Insights From the Trenches – Summer 2016
Group Account Director
(find Joel on LinkedIN)
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PoC3: What are a few of the key differences you see from the agency side in the pharma business today?
JR: It took the Pharma business a little longer than it should have to realize that creative executions – no matter how innovative or compelling – can only perform at a certain level of effectiveness without an equivalent (or better) level of innovation being applied to the question of HOW the consumer is being expected to engage with messaging. There is much more emphasis today on that engagement. That said, truly the biggest difference on the Agency side is the absolute reliance on accountability – that everything needs to be measured, to be tracked, to be tagged and quantified.
PoC3: What do you think is the most unexpected or interesting advancement in advertising (digital innovation) over the past few years and why?
JR: The easy answer is to point to this thing we have created called Big Data and move onto the next question. But the definition of Big Data is simply the generation of so many numbers that an individual cannot wrap his head around them. So we turn to machinery to do those manipulations. That’s not where the unexpected or interesting advancements in advertising lie. The unexpected or interesting for me comes from that germ of human nature that motivates us. Especially in the healthcare space . . . a person goes through life with thousands of messages about – pick one – heart disease and never bothers with any of it. Then one day, one day, something happens – and it becomes the most important thing in that individual’s life. Nobody knows what “infarction” means, for example, then suddenly it’s a life-or-death matter. So they turn to Google, type it in and the floodgates open up. There is no way for a human being to process all the possible information at their disposal and yet . . . so much hangs in the balance.
For me, the unexpected or interesting lies in how we best help individuals sort through all the onslaught of possible information and make sound, rational judgments over the plans for their health. Finding the right link imbedded in the right content that leads to a comfortable flow of information. The recognition that tone plays a huge role in how much information people absorb, and that sometimes the man in the white lab coat cannot convey as compelling a story as a sincere, sympathetic voice. Media as peer group. Media as health coach. Media as counsel. Media as kindred voices.
I truly appreciate good retargeting when I see it or experience it myself. The idea that we are meeting people on their own terms, that we can anticipate your need for messaging based on a past inquiry you might have made, and can serve up the answers you seek even when you’ve moved on to more comfortable content elsewhere. Done clumsily, it’s boorish and off-putting. But done well, it’s the most interesting approach in the future of Pharmaceutical marketing.
And, yes, it takes Big Data to do it right.
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POC3: If you were to make prediction about what we might expect to see in Pharma Advertising over the next few years, what would it be?
JR: We talk about Big Data in almost mystical terms – as though we have algorithmically created the Oracle of Delphi in an all-knowing, omniscient role. Big Data is not a religion; it is a tool. We need to de-mystify the process and make it all more accessible. Currently, I believe we suffer from taking the story-telling out of the marketing process or, more specifically, we have taken story-telling out of the purview of the story-tellers and handed it over to our Data Scientists. Over the next few years, we will do one of two things. Either, we will simplify the ability to generate learning and insights from endless rows and columns of numbers so that the story-tellers among us will have an easier time of siphoning learning from those numbers and turning it into stronger healthcare narratives. Or we will raise a new generation of Data Scientists who are not satisfied with merely manipulating data and handing it off to others, but will inspire the bigger picture thinking themselves.
Pharmaceutical marketing has a reputation of being difficult, more difficult than CPG or Automotive or Distilled Spirits or almost every other category. But that is a reputation of our own making. We need to make it simpler. There is a HIGHLY COMPELLING REASON to talk with your doctor and in marketing, the more compelling the motivation, the easier it is to lead people through the Marketing funnel. What we will see in Pharmaceutical marketing is a push toward more streamlined approaches to the entire marketing plan.
PoC3: If you were designing a conference, what kind of panel/ talent would you pull together and why?
JR: One of the most fascinating interviews I read recently had a journalist sitting down with actor Bryan Cranston and President Barack Obama. By the time I finished the article – I think it was the NY Times Sunday Magazine, but I may be wrong there – I realized that the three men had covered a full range of topics in such a brilliant way that I felt invigorated by the whole exchange, without ever realizing that I was LEARNING something about current events, about fatherhood, about a multitude of topics. You ask what sort of panel I would pull together? Find incredibly articulate individuals who would otherwise have no reason for sitting at the same table, but who are experts in their professions to such a degree that the mutual respect and compelling conversation just seems to flow effortlessly. Of course, you would need the thematic element to attract us Pharmaceutical marketers for your benefit. Far too often we believe that Agency people want to hear only from other Agency people. In a small venue, the idea of sitting elbow-to-elbow with true renaissance thinkers across multiple industries – toss in a dash of celebrity – is how I would design a conference.
PoC3: What would your recommendations be to new talent on the agency side entering pharma marketing today?
JR: The biggest factor that underscores whether someone will be successful in our business today is how well they thrive on CHANGE. We all DEAL with change, HANDLE change, COPE with change. Not good enough. You have to truly thrive on it, love it, look forward to it, to be successful in ANY marketing today – with Pharmaceutical marketing in the forefront of that. If you’re the type of person who likes to come to work each day, have a set roster of responsibilities, complete projects and move them from the IN box to the OUT box, push back from the desk at the end of the day and say that was a job well done . . . this is not the job for you. There’s nothing wrong with that type of individual; they just simply won’t excel in the world of Media and Marketing as it now exists. We cannot emphasize enough how the embracing of CHANGE is what drives us in this industry today.
PoC3 thanks Joel for sharing his insights and ideas with us!