Pharma is willing, but is it able? Agencies and pharma weigh in on multichannel marketing

Michelle Kelly

EPG Health Media

In this article, Michelle Kelly discusses new research on the topic of multichannel marketing in healthcare and explores obstacles for pharma.

Despite countless articles, conferences and efforts to drive pharma marketing into a multichannel age already inhabited by most other major industries, lack of clear definition and guidance is still largely blamed for it not being fully embraced or effectively implemented within our industry.

In an effort to better understand the extent to which multichannel marketing is being embraced and effectively implemented, as well as the obstacles to doing so, we surveyed 20 senior marketers within pharma and 40 within partnering agencies on their experiences and views on the topic.

Embracing multichannel marketing

Responses to the survey indicated that the industry is at least attempting to embrace multichannel / cross-channel. More than 85% of both pharma and agency respondents reported being in favour of multichannel marketing, with 79% of pharma respondents and 91% of agency respondents expected at least half of all marketing campaigns to have some multichannel integration during 2013.


“More than 85% of both pharma and agency respondents reported being in favour of multichannel marketing…”


Resource and structure

While pharma marketers are recognising the opportunities associated with multichannel marketing, they continue to encounter significant barriers to implementation. The majority of pharma respondents identified all 14 options provided (within the survey) as obstacles to implementing multichannel marketing, with an even greater proportion of agency respondents also viewing the same as obstacles to effective integration.

Of particular note is that 63% of pharma respondents claimed that their organisations are badly or very badly resourced for multichannel marketing, while 50% thought that they were badly or very badly structured for multichannel.


Increasing investment in third-party expertise

With lack of internal resource and structure posing a significant barrier to multichannel marketing, it is no wonder that pharma organisations are increasingly looking to agencies to provide support.

Accenture recently published research stating “To manage the increased use of digital interactions, 66 percent of pharmaceutical marketing executives intend to use third-party providers, 16 percent intend to build in-house capabilities while 12 percent intend to do both. Four percent were unsure of plans.”¹

Pharma respondents to our survey stated that channels requiring ‘considerable or total control’ by a third party include, mobile apps (63%), mobile optimization (58%) and websites and online support (37%). These are also the areas in which agency respondents expect to grow, with 35% expecting to recruit internet / SEO expertise (compared to 10% within pharma) and 35% expecting to recruit experienced mobile marketers (compared to just 5% within pharma). Respondents also projected increased budgets in these channels for 2013 compared to more traditional channels.

So this would suggest that pharma has recognised and acted upon the need for greater integration of these channels. And rather than fostering their own in-house expertise, pharma organisations are relying increasingly on agencies to bridge the gaps.

Conceptually, this makes sense and doesn’t necessarily pose a problem. However, lack of internal resource and structure aside, when you consider some of the other obstacles to multichannel marketing that the industry is facing, you have to wonder what levels of progress can be made, even with agency support and all the will in the world from pharma marketers.



Getting senior management and regulatory approval

According to Richard Meyer “Another (pharma thought leader) said 9 out of 10 digital marketing programs proposed by their digital agency were shot down by his legal and regulatory people even when he had concrete examples of what others pharma companies were doing online.”²

While this was perhaps an extreme case, 53% of pharma and 75% of agency participants in our study confirmed that internal approval processes were an obstacle, with 60% of pharma and 80% of agency also citing lack of senior management buy-in as an obstacle.

Additionally, the lack of dedicated champions or coordinators for multichannel marketing appears to be creating a significant stumbling block, with 53% of pharma and 77% of agency saying this is a problem. In part, this can be explained by the constant internal rotation of management, which must often result in loss of multichannel knowledge, direction, continuity and investment.


“…lack of dedicated champions or coordinators for multichannel marketing appears to be creating a significant stumbling block, with 53% of pharma and 77% of agency saying this is a problem.”


As Len Starnes explained in a comment on linkedIn “All of us agree that MCM has a greater likelihood of success than traditional efforts but the long term timeframe required to realize those successes does not fit within the Pharma brand manager’s traditional short term horizon (average term of brand manager is 18 months).”³

Understanding the customer, the message and the channels for delivery

Structural and resourcing issues aside, there are a whole host of obstacles seemingly inherent within pharma that impede the effective integration of multichannel marketing.

On a positive note, more than 90% of pharma respondents reported that market research / needs assessments influence which marketing channels to use and how, so this would indicate that decisions regarding content and channels are evidence-based. Great!

However, when asked about attitudes towards analytics and metrics for campaigns, more than 50% of pharma and agency respondents indicated that these were not fully analysed or acted upon. Furthermore, not one agency respondent reported that metrics were ‘key to driving future campaigns’ or were ‘integrated across channels’.

This would indicate a ‘fire and forget’ approach, with marketing objectives often lost sight of once the initial decisions are made. Perhaps this partly explains why 67% of pharma and 75% of agency respondents cited ‘lack of clear marketing objectives’ as being a challenge to multichannel marketing.

When you then consider that 94% of pharma respondents indicated that experience from previous campaigns was a key influencer of future ones, you have to wonder whether this is actually as positive as it initially sounds. With an admittance of failure to measure, understand and act upon metrics from previous campaigns, how valuable can this experience really be?

For multichannel marketing to evolve, pharma surely needs to attribute its successes and failures to either the messages being provided, use of the appropriate channels or how effectively pharma is using the channels. At the moment it would appear that pharma organisations are not adequately utilising the tools they have at their disposal to do that.

Conclusion – “This is an internal thing within pharma”

Our research shows that pharma marketers and agency alike are in agreement on the scale of the challenges faced in implementing marketing and multichannel within the industry. That there are so many interrelated obstacles for pharma marketers to overcome, makes it no surprise that pharma has been slow off the mark and seemingly at a slight loss as to where to begin or how to continue at times (perhaps often).


“…when asked about attitudes towards analytics and metrics for campaigns, more than 50% of pharma and agency respondents indicated that these were not fully analysed …”



The good news is that the majority of these obstacles are owned by the pharma companies themselves, so it is entirely within their control to tackle them. The bad news is that the same obstacles are largely beyond the control of the agencies that pharma companies partner with.

By working with agencies, the industry can address certain issues such as lack of internal expertise, but while other challenges (such as budgets, internal approval processes and lack campaign evaluation) continue to exist within pharma corporations, successful integration of multichannel marketing will surely be limited, even with agency support.

As Tim White said “Other industries are doing MCM very well, the technologies are already there, so I stress that this is an internal thing within pharma… we do need to see this as a change management thing, an organisational change.4

This is becoming a widely recognised view but is perhaps not so easy to address in practice, especially with many key influencers not sticking around long enough to ensure that lessons are learnt and acted upon.


1. Accenture Life Sciences. (2013). Life in the New Normal: The Customer Engagement Revolution. Coleman Parkes. Dublin, Republic of Ireland: Accenture.

2. Meyer, R. (2013). Barriers to digital marketing excellence within pharma. Southern California: World of DTC Marketing.

3. Mack, J. Multichannel Marketing, Easy to Brag About, but Difficult to Do. Newtown : Pharma Marketing News.

4. Eyeforpharma (Composer). (2012). Multichannel Marketing Webinar. [L. S. Benedikt Hoffmann, Performer, &amp, L. Starnes, Conductor] [Online]. London:


About the author:

Michelle Kelly is Division Head of Marketing and Market Research at EPG Health Media (Europe) Ltd. Established in 1998, EPG Health Media is UK-based publisher of, the website for healthcare professionals, and works with pharma companies globally to reach, engage and measure over 350,000 HCPs online, targeted by medical specialty and country.

Contact Michelle on 01892 526776, or via Twitter @epghealthmedia.

To learn more about ‘Multichannel marketing in healthcare: industry perspectives’ download the free report.

How should pharma go about tackling internal barriers to multichannel integration?