The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated disruption within the digital world. Out of this heavy disruption comes an opportunity for companies to become more innovative-focused and show how quickly they can pivot under pressure. Right now, the pharmaceutical industry is adapting faster than ever before in their marketing strategies due to reduced drug rep access, a (mostly) digital shift, and new and emerging digital and virtual platforms.

In this webinar, the Association of Medical Media (AMM) gave industry leaders a chance to share how their organizations are responding to the challenges of the unique environment we are currently living in.

First, a Quick Update on the State of the Pharmaceutical Industry Today

During the last eight months, many industries have suffered greatly, but pharma has weathered the storm and continuously pivots during this very unstable time, especially where physician engagement is concerned. According to Lori Holland-Hancock, Director, Multi-Channel Integration Team, Oncology at Merck, more than ever before, pharma is witnessing a stronger partnership with the medical community. Where there was once a bit of a firewall the pandemic has pushed us to come together and problem-solve solutions for physicians and patients. Meeting the customers’ pivots of this ever-changing virus and environment is crucial. It is exciting to see the never-before-seen collaboration taking place between scientists, industry leaders, and manufactures, all of whom are working tirelessly to beat this virus at the global setting.

Taking a deeper look at the business impact of COVID-19 on the industry this year, different industry segments are being impacted in different ways. Within pharma some business units may be seeing increased demand in response to the current pandemic and increased need for specific therapeutics, while others may be down due to decreased physician office visits and routine wellness checks for chronic conditions.

Highlight #1: The Biggest Adjustments Coming to Traditional Digital Disruptions

Pharma is historically known for trailing behind the digital transformation, but COVID-19 has catalyzed trends that were going to happen eventually. Some of the biggest adjustments to traditional disruptions go beyond just media. According to Jim, it’s the messaging that has been changing, based on the segment. The focus is on effective reach and how well offline and online communications can work together to create a single, seamless experience.

Multichannel and omnichannel spaces are getting more attention from industry leaders. Lori feels the hot questions here are “how do companies implement better cross-coordination across channels and how will the industry change from a push to a pull strategy?”


Highlight #2: 2021 – A Time of Adapting and Ensuring Well-thought-out Back Up Plans

Again, what will likely be different looking ahead is this new mindset of how quickly pharma can pivot to meet the ever-changing needs of the customer. In 2021, newer channels, or channels that were previously not as used, may come into play and how well pharma is prepared to meet those new challenges will determine the success of the future.

During this uncertain time, a more thoughtful approach will be necessary when creating back up plans. Jim feels you should go in with a base of assumptions and as those change, we need to be able to quickly modify our strategies. One of the biggest changes in 2021 will be an emphasis on paying closer, more careful attention to alternative plans if plan A is not working effectively.

Highlight #3: Pharma’s Relationship with Agencies, Consultants and Vendors Will Shift

Pharma should encourage agencies to also focus on the changing consumer behaviors. This may mean leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that can help break though current data parameters and provide deeper insights that stretch beyond traditional market research.

Many important customer behavior changes will take place somewhere in the middle of their journey “What happens in the middle of a customer’s journey really matters – how we handle change at that moment is important,” according to Lori.  Again, it is all about how well pharma can pivot as the virus continues to change.

Highlight #4: Knowledge is Power – In-house Expertise is Continuing to Evolve  

Especially now, “we cannot rely on our autopilots,” like we may have become accustomed to doing in the past, says Jim. Instead of waiting for change to happen and then reacting to it, we need to be proactive and anticipate what pharma might look like in the next five years down the road.

Building off that, there is also a change in the mentality of agencies who were once competing to now identifying where the expertise lies so the best product or service can be brought to the table. We should be digging deeper into the use of specialist agencies; the person in charge of orchestrating the whole process is essential but bringing in a specialist who holds expertise in a specific area adds a layer of value. We need to leverage our ability to work smarter in the marketplace.

Highlight #5: Data and Analytics is Fueling Decisions Around HCP Target Audiences’ Selection of Media Channels

Looking beyond the standard metric tools, like open rates and click-through rates, will allow us to make better informed investment purchases. Taking a more granular look into the data, such as how long a viewer watched a video and at what point they left, are key metrics too. We should also ask ourselves if customers are shifting away from certain platforms and/or vendors within platforms.

With such an abundance of data, how we carefully sift through and identify what really matters and what will have an impact is important for telling the bigger picture story; the rest can be discarded as noise.

Highlight #6: Technologies and New Methods for Measuring Key Business Objectives

The adoption of new technologies is valuable but, at least for now, older forms of technology may be more impactful. As unfortunate as it is, the pandemic is causing physicians to see fewer patients, which Jim equates to extra time for physicians to look through something like the mail, an older form of technology. It is not just about adopting new technology for the sake of the pandemic – older technologies may be getting more attention right now and may be having an effect.

The way companies measure their business objectives will stretch beyond traditional KPIs. We should seek opportunities to better measure engagement strategies across customers. Considering insights, such as how deep the customers are going on their journeys, paired with the appropriate amount of frequency and consistency, is key.

In addition to KPIs, Jim shares that his team uses most valued action and high-quality visits to measure performance where logic can come into play and assess the likelihood of which actions will convert to customers, which can assist decisions around investment.

Highlight #7: Inclusion and Experimentation of New Medias – Social Media

While both Lori and Jim agree that their teams have already tapped into social pre-pandemic, they feel there are important factors to consider before jumping into these platforms. For example, we should think about leveraging telehealth for partnership opportunities instead of just using the medium for paid advertising. If the customer base is there, social media can certainly be considered as an effective channel. But Lori believes it should not be used merely as “lift and shift” content; native experiences will offer more credibility and believability. Furthermore, time and cost, both internally and externally should be carefully evaluated to ensure added value and ROI.

Lori and Jim stayed on to answer viewers’ questions after the webinar completed its agenda. Be sure to check out the full video here to learn more great insights into pharma’s forecast for 2021.

AMM (Association of Medical Media) brings together professional medical media owners, publishers, and ad agencies, along with pharma and device manufacturers, to set industry principles and standards and to advocate for the value of medical media to educate health care providers and create better patient outcomes.