Aug13

Courtesy: A Workplace Essential

Thank You TypewriterThe rules of courtesy were programmed into my brain from a young age. The power of “please” and the testimony of “thank you” are the gods of courtesy, but like all greatness, there’s more than meets the eye. These words represent the beginning and the end of all things courtesy. Just as in life, the most important parts of courtesy are not the beginning (please) or the end (thank you), but what happens in between.

Growing up playing sports showed me how to work with others in the pursuit of something greater than myself. Working at OCHWW over the last few months has shown me that my coaches prepared me for what most new college grads consider “real life” more than I thought. At an advertising agency, everyone relies on others to accomplish their goals. The creative team might be the players on the ice (I played hockey), and the account team might be the coaches. Without these two teams working in tandem, the work does not get completed. If the creatives are the players and the account teams are the coaches, then the clients are the general managers and owners. All are in the pursuit of one thing, the Stanley Cup of advertising: a great ad and maybe a few accolades to go with it.

Now, how does all this work get done? With the help of courtesy, of course. Here’s an example: I pass the puck to you. You need to get it back to me for us to score. Simple, right?

Here’s another: I email you in the morning. “Can you please let me know where project “Protect the Puck” is on the timeline and when I can expect to receive it? Thank you.”

If I don’t hear back from you in a timely fashion, it might paralyze me. By simply taking a few seconds to respond, it helps me to prioritize my work that day and solve problems, finding a way to work around the situation, or work with you to complete the project. I understand that you are busy. We all are. But as a professional you know that all your colleagues are relying on each other to get things done. By giving your team members a quick heads-up, you help them do their jobs better. You also relieve some tension in your own day because it forces you to prioritize too.

There are other benefits that come from workplace courtesy too. When you are kind to and considerate of your colleagues, that will come back to you. The easier you interact with people, the more likely they will be to help you in a pinch if they can. In turn, this makes your team stronger because you can interact with great candor and camaraderie. A strong team in which everyone is working in tandem is tough to beat.

If you do not carry yourself with great workplace courtesy, may the gods of courtesy smite thee!

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Aug7

We Meowed at Lions Health in Cannes

cannes meowCan you believe it’s been almost two months since the very first Lions Health at Cannes! I am actually kicking myself for not writing this sooner, but you know how it goes.

Overall, I thought the standard of work was high, and that’s what you would expect for this type of event. I wouldn’t say that there was a new standard set, but there were definitely new players—non-healthcare agencies that haven’t been bound by medical departments or the weight of the past.

Cannes Lions Health is putting healthcare advertising and communications on the world stage, and I think this is great, but the playing field has just gotten bigger. So us healthcare folk need to stretch ourselves even more and deliver ideas that aren’t a print ad, e-detail aid or a direct mail series. We need to look outside of this and step away from the pharmaceutical/health look, feel, taste and tradition.

I am proud to say Ogilvy CommonHealth Australia did just that with “Cat Ramps,” a little ambient idea that set out to raise awareness of cat osteoarthritis.

Instead of doing posters or an ad, we created a series of specially made ramps with website activation that were placed in Hyde Park Sydney on one day. Park visitors and city workers could interact with the ramps, activate the mobile website, learn about the disease and the signs to watch for, and potentially seek a management plan from their local vet.

The traffic to the website exceeded objectives threefold. Just under their monthly hits was achieved in one day.

Even though we only made it to Finalist, it was a big achievement given the 1,400 entries from 49 countries.

But the biggest achievement was getting this idea signed off and up and running.

So this little meow will hopefully turn into a big roar for Ogilvy CommonHealth Australia as we start our journey toward the next Lions Health in 2015.

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Jul30

Numbers Don’t Lie—But They Could Be Trying to Tell You More

data tabletAn advantage of analytics that is often extolled or capitalized on is the sleek, easily consumed result at the end of miles and miles of data. It is an alluring power, to be sure, and the ability to see past the noise to extract core performance metrics is certainly foundational. Practically, however, these extractions may lull one into seemingly natural simplifications of data in order to provide neat, packaged numbers.

Analytics is not merely a mass of raw data; it is the underlying story being told by the data and it is the story that is meaningful. In essence, context imbues the easy and commonplace metrics we use and rely on with impact and meaning. Merely looking at just one aspect of performance can even be detrimental, as it blinds us from other motivating factors.

In fact, in an increasingly digital HCP world where 98% of physicians use the Internet for professional purposes [1], the task of understanding and connecting with this audience has grown more and more complex.

Specifically, with regard to digital web analytics, some of the primary and day-to-day concerns revolve around site performance and content engagement. What many of these issues generally boil down to are fairly straightforward answers—number of site visits and interest in specific site content.

Volume of site traffic is, independently, a rather inert number that can be incredibly misleading. High numbers one month followed by a much lower volume the next would assert that website performance has declined in terms of site traffic—but placing these numbers in context of another metric could change the view entirely. Looking at visits in light of bounce rates could inform us that a far smaller percentage of visits bounced in the latter month. Time on site might stay the same from month to month, but if page views per visit decrease, then more time is being spent consuming content on each individual page (on average), delivering an entirely different message once a corollary metric is introduced. The goal, after all, is to deliver the right message to the right audience, at the right time. A larger audience might not necessarily be the right audience, and so the quality of a site visit or a digital imprint is affected by and affects a multitude of other elements.

The benefits of exploring the connection between metrics are the models that emerge from the analysis, which in turn allow us to make more surprising and valuable insights. A top-line glance may miss or overlook these connections in its urgency to survey surface-level movements or trends; breaking down site referrals by traffic drivers might display which sources of site visits are the most prominent, but aligning these sources with other factors could reveal that certain segments are more likely to convert (download materials, sign up for accounts, order samples, etc.) and thus lead to immediately effective and actionable conversations.

At any point in a venture where data is generated, or can be generated, analytics can explain, evaluate, and optimize. No one part of it should be taken in isolation from the others, and this is no less relevant to the practice of analytics itself.

It is imperative that analytics never be stripped down to mere metrics, but live and thrive in a much larger framework.

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Also posted in Analytics, Content Strategy, Data, Digital, metrics, positioning, Statistics, Strategy | Leave a comment
Jul23

Curiosity Taught the Cat

6568523“An endless trail of ideas floats in the ether. You will only see them if you are curious.” I read this in The Eternal Pursuit of Unhappiness book all Ogilvy employees know and love. It got me thinking about curiosity—one of David Ogilvy’s eight habits. Is curiosity an important skill to have in the healthcare communications field?

They say curiosity killed the cat, but I believe curiosity taught the cat (plus, don’t cats have nine lives?). From interning at Ogilvy CommonHealth in the summer of 2014, I can see why curiosity is a must skill to have. In the rapidly changing healthcare field, there are so many aspects to be familiar with. For starters, healthcare reform is constantly changing with new laws and regulations. The pharma market is always evolving with new drugs and medications for patients. Also, the aging population is causing shifts in the demand for certain drugs, devices, and medications. There is always something new you have to keep your eye on in this field, so unless you have the curiosity, you are likely to miss current trends in the healthcare field.

Curiosity as a student

Curiosity helps people grow. In college, I’ve learned that curiosity is best practiced by taking chances. Each semester I believe it is important to take a course that is unrelated to a major or minor. It helps students think outside of the box and get a different understanding about various topics. I’ve noticed that the students who take chances like this in college are the ones who build a well-rounded background.

Curiosity at Ogilvy CommonHealth

I believe being curious is important at Ogilvy CommonHealth too. However, instead of just giving my reasoning, I will share the viewpoints of two others here at Ogilvy:

Jamie Fishman, senior account executive in Payer Marketing, believes we can’t be proactive in this evolving market or even provide value to our clients if we are not curious. There is a difference, however, between being proactive and being curious. Jamie states that questioning or looking into what is known is being proactive, while questioning or looking into what is unknown… that is true curiosity. When we research our clients and understand their industry, we are able to be ahead of the game to serve our clients the best. Jamie stays curious by reading about the work she is involved in and sharing articles with others in order to spark their curiosity. It is no surprise that she believes it is an important skill as well.

Jenita McDaniel, EVP director of operations in Payer Marketing, takes the importance of curiosity a step further. “The people that are curious change the world,” she said, “if our ancestors were not curious, we would not even be here.” It goes to show how brilliant minds are curious. In fact, if our ancestors were not curious, would they have taken risks to explore new life? Would they expand their knowledge to explore the world? Jenita also believes great ideas stem from curiosity; it helps us understand our clients and serve them to the best of our ability. Additionally, Jenita went on to say that curiosity is about taking chances, and those who are curious constantly push the envelope.

I’ll end by sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Jamie and Jenita to help you be more curious:

  1. Read. A lot.
  2. Share what you read with others. Including clients!
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Learn (from any opportunity).
  5. Teach.

I’m sure the more these five tips are practiced, the more curious you’ll become, thus achieving greater results, enhancing intellectual growth, and practicing professionalism.

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Also posted in agency life, behavior change, Blogging, Culture, Education, Work-life | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response
Jul16

“It’s not a tumor!” Cyberchondria and the Diagnoses That Spawn From It

2287994It’s 7 am; I’ve just awoken. My eyes are adjusting and I’m sprawled in my bed. My mind is not coordinated enough to move my body. Man, I am exhausted, I think. How is it only Thursday? My head kinda hurts. Good God I have to pee. I could probably snooze for like fifteen more minutes, if I shower quickly. Seriously, my head hurts. Right in my left temple. I must have slept wrong. I don’t remember hitting my head or anything. I sit up abruptly. Oh Lord now I’m dizzy. I’m dizzy and I have a sharp pain in my temple. Holy crap what if it’s a tumor, or an aneurism. When I did those brain cancer interviews last year they all said they woke up with headaches. This is that exact same situation. Where’s my iPhone? How do you spell meningioma, two “n”s? No, one “n.” Thanks Google. Okay WebMD…signs and symptoms…yup, here it is. Headache: check. Dizziness: check. Weakness in arms and legs: now that you mention it, I can barely hold this phone it feels so heavy. Blurred vision: that one’s probably next. Yup. It’s definitely a meningioma. I should call my dad. Just tell him I love him.

But just as Arnold said, it’s not a tumor. And while that example might be a tad exaggerated, I’ve certainly had this type of half-awake, neurotic, cyberchondria once or twice in my life. Though the above situation was more likely caused by one too many glasses of wine and a refusal to admit to a hangover.

Nevertheless, the concept of self-diagnosis is an ever-growing phenomenon in this digital age. According to a survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, over 35% of Americans in 2012 had gone online to diagnose themselves, and more than a third never confirmed that diagnosis with a doctor. What’s worse: some 30% of self-diagnosed women have admitted to purchasing and consuming medication for their supposed illness, without a consultation. That’s the part that shocks me. Sure, I might convince myself I have a pet-dander allergy, but that does not mean I trust my diagnostic abilities enough to assault my leg up with an EpiPen.

But it does happen. And those working in the healthcare industry appear to be the worst culprits—after all, we live and breathe this stuff; it shouldn’t be hard to tell if we have chronic migraines, or insomnia, or endocarditis, right? Our increased level of knowledge mixed with a splash of arrogance is just enough to convince us that there is little a PCP’s gonna tell us that we don’t already know.

And while the hyperbolic, often terminal, self-diagnoses are more my style, physicians say they are more concerned with the prevalence of under-diagnosis among systematic Googlers—as we all know, convincing oneself that a rash is just a rash, or numbness is just an innocent side effect can have irreparable effects.

Now, I’m a huge proponent of self-education and using today’s technology to our advantage—in fact, I think it sparks productive dialogue when information is brought into the doctor’s office—but as cliché as it sounds, I cannot emphasize enough the need for a professional diagnostic assessment. Trust me; the $15 copay is worth it.

Think of it this way: your doctor is your agency of record, but for some reason, you’ve decided to do your own brand website, aka diagnosis. We all know from AOR experience that your doctor is going to take one look at that diagnosis and say, “Damn, this is a mess; I wish they’d just paid me to do it.”

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Also posted in behavior change, Digital, Health & Wellness, Medical Education, Medicine, Patient Communications, Self-monitoring, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
Jul2

FDA Social Media Draft Guidance Released June 2014

fdaLeading up to its final guidance to be released in July 2014, the FDA has released draft guidance on how pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers should interact with social media platforms with regard to fair balance and brand messaging. The first part of the recently released recommendations is focused on how companies post advertising and promotional messages to Internet and social media platforms with character space  limitations, such as Twitter and Google Sitelinks. The second part of the recommendations addresses how pharmaceutical and medical device companies may correct independent third-party misinformation about their brands online. While this guidance is recommended and not required, it will be beneficial for pharmaceutical companies to adopt the FDA recommendations going forward.

A brief review of the FDA recommendations is listed below, along with suggestions for practical implementation.

Internet and social media platforms with character space limitations

In its draft guidance Internet/Social Media Platforms with Character Space Limitations—Presenting Risk and Benefit Information for Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices, the FDA outlines its recommendations for promotion of brand and product information using Twitter and other character-space-limited communications, such as Google Sitelinks. The recommendations are direct and seek to include fair balance in each individual communication.

The most salient points are as follows:

  • Reminder communications, which call attention to the name of a product but do not make claims, are exempt from this guidance
  • The full indication must be used when making claims in a communication
  • Benefit information should be accompanied by risk information within each individual communication
  • The content of risk information presented should, at a minimum, include the most serious risks associated with the product
  • A direct link to a more complete discussion of risk information about the product must be included in the communication

While a link to the ISI is adequate in such communications, the FDA further recommends that companies develop landing pages devoted exclusively to the communication of risk information about their products (e.g., www.product.com/risk). The format for the URL and landing page should clearly communicate that the destination will explain the risks associated with the product.

Many social media tools automatically use link shorteners to keep within the character space limitations of the communications. While the FDA does not directly oppose the use of shorteners, it recommends that the resulting URL denote to the user that the landing page contains risk information. (For example, prod.uct/risk clearly communicates that the destination is about risk.) Another solution to character space limitations is for the company to register shorter domain names that can then redirect to its product sites for use in social media.

One challenge that brands with black box warnings will face following this guidance, especially on Twitter, is in fully communicating risk information within a single tweet. For such brands it will be impossible to communicate all risks in the platform-restricted space; therefore, we recommend against using Twitter as a channel to communicate those products’ indications, benefits, and risks.

The FDA guidance also extends to paid search communications, such as Google Sitelinks. The Sitelinks feature displays up to 6 additional destination URLs for users to choose from when a paid search ad is displayed. In complying with the FDA’s draft guidance, most of the additional destination URLs provided by the brand would link to risk information in an attempt at fair balance, which might portray the product as riskier than it actually is. This might deter some companies from using Sitelinks to promote their products.

Correcting third-party misinformation

The second round of draft guidance from the FDA, Internet/Social Media Platforms: Correcting Independent Third-Party Misinformation About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices, seeks to improve the quality of public health information by allowing companies to correct third-party misinformation that they find online about their products. Again, these are recommendations; it is not required that a company respond to such misinformation, regardless of whether it appears on a company’s own forum or on an independent third-party forum or website.

The FDA defines misinformation as positive or negative representations or implications about a company’s product by an independent third party. There are two types of misinformation: a misrepresentation of the label, which a brand will typically want to correct, and an exaggeration of outcomes, which a brand may be tempted to leave uncorrected. The FDA recommends that companies respond to both types of misinformation.

If a company decides to correct misinformation on a third-party site, it should:

  • Provide corrective information and a link to corrective information
  • Post corrective information alongside the misinformation or refer to the misinformation in its response
  • Limit the scope of the corrective information to be specific to the misinformation, and keep it non-promotional
  • Correct positive misinformation as well as negative misinformation
  • Keep records of corrective interactions

The FDA clearly states that it will not hold a company accountable for an independent third party’s subsequent actions or lack thereof after corrective information has been supplied. Further, companies do not have to continue to monitor the third-party site after information has been corrected.

Going forward

While it is not feasible for a company to monitor all third-party sites for misinformation about its products, creating Google alerts (or similar) will help ensure that it is notified when user-generated content (UGC) about its products is trending. A company can then respond appropriately if they desire. However, consideration must be given to the level of time and effort that legal and regulatory teams must spend reviewing and filing the corrections versus the impact smaller third-party sites and individual bloggers can have on public health information.

Alternately, a company can and should focus its attention to more prominent third-party sites, such as WebMD, Wikipedia, and brand-specific hubs, in their quest to correct misinformation. This will maximize the intention of correcting the message while appropriately weighting the effort.

Overall, the draft guidance marks a significant milestone in the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to keep pace with other industries in the social media space where consumers are increasingly seeking out health information. This guidance has been a long time coming, and now pharmaceutical companies can jump into social media knowing they will be FDA compliant when the final guidance is released.

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Jun18

The Movement Toward “Pill Plus”

extramileHistorically, the relationship between manufacturers and payers has been transactional in nature. Payers needed to work with many manufacturers to meet financial objectives. With markets like hypertension and cholesterol at their prime and filled with branded agents, contracts benefiting both parties were the No. 1 priority. The majority of the discussions were branded, and there was a lack of trust and transparency between parties.

That was the old world, however—and this is the new world.

In today’s healthcare market, manufacturers and payers are dependent upon each other to meet their business goals. More focus has been placed on “above brand” or “pill plus” initiatives, over and above rebates for contracted products, resulting in a more collaborative environment among stakeholders. Contracts and transactions are no longer the only indicator of a positive relationship.

This shift was due in part to market trends that have required pharmaceutical manufacturers to step up their game. They needed to move beyond a transactional relationship in order to continue to provide value and differentiate themselves and their portfolios from the competition. Because there is such a huge generic market satisfying the needs of many patients with chronic illnesses, payers are relying less on their manufacturer partners to satisfy their formularies. Such market trends include:

  • Genericization of pharmaceutical marketplace
  • New branded agents with marginal improvement over existing therapies
  • Introduction of expensive orphan and specialty products
  • Access to payers and providers being minimized as stakeholders consolidate

This new environmental dynamic presents a great opportunity for our clients to take it up a notch…and where there is opportunity for our clients, there is opportunity for us. It is becoming increasingly important for us to approach tactical planning in a different way. So…what should our clients be doing to reserve a seat at the “pill plus” table?

  • Improve quality of care—focus on patient engagement, care coordination, quality measures, and optimizing the patient experience
  • Provide real world outcomes that demonstrate the value of therapies
  • Focus on developing deeper, more meaningful relationships with payer customers by providing added value through above-brand programs

So, you see, pharma must raise the bar—they must adapt to sustain value over time…because “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the plate.”

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Also posted in Brand Awareness, Customer Relationship Marketing, Learning, Patient Communications, Personal Reflections, Pharmaceutical | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Responses
Jun11

My First Experience Working on a New Business Pitch

FinishLineAt first I was apprehensive about working on a pitch. And by apprehensive, I mean…terrified. I heard about the sleepless nights. I heard about the weeks in overdrive. I heard about the soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (perhaps known by others as a time crunch). I imagined myself going into crisis mode…which isn’t pretty, let me tell you: a lot of crying and a lot of M&M binging. But I soon learned that the Kleenex and the M&Ms wouldn’t be necessary. For me, working on a new business pitch ended up being an amazing experience, and a bit like college orientation.

During my freshman year of college, I was placed in an orientation group. It was The Breakfast Club all over again: a group of people who wouldn’t ordinarily hang out are all put in a room, bring their individual personalities to the table, become friends, and develop a special bond because of their experience together. This experience was replicated at Ogilvy CommonHealth in my first new business pitch that happened just weeks after I started my role as a planner.  Not only was I able to meet a lot of new, amazing people and develop relationships with them, but I was also introduced to what my life would be like as a planner. While these relationships were definitely important for the purpose of the pitch, I really loved that they significantly influenced the work I would do in the future. Plus, it made the office a friendlier place!

Now down to business. So, I mentioned my first new business pitch happened just weeks after I began my role as a planner in CommonHealth.  In my 6 months as an Associate, I had some exposure to Ogilvy’s Fusion system and to market research—all very much on the surface. On this pitch, I knew I would get to go way deeper into a brand than I had gone before. This was the opportunity for me to really get my hands dirty. I couldn’t wait. I was able to be part of the planning process from start to finish for the first time. I researched market trends, I conducted target audience interviews, I drafted the Fusion Journey and Blueprint, and I even got to write the creative brief—all in just a few weeks, and of course with supervision (Thanks, Mindy!). I loved becoming the expert on the client’s business and even more so the target; I loved learning about the different experiences these people had, whether a benefit consultant giving weight-loss program anecdotes, or an HR manager sharing how she chooses health and wellness programs for her company; I got to be a part of their world for a few minutes, and I felt their excitement and pride as they told me about their roles in their companies. I loved being a part of the entire pitch process from the competitive audit down to writing my very first DO Brief. It was a three-week taste of everything I would get a chance to work on in my career as a planner. And it tasted amazing.

Goodbye soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (the time crunch again). Goodbye M&Ms. Actually, not goodbye M&Ms, I still quite like your chocolatey crunch—not ready to be rid of you quite yet. But seriously, working on a new business pitch has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me at Ogilvy CommonHealth, not only for the extensive planning experience that I gained in such a short time, but also for the friendships I made along the way. Thanks, team! Oh, and to make my first pitch experience even sweeter, we won the business! I continue to work on the brand and grow my planning experiences every day.

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Jun4

The Future of Journalism

reporter with camWatching the BBC news the other night, my partner Ben turned to me and asked, “What’s wrong with that reporter’s eyes? It looks like he’s checking himself out in a mirror somewhere.” He was right, the reporter was checking himself out, but it wasn’t in a mirror – he was looking at himself in the viewfinder of his video camera. Much like Tom Daly in his famous ‘coming out’ video – this journalist was recording himself, making the rookie mistake of not locking eyes on the lens, but rather admiring himself.

Video journalism, where the TV news reporter has no crew and does everything themselves, is not new. In fact a decade ago, it was touted as a great way to break into the industry as a rookie reporter. Usually video journalists worked for small television stations or were covering stories in remote parts of the world – on their own. Few people wanted to do it, so video journalism was reserved for stories which didn’t warrant standard quality pictures or audio – I mean you can forgive the shaky or out of focus pictures when the story is coming from war-torn Bosnia!

In this instance, however, the story was coming from the relative safety of East London. Why then, with Broadcasting House virtually in shouting distance, is the Capital’s premier news service using video journalists? The fact is, video journalism has become mainstream and is virtually compulsory on metropolitan newscasts and 24 hour news channels. As public relations practitioners, we’re acutely aware of shrinking newsrooms and cuts to editorial staff across the news media – and healthcare media are no exception. The rise of video journalism is one way on-the-spot reporting has survived in a budget conscious media environment. In fact, some online medical media outlets have actually grown their video news in recent years.

So, in a post ‘information superhighway’ world (remember that chestnut?) where to for journalism? The truth is, news tastes are driven by the audience and as an audience, we’re increasingly less willing to wait for carefully gathered, edited and produced news.  Journalism today is a constant tug-of-war between getting it right and getting it right now – and it’s hard to foresee this trend changing.

Immediacy is increasingly trumping quality as a battle for the ever illusive scope wages on. Journalists are fighting bloggers, gossip merchants and even Joe Public to break a story. The only trouble is, professional journalists have the onus of at least trying to get the facts right.

So not only must a journalist get the story out first, she must also be seen as an authority on the matter and be the most prolific reporter. How else would she have any cred on Twitter? When success as a journalist can equally be measured in Twitter followers as the quality of their work – journalism today requires balancing one’s online clout with actually producing quality news copy. So worried is the BBC about the focus moving toward the former, it issued guidelines in 2012 warning journalists not to break a story on Twitter before informing their newsroom colleagues.

As PR’s, we’re increasingly aware of evolving our output to service the needs of the busy multi-platform journitator. After some tweetable nuggets? Every press release will contain some. Need an on-the-spot TV studio for a quick video interview? We’ve got one waiting for you. Want to write your story two weeks in advance for an autofile while you’re trekking in the Himalayas? No problem, we’ll sort you out with an embargoed brief and interview.

It’s hard to say how journalism will evolve over the next decade, but it’s clear the pressure for immediacy is about as high as it could possibly get. With this immediacy comes a power shift from the outlet to the story teller themselves. For the time being at least, this opens up a broad opportunity for PR’s to offer tailored content across multiple platforms – albeit to a shrinking number of journalists.

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May29

A Patient is a Virtue

sales reps and docsIn the age of WebMD, Everyday Health, and Facebook, consumers are more informed and involved in their health than ever before.  And with social media infiltrating every aspect of their lives, they are now more vocal than ever.  Patients can – and in most cases are willing to – tell you what you want to know about your brand.  Just ask…and listen.  So why is it that some brands fail to take full advantage of tapping into their own customers for insight, ideas, and even inspiration?

We’ve all heard the phrase “typical pharma ad” and as an industry we are guilty of producing far too much of it.  Sometimes it’s driven by regulatory conservatism.  Often it’s a stubborn client who is afraid to push the envelope, while at other times there just isn’t enough budget to upset the status quo.  So we’re forced to pick up some stock photography, reach into our bag of preapproved claims, slap the all-important “pharma swoosh” on the piece, and call it a day.

But is the work resonating with patients?  Is it even being noticed by patients?  In order to make a connection with patients, the marketing needs to tap into what drives them, what worries them, and what will help them take the desired action.  Put simply, they need to see themselves in the marketing.

Market research and reports can obviously give you broad-stroke generalizations about your audience.  But how can you dive deeper into the psyche of your patients?  There are numerous ways you can do this and they don’t require significant investments:

·         Develop and leverage a standing Patient Advisory Board – Recruit patients to participate in an advisory board…and use it!  This is a great channel for bouncing ideas off patients and hearing first-hand about the challenges they face with their condition every day.  These boards can be conducted virtually (although at least one face-to-face meeting a year helps build camaraderie).  Also, be sure to refresh the participants so that you continually get the latest perspectives.

·         Seek input from stakeholders outside of the Brand Team – The Brand Team can sometimes be the furthest removed from the patient base, as they can get bogged down with sales reports and budget meetings; so try to engage those on the front line.  Sales reps often can provide direct feedback from HCPs and office staff on what they see in patients.  Is there an 800 number for you brand?  If so, speak with the customer service reps who field those calls.  What issues do they hear about most often and what questions are they asked most frequently?

·         Establish a patient eCRM program – A CRM program can be simple or complex – but in order to be useful, it must be trackable.  From that you can see firsthand what content is looked at most often and therefore assumed to be of most relevance.  You can also conduct quick surveys or online polls to get insight about your target.

·         Attend events and conferences – Again, this is another opportunity to hear from those on the front line: sales reps, patients, and HCPs.  You can also see, in one fell swoop, what the competition is doing to market themselves.

Nothing I’ve suggested is earth-shattering or groundbreaking, but I do find that these often get overlooked in favor of more complicated (and costly) research.  I happen to work on a well-established drug that was first-to-market in a category that is now undergoing seismic changes.  We needed to defend our turf from new therapies, new dosing formulations, and new administration devices, and we needed to do it with a limited budget.  “Gaining new patients was going to be increasingly difficult,” we thought, “so let’s at least be sure to hold on to the ones we have.”

So we set out last year to develop a campaign unlike anything this brand has seen in its 20+ years of existence.  We needed to reinvent ourselves while remaining true to our heritage and what kept us successful all these years.  We employed all of the tactics I mentioned above to help us paint a clear and vibrant picture of who our patients – our very lifeline – were.  What we learned was that our old marketing reflected misconceptions about what people with this condition were “supposed” to be like.  In no way did we reflect their vibrancy, defiance, and zest for living.  And because of that, our patients felt like the brand was letting them down.  How could we expect them to be advocates for the brand if we weren’t living up to our end of the deal?

The new campaign has just recently launched, so I can’t tell you yet how successful we’ve been at defending our turf.  But what I can say is that the feedback from patients, sales reps and HCPs alike has been overwhelmingly positive.  It is bold and defiant, and goes beyond the standard “talk to your doctor about…” with a rallying cry that conveys our patients’ inner strength.  In other words, it is a clear reflection of them.

So if your brand feels like it’s stagnating or worse yet, losing relevance, don’t panic.  Put your ear to the ground and listen for the voice of the patient – and then make sure it comes through in the work.

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