Pharma really can embrace content marketing

Are pharma marketers put off by heavy regulations? Ash Rishi believes this is just an excuse in part three of his pharmaceutical marketing series. Find out why, here…

(Continued from “Pharmaceutical marketing in a digital world – a prescription for branding success“)

Many pharma marketers use regulations as an excuse for creating weak content. There are many content marketing opportunities within pharma. To be succinct a good content marketing strategy can withstand robust regulations.

Just because content in pharma face tough approval and fearful legal and regulatory departments, pharma content marketers shouldn’t give up. There are many ways to overcome the tough approval environment. In this article, I would like to posit some ideas to help create engaging and compliant pharma content despite heavy regulations.

Redefine the content marketing parameters

Don’t focus on the obstacles, but on the value of the content. Pharma’s ROI on content marketing is twofold. On the one hand, its ROI is revenue generation; on the other hand the ROI is improving patient lives by providing them with content that will empower them to manage their conditions better. In simple terms, these two complement each other because you can’t generate revenue when patients are not adhering to their medication. The challenge facing pharma is creating high-quality content that helps healthcare professionals understand and become aware of the brand and how it help them make better and wiser choices. As a result, pharma’s mission becomes helping people live happier and healthier lives.

Reduce your approval team

Try to reduce your approval team to two people. Most content marketing teams have an approval team of 6 to 8 people. Pharma is already dealing with a maze of regulations, and a two-person team can navigate this maze easier than 6 to 8 people. A smaller team also ensures continuity of the content.


“Just because content in pharma face tough approval and fearful legal and regulatory departments, pharma content marketers shouldn’t give up.”

Follow your instinct

When considering whether a piece of content is compliant with regulations, follow your intuition and make it legal. They will let you know whether it can fly or not – that’s their job. Remember the legal department is your safety net.

Learn from other regulated organisations

There are plenty of other regulated organisations that have created successful content despite heavy regulations. Here are a couple of great examples from the US:

The Cleveland Clinic – The Cleveland Clinic went from a free-for-all writing environment where anyone could write content on its website to creating trustworthy information that’s regularly updated. At the Content Marketing World conference in 2011, Scott Linabarger, the Director of Digital Marketing, said that he implemented internal controls to get a grip on the content. The clinic now has 200 writers, but one person reviews all the content before it’s posted.

Westfield Insurance – Also at the conference was Katie Herbst, the eMarketing Director for Westfield Insurance. Ms Herbst said that she faced the challenge of creating content for a conservative company in a conservative and risk adverse industry. Her mission was to provide information to their independent insurance agents on a wide array of complicated topics. To do this she has employed 25 regular contributors who were trained to write content that complies with the policies and guidelines, and the basics for creating and posting new content.


“There are plenty of other regulated organisations that have created successful content despite heavy regulations.”


Align content with content marketing strategy

The real challenge is carrying out effective and engaging content. Marketers will always have great ideas for content, as they should understand the needs of the patient more than anyone, but the following questions must be answered first:

• What’s the strategy?

• Who’s going to support it?

• Who will write it?

• What’s the frequency?

• Will legal be involved?

Answering these questions ensures full alignment between content and the overall content marketing strategy. Also, it prevents content duplication.

These discussions also help to weed out the less serious ideas. A team may have a good idea for a content project, but before the idea can move forward, the team needs to produce ongoing plans detailed in an editorial calendar.

Give information instead of advice

When communicating directly to the pubic, regulated organisations can only give information, not advice, and not reveal or potentially reveal personal information about a patient. Despite these regulations, there is wiggle room. This leeway creates opportunities for pharma marketers to build relationships and trust by creating informative and educational content.

Don’t wait, act!

Heavy regulation can create fear within the marketing team and prevent it from using innovative ways to create content. The Content Marketing Institute discovered that healthcare marketers in general use more print content and less social media and blog content than their peers in other industries. As a pharma content marketer, you have an opportunity to create content that helps real people live happy lives. Here some ideas to keep your content moving forward:

Know your audience – monitor how your customers use the internet.

Engage your audience – To build robust brand awareness, pharma marketers need to engage their audience on social media. The strategy of pushing the message out doesn’t work anymore. You need to talk with your consumers in chats, forums, and other interactive social media.


“As a pharma content marketer, you have an opportunity to create content that helps real people live happy lives.”


Create personalised content – Personalised content informs your customers and helps you stay relevant in the market. Also, personalised content helps customers feel like they know someone in your company.

Sure pharma content marketers feel trapped by regulations and fear. However, that’s not a good reason for not creating engaging content that helps people live happier lives. When pharma content marketers begin to look within themselves and at other regulated organizations, they’ll begin to see that it’s possible to create compelling content despite the regulations and fear.

Part four in this series can be viewed here.



About the author:

Ash Rishi is the Founder and CEO of COUCH. Based in London, COUCH is an integrated digital marketing and creative communications agency focusing on the pharmaceutical, healthcare and lifestyle industry. Ash has over 9 years experience in pharma marketing and has delivered activities across UK, Europe, US, Canada and Latin America. His area of expertise include: branding, communications, stakeholder development and digital marketing. Ash is also the founder of a new pharmaceutical marketing community on Google +. You can reach Ash at or follow him on Twitter @We_Are_Couch and @Ash_Rishi.

In what further ways can pharma embrace content marketing?