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Redefining media of communication in pharma

Dr. R. B. Smarta
Wednesday, July 16, 2008, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Once we decide on the customer segment and their needs, we usually ask our execution team to match a specific brand or brands with their needs. On the basis of overall brand strategy, we can then decide on communication strategy. It is important to carry out this communication strategy in the chamber of a physician or surgeon. In order to execute the strategy effectively and gain results, developing and planning media-mix is essential. In pharmaceuticals, the impact of our intended strategy is seen only with ultimate flow of prescriptions from physicians and surgeons. Encashment of these prescriptions is also equally important to make 'brand/brands' worthwhile. Media-mix has to percolate to all "transactions" up to final purchase of medicines by patients or healthy people.

Marketing approaches in pharma need credibility at medical as well as all transactional levels. We usually ensure evidence-based communications. However, at the communicator level we are failing miserably. Communication aids at pharmacists and direct to medical consumer is not progressed.

Dynamic market place
Unfortunately, in the pharma industry today, this communication is totally encircled around 'Professional Medical Representative' (PMR). Overtime the quality and environment has deteriorated so much that time to communicate to physicians or surgeons is becoming an issue. On the other hand, there is so much clutter in the market that these communications loose out the edges. We can't differentiate and provide distinction which is required to gain advantage in communication. Noise is extreme without any differentiation.

On the other hand, market dynamics with the providence of ethical and unethical ways of achieving the top line is taking this profession to selling, trading and billing! In this situation, it is equally important to really find out ways of means to strengthen this entity of the PMR so that right from his credibility to his transaction improves drastically. This is an uphill task but it needs to be undertaken on priority.

Overtime, due to this situation, many of them have lost the skills of generating prescriptions. They are in the mode of relationship building trading and selling the products. Their skills are more towards servicing customers than providing them medical, knowledge support in their practice. It's due to this reason the stature and image of this entity has declined.

Being a captive medium of communication, there is no other model which is so effective than this in the world. With its deterioration from professional ambassador to a worker since last 40 years and change in the market behaviour has taken a complete toll of this combination and skills which need to engage prescribers/providers to generate and encash prescription which is getting affected. They are getting lost!!

The right media mix
Besides human medium, there are many media available for us to communicate with physicians and surgeons/pharmacists and patients. At this moment the PMRs or Detailmen are inadequate in this task. Balancing act of right media mix may work in cohesion.

Marketers know that disbanding their sales forces is unrealistic, but there's no reason why alternative promotional media cannot be used (in a judicious mix) as support vehicles. Plus, there is a lot more a company can do.

Mindset of marketers considers beginning and end of media at "PSR" and "Empowering Him" for the transaction he makes. We need to expand our vision and attitude to consider the "power of media-mix" in communication.

Let's quickly go through some of the available options. The are Journal Advertising, Direct mailings, couriers, conferences and symposia, promotional trials, clinical trials, newspaper advertisements, free standalone supplements, telemarketing, conference videos, video magazines, audio cassettes, television, group detailing besides samples and gifts. These media can be classified in following ways:

Print advertising
Advertising principles can be used in medical publications journal advertising, Direct mailers, Standalone publications and detailing.

Research has shown that if one concept has 50 words and talks about five attributes and benefits, it generally scores higher than a concept that has 25 words and talks about two attributes and benefits.

Major issues affected our decisions are: How effective are these ads in these publications? How do we review? How do you get the cost-effectiveness of it?

Before assuring these questions, everybody aggress that in the Indian context, it is essential to continually educate doctors on medical issues.

In medical publication, relevance is everything. In many cases media is message. We need to select at these media from "Mix" point of view.

Other digital media are also useful to provide edge in communication, viral marketing, prediction marketing can lead us directly towards all target groups.

Desktop and in-clinic media
Desktop reminders, for example, samples, gifts and prescription pads are seen as an important and long-lasting promotional medium. They provide utility to doctors. Such desktop knick-knacks serve as brand reminders. But are they flexible? Perhaps may be or may not be. The question to ask is: Does the doctor need constant reminding? And if he does need extra reminding, will the knick-knack be in a position to recover the money that has been spent since there isn't anything that the marketer can do to tie its functioning to the brand's ongoing needs.

The best ideas, however, are those that don't take a permanent place on the budget documents month after month, year after year.

PR as part of pharmaceutical promotional mix
While exploring the use of PR tools in pharmaceutical marketing, it is necessary to ensure that PR complements and is coordinated with the rest of the company's efforts. Operating in a vacuum without overall backup can send conflicting signals, which may harm corporate credibility.

For years, PR has been trying to establish its role in integrated marketing. But because the effectiveness of PR cannot really be measured or quantified, marketers often fail to see its value as a promotional tool.

It's important for a marketer to redefine what he needs to communicate, to whom he needs to communicate, how he develops media mix to expose 'Brands' to the selected audience. If we focus on attention only on human behaviour displayed by our PMRs, we may get hooked to one medium and the overall task may become difficult. Let's take a challenge of creating Right media mix for a Brand or a Corporate.

(Dr RB Smarta is the managing director of Interlink, a business & management consulting firm.)


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