The decision by The BMJ to further try to enforce its separation from industry is somewhat at odds with the essentially wholly private sector leadership of pharmaceutical R&D. The lay perception of the #BMJ might be of a respected medical journal, but in fact it’s a USD120m+ revenue international publishing enterprise with 50+ journals. While potential conflicts of interest are important to consider, assess and account for, to assume that industry connectedness is entirely or even somewhat negative is shortsighted and destructive given the increased complexity of R&D. And The BMJ is part of that same health care industry, happily profiting off its back. To put in place yet more barriers to prevent leading investigators articulating the clinical meaningfulness of their trials is surely counter productive. As they address diseases ever more specifically and in ever smaller more segmented patient cohorts, it seems folly to try to stymie the debate that should ensue from these trials’ findings. The BMJ seems to have overlooked the fact of the multi million dollar business that it has become, that open access is increasingly democratising science, that peer review should be about what you’ve done not who you are, and that Impact Factors aren’t perhaps what they once were.
Straightforward pharma-bashing on one level but given that this is a UK column written through an ostensibly religious lens by Canon Fraser, it’s hardly being charitable in not mentioning pharma’s increased commitment to, eg rare diseases and CSR over the last few years. And, jarring with the principles of Fraser’s position (freedom of choice being a core tenet of Christianity) – it seems to overlook any notion of personal responsibility… for example he doesn’t consider that if people tried a bit harder to manage their diets and didn’t impose such high obesity-related costs, there would be more public resources freed-up, to be deployed in targeting those areas on which pharma quite legitimately can’t focus heavily. The author probably has a pension, it’s highly likely some of that balanced portfolio is invested in health care. Yes, it’s an opinion piece, and yes it’s in a left-leaning vehicle but even in this context it’s still a bit of a shame that shortsighted, unbalanced dogma persists about an industry and sector that has worked through a difficult few years.
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.”
- 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
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.