Featured in the May Issue of Marketing Farmacêutico
By John J. Seng, Founder and President of Spectrum in Washington, D.C.; Chair, GLOBALHealthPR
One of the goals we strive for at my Washington, D.C.-based health communications firm, Spectrum, is flawless performance for clients. We invest the time to ensure that we completely understand our clients’ needs in the U.S. marketplace, and design creative, strategic plans grounded in science and research. We then move forward with every expectation of “smooth sailing.”
However, what worked last year in New Mexico, USA will probably fail in Mexico next year. Marketers must cast aside assumptions and avoid underestimating the challenges of effectively communicating in other countries.
Successful global pharma marketing communications compels health communications professionals and agencies to listen and understand first, and then think and act differently within each country to ensure success. In-depth knowledge of individual countries’ legal, cultural and regulatory environments is required – and then you need to figure out well in advance how to make it all come together effectively and efficiently.
National public relations and marketing communications managers often resist or outright reject implementing global strategies. Of course each country manager rightly believes he or she knows best what will work in their market. However, global continuity in strategy and messaging must count as the primary metric or deliverable.
Reconciling the inherent conflicts in universal goals otherwise pitted against local practice begins with mutual respect, engagement and listening. Ultimately, you will succeed by carefully tailoring your programs well in advance to individual countries’ needs and requirements while retaining the overall strategic vision and commitment to common goals related to your organization, products or issues.
Global pharma marketers face a primary challenge in simply understanding the basic, cultural differences between countries and how they impact communications programs. For example, how does each country communicate most effectively with media? While the days of mailing paper press releases are long gone in the U.S., other countries utilize technology and social media to far different extents. Do journalists access email easily? Do they communicate through Twitter or Facebook? Will they read blogs or watch You Tube videos? Sophistication varies widely, and technology evolves.
In addition, how you attract journalists to media events varies widely. In some countries, you “invite” journalists to an event as guests – and reimburse all their expenses. In other countries, that practice would offend the media; and elsewhere, it’s forbidden. And don’t assume that simple translation equates to cultural understanding or interpretation: For example, in Mexico, simply writing “For Immediate Release” at the top of your press release – a common practice in the US to denote free and clear use of a news announcement – instead insults journalists in Mexico who instead perceive that you demand instant action, reports Paola de la Barreda Becerril, Directora General of PR Partners in Mexico City.
At the same time, health care communicators must maintain an in-depth understanding of the legal and regulatory climate in each country and how that affects communications, says Neil Crump, Managing Director of Aurora, a healthcare communications firm in London. In pharmaceutical marketing in particular, pricing issues and the necessity of proving product benefits can greatly impact programs country to country. In Europe, generally, there is a push by governments to promote and ensure improved value. The pressure to reduce costs diminishes corporate marketing and communications budgets, although management expectations remain elevated. More is expected for less and in more compressed time periods than ever.
In Germany specifically, drug pricing is based on both the value of the product and its yearly market performance compared to other similar products already on the market. Of course pricing and reimbursement rates are vitally important to our clients not only in Germany but almost across the board. It is not simply enough to disseminate information on your product’s positive clinical trial results and good safety profile. Evidenced-based communications programs must be developed that continually showcase a product’s specific benefits versus its competitors in that specific market.
What is the best path to provide this information to varied target audiences? Is it primarily through media, and if so what kind – medical, scientific, business, consumer if allowed? Or perhaps the best path is informing and educating health and advocacy organizations, or reaching out directly to medical professionals. The answer varies based on the individual country and needs to be grounded in the realities of the marketplace.
A model that has worked effectively for us at Spectrum is to work through an established international network of health-focused communications firms, each providing strong local expertise and cultural understanding. Each partner understands what works and doesn’t in their marketplace, and communicates seamlessly for clients under one umbrella program. We rely on one another to provide the specific in-country strategic know-how, on-target research and marketplace details, that when bundled together, appropriately delivers for clients.