Media perspectives: Rob Wright

Hannah Blake interviews Rob Wright

Life Science Leader magazine

Hannah Blake speaks with Rob Wright, Chief Editor of Life Science Leader magazine about his career within the media and life science industries.

Once a month we bring you a unique perspective on the media industry – this month we spoke with Rob Wright, Chief Editor of Life Science Leader magazine. Rob shares with us how social media has affected his way of working in the media industry, what he believes were some of the most memorable pharma news stories during the past decade, and what he considers will be the next big trends in pharma.

Interview summary

HB: Hello Rob, it’s lovely to speak to you today. Did you always want to work within the media industry?

RW: To be quite honest Hannah, no. It’s actually a rather funny story. After spending 17 years in the pharmaceutical and nutritional industry in a variety of different positions, mainly on the commercial side of the business with companies like Mead Johnson Nutritionals and Organon Pharmaceuticals, which eventually was acquired by Schering Plough and subsequently merged with Merck, I found myself unemployed along with 6,000 of my former colleagues. So on a whim, believe it or not, I attended a job fair and saw a booth for Life Science Leader magazine. I had written a number of articles for peer-review journals and industry publications while attending Cleveland State University’s doctoral marketing programme, so I wanted to learn a bit more about the publication, which was fairly new at the time. So as we went through the interview process, I became more comfortable with the idea of being a Chief Editor, and ironically, when I was finally offered the position with Life Science Leader, I received another offer similar to what I’d done before. So I really had to ponder the poem by Robert Frost, ‘The road not taken’, where he describes the two roads dividing in the woods and taking the one less travelled. I did that, and I have to tell you, I’m having an awful lot of fun in this job.

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“…the main aim of Life Science Leader is to provide best business practice editorial with actionable information.”

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HB: So what is involved in your role as Chief Editor of Life Science Leader magazine?

RW: The best way for me to describe what I do is to say that I try to serve as a conduit between pharmaceutical and biotech industry leaders. They are the experts, not I, so my job is to kind of uncover what these key opinion leaders see or think with regard to industry trends, and then communicate that info in such a way that readers of our magazine learn something new. The way I do this is by attending a variety of different conferences, meeting with executives, speaking with end users, (i.e. our readers) and vendors (our advertisers) to gain industry intelligence. So my role involves a lot of travel, phone conversations, emails, social media engagement, and most importantly, active listening.

HB: What is the main aim of Life Science Leader and why do you think the magazine is so popular?

RW: The main aim of Life Science Leader is to provide best business practice editorial with actionable information. Our editorial focus is on early drug discovery up to commercialisation. So our management-level readers, many of which are director, vice president, and C-level executives, are dealing with business challenges which are quite different from day-to-day issues that they dealt with, let’s say when they were maybe a scientist in the lab. So instead of trying to discover the drugs themselves, they’re trying to hire top talent, create innovative cultures, mentor future leaders, secure venture capital, or enter emerging markets. So these are the types of issues we try to uncover. We chose this approach for our editorial after conducting initial research before we launched the magazine, and ongoing reader feedback has supported this decision. Our readers have been quite clear in stating they don’t want advertorial or vendor-driven content. You won’t see that in Life Science Leader, which is why I believe, along with the actionable information, that Life Science Leader is gaining in popularity,

HB: Looking at pharma news across the past decade or so, what has been the one story that stood out for you the most and why?

RW: It would be difficult to pin it down to just one story Hannah, but perhaps one trend I think that has stood out the most has been the promotional practices by the pharmaceutical companies and the fines which have been levied by the FDA. For example, this past July, GlaxoSmithKline was fined $3 billion for mis-selling drugs in the United States. Just one month prior, Abbott Labs was forced to pay $1.6 billion over its marketing practices. And when you start looking at the past two decades, the industry has been fined nearly $20 billion in the U.S. alone. Although Life Science Leader doesn’t cover this editorially, our readers are leaders within many of these companies and as such, should lead by example. I believe the combination of blockbuster drugs, share-of-voice, and reach and frequency pharmaceutical sales models may have caused a few industry leaders to lose sight of what is really important – the patient.

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“I believe the pharmaceutical and biotech leaders need to focus on promoting higher values and ethics on all levels throughout their organisation.”

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Just this past week I had an interview with the CEO of Genzyme, David Meeker. During our discussion he made the point, which I wholeheartedly agree with, that if you put the patient first, the profits will follow. I believe the pharmaceutical and biotech leaders need to focus on promoting higher values and ethics on all levels throughout their organisation. According to a recent Gallup poll, two of the most ethical professions reside in healthcare, nurses and pharmacists, and both are patient-driven professions. Perhaps the industry should seek to model the training of their marketing teams with a focus on patients.

HB: How has social media changed the way that media works, and in particular, has it affected your way of working at Life Science Leader?

RW: In my opinion Hannah, social media has accelerated the spread of news dramatically. You don’t have to work for a media outlet to have a large social media presence and be able to spread information as well as disinformation. For me, when I enter the office and sit down at my desk, one of the first things that I do is I open five internet web pages, and three of those are social media venues. I can do a quick skim of these, and it quickly gets me up to speed on what’s going on in the industry and the world.

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“…social media has had a very positive impact on being able to connect companies with charities and foundations…”

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From a positive standpoint, I believe social media has made it easier to find information and provides a lot of discussion. Conversely, it can become a challenge to remain relevant in these mediums whilst continuing to juggle all the other responsibilities. That’s one reason I have yet to create a Facebook presence, because I believe it would further diminish my activity on Twitter and LinkedIn. From a pharmaceutical industry perspective, I believe social media has had a very positive impact on being able to connect companies with charities and foundations, helping to connect people seeking cures on both sides of the equation, both patient and researcher.

HB: What advice would you give someone who wants to work within the life sciences or media industries?

RW: Seek to understand before attempting to be understood. I think active listening and a focus on trying to help are key components. And don’t compromise on your values or ethics for short term-gain, because earning trust is something that can take a very long time to win and a very short time to lose.

HB: Finally, what do you think the next big trend in the pharma industry will be?

RW: I’m often hesitant to pin things down to trends, so I often relate them to the things that I’m hearing out there, because I don’t consider myself to be an expert, as I said earlier, I consider myself to be the conduit. I believe one thing you’ll start to hear more about in the near future is reverse innovation, a concept described by Vijay Govindarajan in his book of the same name. Instead of products being produced in developed markets, stripped down, and then shipped overseas, many companies have begun producing products specific to an emerging market’s need. Many of these technologies, such as GE’s portable electrocardiograph machine (ECG), initially developed for India, have tremendous appeal in developed markets striving to manage ever rising healthcare costs. I think we’re going to see much more of that.

In a recent conversation I had with a C-level executive, they even made mention on how they’re working and emerging in frontier markets to be more innovative and the strategies they tend to employ to execute and capitalise on the concept of reverse innovation. Another trend I think we will see is the further blending of pharma / biotech device and technology companies. I expect to see some more unique collaborations in order to improve global health. For example, DEKA partnering with the Coca Cola company to assist with the distribution of the slingshot. It’s a washing machine-sized device that runs on cow dung and can produce ten gallons per hour of purified water. This is truly a game-changing invention when you consider that 1/6 of the world’s population doesn’t have safe drinking water, and 50% of all human illness is caused by water-borne pathogens.

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“…diagnostic and collaborative relationships are going to be key in what we see going forward in the life sciences industry.”

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Another example of a unique partnership between global providers is between Exco InTouch, a secure regulatory compliant mobile communication solutions company, with Vodafone, the world’s largest cellular telephone company. Novartis even has a partnership with Vodafone to improve drug distribution.

Finally, I expect the next big therapeutic breakthrough to be driven by charities and foundations such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working collaboratively with life sciences companies, resolving in a solution that might not even involve a drug at all. I think these diagnostic and collaborative relationships are going to be key in what we see going forward in the life sciences industry.

HB: Thank you for your thoughts Rob, it’s been really interesting.

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About the interviewee:

Rob Wright is chief editor of Life Science Leader magazine and Clinical Leader online. With more than 17 years of industry experience with such companies as Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Organon Pharmaceuticals, Schering-Plough, and Merck, he provides readers with credible insight into the field of life sciences.

Rob has facilitated more than 1,000 presentations and roundtable discussions, including FDA-mandated clinical training programs for hundreds of licensed healthcare providers, as well as having served as a speaker at industry and academic conferences. Wright has published 100+ articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, B2B magazines, and online publications.

His chief editor’s blog www.lifescienceleader.com/jp/editorsblog covers a variety of business and leadership topics, which have been recognized and shared by New York Times best-selling authors, top consultants, and leadership experts. Based in Western Pennsylvania, he enjoys a number of outdoor hobbies and sports, and spending time with his family. Rob Wright can be contacted at rob.wright@lifescienceconnect.com and followed on Twitter @RfwrightLSL.

What do you think the next big trend in pharma will be?