Jul 302015

Communication between groups of people is most effective when participants are engaged, and the discussion is both inclusive and collaborative. Creating an ethos of conversation, rather than a one-sided presentation, for critical discussions can better leverage the collective intelligence of the team, make solutions to organisational problems better and more comprehensive, and improve ownership for execution of ideas.

I wrote last year of the importance of being prepared to defend your pitch – ie approaching the meeting with a view to actively engage in a deliberately stimulated dialogue, rather than hitting and hoping an unbriefed audience with a battering-ram of a deck. This piece in the Harvard Business Review looks in more detail at how to effectively define the setting and content to generate a conversation. Of course there’s always the question of giving away your thinking before the meeting (although whoever has the deck ready before the morning of the day – and isn’t there always the assumption that no-one looks at it prior anyway?).

The HBR piece speaks to the importance of engaging with the client during the development process – and this is a challenge in itself with the increasing limitations on client contact during the increasingly regimented pitch processes. However, by setting out with the intention to deliver the pitch content ahead of time it should help structure the pitch development process to build in rather more time to reflect on the content than the time it takes to drive to client HQ. And by taking the time to really challenge the internal team on the anticipated questioning it should stand the pitch team in an ideal position to go beyond knowledge demonstration, taking advantage of a captive audience, and starting to build a relationship through the chemistry of conversation.


Create a Conversation, Not a Presentation

Mar 302015

An interesting piece in the HBR to encore yesterday’s post…

We have become a society of specialists. Business thinkers point to “domain expertise” as an enduring source of advantage in today’s competitive environment. The logic is straightforward: learn more about your function, acquire “expert” status, and you’ll go further in your career.

But what if this approach is no longer valid? Corporations around the world have come to value expertise, and in so doing, have created a collection of individuals studying bark. There are many who have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture. Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest.

Mar 292015

Frequently I’m contacted by recruiters casually sounding me out for names of likely candidates for their obviously hard to source positions. Fairly frequently I have agencies talk to me about starting an offering in Asia and likewise they want to understand the availability of talent on the ground or the unique qualities that might be called for to practice in the region.

First the proximate challenge, the ready availability of individuals with prior experience in Asia. It’s true that there simply aren’t many. The real reason though in my view are the blinkers that have recruiter and agency ring-fencing their candidates into subdivisions that make increasingly less sense in the real world. Health care is niche enough, without actively forcing disciplines apart.

Asia is increasingly driving the bottom line of global pharma, pharma are increasingly looking to establish themselves in the region, eg GSK Consumer’s move of its global marketing operations to Asia. Many new R&D centres have sprung up across the region over the last decade.

So with what looks to be on the surface at least a burgeoning sector, why the lack of an across-the-board spread of talent in the region. If we start by looking at the disciplines and their traditional descriptors and then pin then to an outcome-relevant framework we end up with the representation in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Integrated or Siloed?

In summary what this sets out is:

  1. Science builds the Foundation – This is the Diagnostic phase, understanding needs and gaps
  2. Creativity drives brand Recognition – This is about Exploring responses to proposed product positioning
  3. Connections create a web of BeliefConviction will follow dialogic engagement around a consistent message
  4. The economic Value story leads ultimately to commercial Success – Payers can hardly look beyond a Compelling proposition.

Siloing and hyper-specialization in any context, and as discussed in the linked piece – especially in science, diminishes effectiveness. The situation we have globally in the health care communications sector is akin to having four distinct silos with little crosstalk. In Asia Pacific in reality the situation is somewhat different given that regional and market-level work is mostly focussed on branding and PR. Figure 2 represents the state of play here. That the scientific aspects of market shaping are primarily managed globally, and health technology assessment is not yet critical to many emerging markets might explain the lack of available talent in these disciplines in the regions, but it doesn’t help with efficiently articulating a complete go to market story.

The amount of meaningful devolution to key emerging markets by pharma will ultimately shape the regional communications sector and talent availability in the region. But back to the question at the top, who’s actually struggling to hire if the sector in Asia doesn’t need full spectrum integration?

Put simply, it comes down to the big groups having a macro level perception of a pressing need for integration, which combined with any number of loose acquisitions and global networks (that are in reality so peripheral as to be in reality competitors) is seeing a knee-jerk response to get ahead of the curve. Instead of understanding the market and how they might better leverage their current regional capabilities they announce a sudden strategic imperative to ‘understand the science’ perhaps to potentiate opportunities in specialist pharma.

In the end all this achieves is a lot of over-extravagant resourcing briefs, for positions which – if they are filled – are likely to leave their new occupiers, in the absence of any realisable strategy, and any definitive uplift in client spend or strategic decision making authority, beating against an impossible wind.

Fragmented and Incomplete

Figure 2. Fragmented and Incomplete


Dec 122014

How do you effectively manage creativity to result in a more innovative organization? Particularly in a science-driven sector where silos exist between functions at both client and agency sides and the cultures of creative, strategic, scientific, medical and marketing span a continuum that is often hard to interconnect. Achieving a balanced approach to the fundamental tension between harnessing and unleashing these distinctive talents is not easy. This piece in the HBR characterises the important paradoxes well.


Organizational innovation requires both organizational willingness and ability. Clearly, any group that wishes to innovate must be able to collaborate, experiment, and integrate possible solutions. That is, it must possess the skill to undertake those activities productively. But, given all the barriers to innovation, leaders and their people must also be willing to do the hard work of innovation. Successful organizations develop a deep sense of community that helps individuals endure the tensions and stress, and that prevents the organization from flying apart due to all the opposing forces at play.

Aug 302014

If it’s true that many people fear public speaking more than death, it’s equally true that businesspeople are condemned to a thousand small deaths in client pitches, in boardrooms, and on stage. And that death can turn slow and torturous when you are asked to speak unexpectedly with little or no time to prepare. One of the key demands of business is the ability to speak extemporaneously. Whether giving an unexpected “elevator pitch” to a potential investor or being asked at the last minute to offer remarks to a sales team over dinner, the demands for a business person to speak with limited preparation are diverse, endless, and — to many — terrifying.

Too many in agency land go for quantity, as if by anaesthetizing the audience, those tricky questions aren’t going to come at you. The point is not (usually, anyway) that quality is lacking but it seems there’s a belief that the more knowledge you can demonstrate you have – and by laying out that sheer mass of evidence of days and weeks spent crafting your approach – somehow this is going to be the differentiating factor. Quite apart from wasting the real dialogic engagement opportunity of having your client in the same room for two hours, there has to be a better way than struggling to get your less comfortable presenters into a space whereby their values and insights rather than their presenting shortcomings are brought into focus. And anyway, who wants to sit through, let alone present a 2-hour monologue?

Five Steps to a Positive Pitch Presentation

Five Steps to a Positive Pitch Presentation

Feb 052014

After reviewing the space, agency imperatives and some of the challenges over the last weeks, let’s take a look at some of the growth drivers… some of which might seem a bit counterintuitive

  • Inevitable increasing focus on value and rationalised access to newer more expensive therapies vs restrictions to listing on grounds of cost
  • Emerging models of universal healthcare systems, which will both constrain expenditure and call for rational prescribing of innovative tx, but grow overall volume potential
  • Increasingly complex and evidence-based messaging will be required by healthcare providers to its publics, payors and prescribers
  • Connections and value of exchange between opinion leaders are not well understood (despite intensive use of social media); this offers scope for more rationally targeted communications
  • Increasing westernisation of lifestyle-driven disease, increasing class of consumers able to pay out of pocket for unreimbursed products (private market), increasing access to healthcare through progressive move to universal access will drive growth
Jan 292014

Last week I looked at the agency as a species in the context of Asia. Today I topline some of the emerging challenges, which though nuanced are in line with the increasingly complex demands of the sector globally.

  • How is or will value be created through deployment of new healthcare technology/therapeutics?
  • How will healthcare systems need to restructure/adapt to facilitate deployment of new technology/agents in a way that enables their value-extraction?
  • How will different demographics be satisfied? Populations differ constitutionally within markets, and they differ across markets, but they increasingly share the convergent aspirations of an increasingly homogenous ‘middle class’?
  • How to translate increasingly available – but not necessarily easy-to-use, and often fragmented – data into meaningful quantifiable value messages?
  • How to respond to the fact that payers, providers and patients will determine the value of healthcare – physicians will no longer be the sole – or even decisive – arbiters of what’s best?
  • How to communicate the genetic aspects of targeted drugs, personalised medicine, small and dispersed patient cohorts?
  • How to marry the changing status of the frontline practitioner with the growing concept of wellness, increasing consumer choice/activism, and active engagement in treatment selection vs the traditionally unengaged patient?
  • How to respond to the gradual shift of specialist treatment and primary care into integrated practice units, while providing a seamless continuum of care?
  • How to measure healthcare outcomes in the context of the real world setting? As the dominant lever for extracting value, the complexity of science+economics+multiple publics’ opinions will make messaging increasingly complex.
Jan 222014

I wrote last week about the changing demands on communicators in healthcare. How does this frame up from the perspective of the Asian region?

  • Some of the critical challenges in AsiaPac are the same as anywhere else; an increasing need to determine insights into an ever more specialised and fragmented environment for pharma and healthcare providers
  • To find these insights means understanding increasingly complex networks – compared to the social network mapping of physician insights and physician-patient connectedness happening elsewhere it’s still a bit desk-based and ultimately hierarchical/deferential in Asia
  • In my experience in AsiaPac though there is a determination to achieve the notional ‘integrated’ agency, this is a rare beast. An agency that can communicate cross-disciplinarity in the key areas described above (ie not dominated by a visual creative/overwhelmingly advertising heritage) has a potential space to occupy
  • Agencies, regardless of their networks tend to focus on their heritage business and do not maximise use of either their local cross-discipline networks, nor globally leverage their peer set within discipline
  • Networked agencies have recognised opportunities in the space for more market-shaping science-oriented comms, but they have not historically effectively activated their acquisitions – ‘integrated network’ descriptions tend to be capabilities presentation rhetoric
  • Within pure play medical communications the independents are relatively strong in their niche –leveraging their global intellectual therapy area value to maintain reasonably consistent business in Asia – they are the right size to be firewall-free
  • Boutique independents in med comms survive on project-based business – hard to sustain
  • In advertising, the networks have the lions share of the business, reflecting their heritage
  • Digital is a space competed for ever more vigorously by independents, ad agencies and generalist networked digital agencies
  • The recognition of the value in data insights and examples relating to health is starting to come to the fore, as per the example here http://www.dextra.sg/ in Singapore
  • For an agency to position itself successfully in Asia it needs to disrupt both the networked and specialty agency categories – in a sense create turbulence, the ripples of which speak to the new entrant’s energy more than its size
  • How capability to deliver is established is critical – it tends to mean a core of implementers on the ground combined with transferable global strategic insight. Developing a network of partners as the business grows is important
  • Must be able to demonstrate genuine and tangible integration of its components – larger independents are probably in the sweet spot. Sitting within the the walls of an acquisitive network is increasingly showing stymied growth
Independent firms, meanwhile, continue to outperform the holding companies in terms of growth, with Edelman only the most prominent example. Overall, independent firms submitting information to the Holmes Report 250 experienced growth of better than 12%, compared to average growth of around 4% for the public relations operations of the major holding companies. – See more at: http://worldreport.holmesreport.com/top-10#sthash.r4KFtmFX.dpufPharma spend is often – and perhaps increasingly – determined by globally-led strategy; without effective joined-up global-Asia engagement, opportunities will be smallerAgency-side cross-discipline talent in healthcare is not widesprea

“Independent firms, meanwhile, continue to outperform the holding companies in terms of growth, with Edelman only the most prominent example. Overall, independent firms submitting information to the Holmes Report 250 experienced growth of better than 12%, compared to average growth of around 4% for the public relations operations of the major holding companies.”

  • Pharma spend is often – and perhaps increasingly – determined by globally-led strategy; without effective joined-up global-Asia engagement, opportunities will be smaller, perhaps unsustainable
  • Agency-side cross-discipline talent in healthcare is not widespread
Jan 152014

To me the future challenge in healthcare is increasingly about value; about communicating the product’s place not just vs its peer set, but about understanding the patient pathway in the context of continual challenges to this pathway given evolving care and payer systems (market access). How we communicate product evidence is one thing (science-focussed medical communications); how we identify and use (and generate) additional evidence to be able to make it more persuasive moves us into the territory of social media, data and analytics… this is where we need to be finding the story and exploiting the earned and shared space in which to tell it (digitally). Creative and the owned space will diminish relative to the above – at least this is what I see happening. The old med comms rhetoric of creative+science = effective product story is all a bit generic as a standalone.

…which way?