PM Society “Digital Update” advises pharma on the digital revolution

Helen Lawn

PM Society (UK)

Janssen-Cilag generously played host to the UK Society’s sold out Digital Update Hot Topic meeting. Alex Butler, Communications Manager at Janssen-Cilag opened the event by welcoming the 100-strong audience in attendance who were all keen to hear the outputs of the PM Society Digital Marketing Working Group in addition to Alex’s own thoughts on Health 2.0 and the way in which pharma can embrace the digital revolution.

In a change to the advertised programme, Chair of the meeting and also of the Working Group, Steven Gray from consultancy Compliance Hub, explained that due to technical issues, Jonathan Richman, Director of Strategic Planning at Bridge Worldwide who publishes the popular blog Dose of Digital would not be able to join the meeting via videocam.

However, in an unexpected development, Heather Simmonds, Director of the PMCPA was able to attend personally to provide feedback on key issues raised by delegates at the meeting.


L-R: Steve Gray, Heather Simmonds and Alex Butler

PM Society Digital Media Working Group Project

Steve began by providing a top line overview of the outputs from the PM Society Digital Media Working Group. The Group, who spent nine months working with a wide range of UK pharmaceutical companies, communications agencies and compliance specialists, identified a huge array of issues and queries about marketing in the digital environment. This is the first time the feedback from the Group has been aired.

He pointed out that the consultation process was challenging and complex. One of the key difficulties was to focus on aspects of the ABPI Code directly related to the digital medium, whereas many of the issues raised and continue to be raised are around how the Code should be interpreted regardless of the medium (such as promotion versus scientific exchange). He also wanted to point out the Group achieved agreement but not consensus. Discussions were eventually fine tuned and honed down to 30 questions, which the PM Society Working Group then developed suggested answers to, with the intention to help to form a framework of guidance from the PMCPA (which administers the ABPI Code). The document, including the 30 questions and suggested answers, was submitted to the PMCPA on 31 January 2010.

Steve went on to provide the audience with a summary of all 30 questions and the answers the Group hoped the PMCPA would be able to provide the industry with guidance on. Commenting at the meeting, Heather Simmonds agreed that guidance on the use of digital media was a priority for the PMCPA.

The audience of industry and agency personnel were asked to note down 3-4 questions, from Steve’s presentation on the PM Society Working Group document, that they would most like to hear Heather Simmonds views on, in order to focus on the most relevant topics for the audience and have a meaningful discussion. The PM Society Working Group document split these questions into 13 specific groupings:

• Scope of the ABPI Code

• Access controls

• Material and activities for healthcare professionals (HCPs)

• Promotion of websites

• Sponsorship of third party content/sites

• On-line meetings

• Services to medicine

• Free text areas

• Responding to on-line comments

• Links to other websites

• Medical information

• Material and activities for public (including journalists)

• Review and certification of digital media

The full questions and draft answers for each grouping can be viewed by clicking here.

The audience then submitted the questions they would most like to be focused on during the discussion session. Four areas were by far the most popular and these appear later in this report. Commenting on these individually, Heather Simmonds thanked the PM Society Digital Media Working Group and the audience for their questions. She welcomed the opportunity the PMCPA now has of reviewing the questions and addressing some of the issues informally during this session. The PMCPA can give informal guidance only, and in the event of a complaint being received it would be considered in the usual way.

Heather also made the point that it is worth looking at the information that companies can provide to the public (supplementary information to Clause 22.2). Many companies are not doing this at the moment and it’s difficult to argue that the industry wants to do more if it is not doing what is clearly permissible currently.

Prior to the discussion session, Alex Butler, Communications Manager and PM Society Digital Media Working Group Member gave his presentation on Health 2.0, entitled, ‘The Real Social Media Question’.

He began by stating that he thinks the revolution of ‘social media is the greatest change to healthcare since the inception of the NHS’. The real KOLs are now the public and the patients who have access to information from all over the world, in real time. This is the age when the empowered patient really is in control.

He added that what he is talking about is social media – ie those activities, practices and behaviours among communities of people gathering online. About people wanting to support each other and members of communities, not just what is published online. The truth is, healthcare is involved in every aspect of social media and pharma needs to be part of the dialogue.

Referring to the Manhattan data, Alex pointed out that 52% of adult Europeans actively use Health 2.0 to manage their own or loved ones’ conditions. Currently pharma seems to concentrate primarily on patients, however Alex points out that we also need to remember the caregivers who make up a high percentage of Health 2.0 users.

Interesting data from the study identified that Health 2.0 consumers are:

• Twice as likely as the average ehealth consumer to request a prescription

• Others rely on them to make decisions… they are influencers

• More than half discuss information they found online with their physician

In addition, 74% of European physicians obtain medical information from blogs, message boards and online social networks and nearly 50% of EU physicians recommend patient websites to patients.

So what are we trying to achieve with social media in pharma?

The first question we need to ask is, are we actually listening to our customers?

Do we even have a channel for people to interact with us and simply ask questions? On many companies’ websites, we don’t even have phone numbers or contact details. We therefore need to make sure we are more accessible.

Are we adding value? Social media should be for adding value, not for selling products. Some companies are doing this successfully especially where they have credibility in a therapy area. A good example of a pharma company providing value is a project developed by Sanofi Aventis. They have produced a downloadable ‘phone app’ that can help patients with diabetes, providing downloads for locating restaurants, downloadable menus, a carb counter, a link to an online resource etc.

Everything they need to help them manage their condition and a project which recently won a ‘Dosie’ Award.

Does pharma have the capability to become a member of the online community? If we have credibility we can and a good example of that is the Johnson and Johnson health channel on YouTube that has over 2000 subscribers with over 200,000 channel views and nearly 2 million upload views in only 2 years.

But there are challenges for pharma. What might look good from the outside, and what we hope will be a positive communication channel with our audience, can be open to problems. Sanofi Aventis have suffered recently when the award winning ‘Voices’ Facebook page was ‘attacked’ with negative comment. The fact is though, that companies who are prepared to engage will build trust and will be a participant in the conversation. It is not possible to have control, but the successful companies will at least have influence.

This does mean that the command and control attitude of the past is no longer relevant. If people want to talk about donations to Haiti or ask detailed questions regarding clinical trial programmes we should be prepared to respond.

Alex went on to say that it is important to make sure we frame our language correctly, whether we are posting tweets linked to online news items or linking in with discussions being raised by high profile media personalities. A good example of this was a tweet to the ‘Get Tested’ campaign – raising the awareness of HepC and the involvement of the Sun newspaper, Beach Boy guitar legend David Marks and Sadie Frost talking about her father’s death from HepC. Some links to campaigns, however, are not deemed suitable, such as tweeting about the ‘Clubbers with Condoms Campaign’ being run by the Ministry of Sound.

One of the key areas pharma has traditionally avoided is the issue around reporting of Adverse Events (AEs). However, in reality, Alex thinks that rather than avoiding AEs, shouldn’t we as an industry be doing more to actively capture real world data?

Novartis and UCB are two companies supporting online reporting of AEs through strategic partnership with – UCB with an Epilepsy community where patients can openly track progress in-patient centered research and Novartis by supporting an open online community for organ transplant recipients.

If we really want to engage and enter the world of social media we need to listen, be prepared to offer real value and ask ourselves the question – are we able to meet the challenge of real-world data?

For a copy of Alex’s full presentation, please click here.

Further details:

Click here to view this event summary on the PM Society website, where you can also find a summary of the question and answer session.

For further media information contact Helen Lawn on 01892 525141 or email

What should pharma’s objective be with social media?