email, webinars,… Many of these interactions can yield unique customer intelligence, structured attitudinal data, service requests. All of that information should ideally be fed back to the CRM system, but that is not happening today.

The challenge we face in pharma is to make the CRM system into what it’s really meant to be and not just a very expensive call reporting tool.

Make it very simple, don’t try to collect all “interesting” customer data and then question what you are going to do with it. That’s not workable. Make it very structured, simple, actionable. It’s not about big data, it’s about the right data.

Take it step by step and you will build a uniquely powerful, cross-channel customer intelligence platform — and not just SFA. In the end, it should be seen as a key go-to-market platform for all customer-facing groups: sales, but also marketing, service, medical, and market access…we are far away from that vision.


“…if you don’t have a phone the doctor cannot call you, so what’s the ROI of the phone?”


RA: Can you please share with us some examples of successful e-tactics for physicians and other stakeholders?

FS: One of them is with rep integration, and the other one is purely multichannel. The first is in a specialty market, where we have totally integrated online and offline activities. So if the physician discusses specific materials, specific questions, specific events, the rep records those in his CRM system (ipad-enabled) and the physician can view the relevant materials straight away on the web portal. That’s tight integration of online/offline, and that is really powerful.

The second one is a pure multichannel case. You increasingly see that companies stop visiting GPs. What we have done for a few clients is put in place a multi-channel approach to keep the brand awareness and attitude at the same level as before — to keep the sales at the levels when reps still supported the brand. This of course does not work in all environments, but can be a very successful approach!

RA: What advice can you offer on optimising the promotional mix for the new business model in life sciences?

FS: ROI is very often a narrow view of channels in the industry. On the one hand it is important to know that some channels don’t necessarily provide direct ROI but are a commodity/must-have – and play a key role in the overall sales &amp, marketing success. The telephone is a commodity channel: if you don’t have a phone the doctor cannot call you, so what’s the ROI of the phone? Hard to say, but without it the ROI of your business would be lower. In a similar vein, an integrated self-service portal, email connectivity and selected mobile offerings are must-haves in the New Normal.

Secondly, ROI is a very narrow impact measurement tool in the sense that you only look at the channel in isolation. Let’s say the customer visits the website, they call the call centre, they read an email, they see the rep, and in the end they make a decision. Now…what led to which component of ROI? That’s the key question in the new science of attribution modelling. So looking at channels in isolation and trying to ROI them is something I would not do. ROI budgets should be focused on more advanced components where you are spending significantly in new areas and/or are betting the business.


“…the other companies are not doing a good job of it either.”


RA: Finally, what do you think the role of digital within healthcare will be within 10 years’ time?

FS: I think it will be all pervasive. We’ve seen the beginning and after the initial hype, everyone was a bit underwhelmed with the results – so typical of a hype cycle. Things are changing now quite quickly with educated patients &amp, caregivers, nurses, pharmacists and of course physicians going online (physicians are spending 60 times more time online for professional purposes than with reps). And the digital natives will be even more demanding than the digital immigrants, which still comprise the majority of physicians and patients – that balance should shift in the next few years in favour of the natives. Is pharma ready to service these digital natives? And can a sustainable competitive advantage be created through this?

Secondly, patient empowerment and digital go hand in hand. Personal health records, mobile health, wellness, disease prevention and treatment, services around products, all of those things will become really important and will all be built around the patient. In that space pharma is probably even further behind than in the physician marketing space. So that will be a transformational change.

The change in physician marketing from offline to cross-channel is incremental. But the main opportunity lies in developing new channels &amp, services for currently underserved stakeholders, like pharmacists, nurses and of course patients/caregivers. These are transformational changes, and some companies will create a competitive advantage here.

And last but not least, pharma will need to partner with other players in the healthcare space, rather than trying to do everything on its own. Content partnerships, joint services, a consortium to mine electronic health records or develop the ultimate mobile app store…these are just a few examples of powerful partnerships. The next few years will be extremely exciting – and I feel extremely privileged to be part of this transformation!!

RA: Fonny, thank you very much for your time and your insights there.


About the interviewee:

Fonny (°1963) moved to Across Group in August 2007 to lead Across Health, a fast-growing 60-strong international group of “fusion” consultants fully dedicated to Life Sciences (

He joins from Johnson &amp, Johnson, where he focused on creating an overarching global CRM strategy, and leveraging best-practices across the world. He held regional and global roles of increasing responsibility in the ebusiness and CRM space at Janssen Pharmaceutica/Janssen-Cilag.

In 2000, he co-designed and implemented a unique, integrated ebusiness strategy in Pharma across Europe, with a focus on leveraging strategy, technology and content. In 2001-2002, he managed several pivotal, strongly-metricized multichannel pilots to drive change in the organization. In the following years, he extended his scope to salesforce effectiveness, and the alignment of the CRM IT and business strategy, initiating a unique European business governance structure for CRM.

In more recent years, he went on to implement marketing mix ROI/ optimization and customer-centric metrics. He also played a key role in the launch of the European Marketing Excellence project, and the highly successful pan European Change Management programme for CRM (Siebel CRM platform).

Fonny has received many internal awards for his achievements in the CRM and ebusiness space, both at the European and global level. In addition, he is a well-known speaker at international CRM events and has authored several strategic CRM articles.

How can pharma become more service oriented?