Medical Product Promotion is a Team Sport!

Author: Jonathan Sackier

Despite living in the USA for over 20 years and having grown up in Britain, I still do not get most American team sports. The fans are so civil to one another, the preoccupation with math in baseball, TV time-outs in football and the ease of scoring in basketball leave me confused. Ice hockey I get; fast, violent, passionate fans – all very like the football I know. And in English football, okay, soccer, we actually use our feet! Focusing on team sports is a good starting place for my weekly rant – bringing a medical product to market is – or should be – a team sport, but how often is that the case?

In the difficult regulatory and compliance-conscious environment we now operate, surely it makes sense for everyone to get on the same page and fashion a robust, sincere and effective strategy on day one? Big pharma is pretty good at market conditioning, developing a bated-breath approach to product launch. An example might be the introduction to our lexicon of the phrase “ED” prior to Viagra becoming a household word. Who knew from ED as Jackie Mason might have said? Such market conditioning makes eminent sense, builds expectation and helps identify potential stumbling blocks. Obviously this needs to be done in a manner that does not expose patients to promises that cannot be met or physicians to questions that cannot be answered; responsibility is the byword.

Building a bullet-proof publication and presentation strategy is another example, yet how many companies do this? Think about it, you have invented or in-licensed Curealldiseasealol or the latest percutaneous fanntastmagoricalagram and blithely accept that a paper is going to come out on any random date. Does that make sense? Heck no. Plan, plan and then plan some more. The scientific literature that a company has at its disposal are like weapons in your armory, use them wisely.  Developing a well-conceived timetable of who is going to present what at which meeting can dramatically impact sales, as can the journal in which data are published and who holds the lead author title. Believe it or not, physicians scan the author names and institutions and while “the usual suspects” are the go-to guys to conduct research and publish findings, there are unspoken tools we use to communicate our admiration or disdain for any given piece of research or for that matter, researcher.

Companies also tend to make some misjudgments about how to use the literature when talking to healthcare professionals. Okay, we know that reprints should not be photocopied, that is a breach of copyright. Also you should not place them in marketing material nor alter them in any fashion. But what about how the doctor reads the articles? If medical promotional efforts rely on what a doctor reads in the literature, would it not  make sense to know how a doctor reads the material? The truth is, we tend to scan articles looking for the clues that lead us to categorize the findings very quickly. For instance, if the abstract suggests that the article lines up with my current belief system, I am likely to read on, searching for ways to validate my behaviors. Conversely, if the abstract suggests that the article takes a contrary view, I will likely read it searching for reasons to doubt the findings. The manner in which the article is presented to the doctor may impact how he or she reads it. Additionally, and quite disturbingly, in a number of cases the data in the body of the text does not mirror what is summarized in the abstract as reported in several analyses.  Taking all of this into consideration, it behooves any company speaking to the healthcare profession to carefully review the way they use data, after all, it is the patients who stand to lose the most.

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