Top ten innovators in pharma: Alex Butler

Hannah Blake


(Continued from “Top ten innovators in pharma: Professor Chas Bountra”)

We asked you to nominate those who you considered to be a top innovator in pharma. We were delighted with your responses and have whittled it down to the top ten pharma innovators for this series.

This week’s top pharma innovator is Alex Butler, founder of online marketing communications agency, The Social Moon, nominated for his extensive work within digital and social media.

Name: Alex Butler

Position: Founder of The Social Moon

Reasons for nomination as a pharma innovator include:

• His single-minded pursuit of informed innovation

• He is highly regarded not only within pharma but also by experts in other sectors due to his broad outlook on digital and technology and the way in which healthcare can learn from it

• Created the first Facebook group and pharma disease information community with open commenting

• Leading social media expert

• His high level of expertise within the digital and technology fields

• Has been at the forefront of some of pharma’s leading digital projects, including the Psoriasis 360 multi-channel project whilst working at Janssen in the UK

• Genuinely thinks ‘outside the (pharma) box’, focussing first and foremost on the right solutions and how to effectively implement them rather than what has been done before

Background: Alex began his career working in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade, with six years in numerous different roles at Johnson &amp, Johnson. It was during this time, that Alex was awarded the first Johnson &amp, Johnson James Burke global marketing award for ‘Uncommon courage’.

In October 2011, Alex launched his own online marketing communications agency, The Social Moon, providing the highest quality digital marketing communications in healthcare.

Interview summary

HB: What do you consider to be your defining character traits?

AB: My defining traits would have to be a focus on excellence and drive, not only to be the best I can be, but to make the companies I worked for (and now the clients that I work with) the best they can be.


“Pharma has a reputation for conservatism, but at its heart the industry is all about innovation.”


I am very fortunate to have lived through the blink of an eye that is the age of computers, I am even more fortunate that my creativity and love for innovation have intersected with this age of technological communication we live in today.

I am not sure if I joined the pharma industry 20 years earlier my defining traits of focus, creativity, innovation and uncompromising spirit would have been as successful.

At the end of the day though it is about people, I love connecting and communicating with people.

HB: How would your colleagues / peers describe you?

AB: Hopefully something similar to what I have said above, however you would have to ask them!

HB: Who or what has inspired you to get to where you are today?

AB: I have always been inspired by people who persevered and believed when others said they would fail. Having a poorly developed sense of fear allied to a personal code and focussed determination seems to make the difference.

The inspirations for me include Alan Turing, English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist, Nolan Bushnell who founded Atari, Steve Jobs whose vision and determination epitomise the technology entrepreneur and Jean-François Champollion the French classical scholar who was fundamental to the deciphering of ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

HB: What advice would you give to anyone embarking on a career in pharma at the moment?

AB: Be yourself. Pharma has a reputation for conservatism, but at its heart the industry is all about innovation. There is very little that can compete with bringing products to market that can dramatically improve someone’s life, or even save it.

With regard to my specific focus within pharma it is possibly the most exciting time to be in pharmaceuticals. We are living through the most disruptive period in the history of marketing and communications. Digital has gone in 20 years from being a peripheral experiment to an essential fundamental in the strategy of serious marketers.


“There are a few marketers who are building online customer relationships in pharma, but many are just building websites or mobile applications.”


Today digital is going one stage further and redefining the very foundations of marketing itself. There are a few marketers who are building online customer relationships in pharma, but many are just building websites or mobile applications.

You have rare chance to set your business apart.

HB: What do you see to be the biggest challenge posed to pharma at the moment?

AB: There are a great number of challenges facing pharma at the moment. If we look at this from an industry defined perspective, we have tremendous financial pressure, not just in the R&amp,D model, but also with the broader challenge of getting a medicine to those in need, often rolled up in the catch all phrase ‘market access’.

If you take a more measured perspective, we can see that the pharma business model is changing with the central product moving from tablets to health solutions, however it is proving difficult to articulate this concept beyond the management consultancy speak we often read in the trade press.

Many of the things pharma executives took for granted are being disrupted at great pace. From how doctors diagnose and manage disease, to how they communicate and collaborate with each other, to how they expect to interact with pharma. We can also see that the capacity for people to come together through social technologies is radically redefining the patient relationship with health and medicine.

Pharma needs to get the philosophy of a world that demands transparency and relationships based on delivering real value beyond products and brands. When combined with a need to collaborate on solving problems on a scale unimaginable 15 years ago we have a recipe for an exciting time!

HB: What key phrase best sums up your approach to work and life?

AB: Steve Jobs: “Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life”

Although the 2005 Stanford University address from Steve Jobs is now a part of mainstream culture, I remember listening to the address 7 years ago and thinking ‘I have to do things differently’. You have to be true to yourself and your vision. Life is short and very precious, I try not to waste any of it being someone or doing something I don’t believe in.


“Pharma needs to get the philosophy of a world that demands transparency and relationships based on delivering real value beyond products and brands.”


HB: What keeps you busy outside work?

AB: I love to read and I also write and paint whenever I get some free time. I also love food and wine, something I try my best to balance with running and forcing myself to the gym!

I am also involved in a number of academic projects that focus on the impact digital has had on society and advertising.

The next part of this series can be viewed here.



About the nominee:

Alex is founder and Managing Director of The Social Moon (@the_social_moon) a digital marketing and communications agency.

Prior to this, Alex worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over a decade with six years at Janssen (Johnson &amp, Johnson) in numerous roles, culminating in him being senior lead in Johnson &amp, Johnson Strategic Marketing for Marketing Communications responsible for Europe, Middle East and Africa. This role worked above international brand and communications teams to deliver core integrated marketing and communications platforms, through the use of new marketing models and social enterprise strategy.

Alex has overseen numerous award winning projects including the design, implementation and management of world first digital initiatives for pharmaceuticals. He is an expert on the digital approval process and digital business toolkits having developed them for numerous businesses.

Personal awards for Alex include becoming the first pharmaceutical recipient of the Johnson &amp, Johnson James Burke global marketing award for ‘Uncommon courage’, numerous PM Society Digital awards (including three in 2011 for Psoriasis 360). He was also the inaugural recipient of the John Mack ‘Pharmaguy’ Global Social media Pioneer award in October 2010.

Alex is keenly interested on the impact new media has had on advertising and is an invited member of the Wharton University ‘Future Of advertising’ Global Advisory Team.

He can be reached by emailing

How can pharma use social media effectively?