RJ Lewis (EHS): Hello, this is RJ Lewis, the Founder, and CEO of eHealthcare Solutions. And I’m excited about today’s podcast. With me, today is John Mack, the original creator of Pharma Marketing and also known as Pharma Guy from far and wide. And I also have with me Don Langsdorf who’s our Director of Digital Solutions and Strategy. And the three of us are going to have a little conversation. This summer when I was doing a little bit of research online. I landed on John Mack’s blog, as I’ve done many, many times in the past to look up something. And I was surprised to see a letter on the homepage that said, “Hey, Pharma folks, I’m retiring. I’ve taken an elected position in Newtown”, John and I actually live in the same town. And “I won’t be here anymore, but it’s been nice knowing you.” And I immediately picked up the phone and said, John, what’s going on? What do you what are you doing with the blog? And he said I’m not sure. I might just shut it down. And I said You can’t do that. It’s the stuff legends are made out of. We can’t let that happen. Let me buy it from you. And we ended up going out and having lunch and worked out a deal and we relaunched the site just a couple of weeks ago, excited to say, and we’re here with John to do the initial podcast on the brand new site, and really kind of dig into the history and the story. And bring back some memories for folks of pharma guy and how he came to be. So we’re excited about that. Thanks for coming John.
John Mack (PG): Thanks for having me.
RJ Lewis (EHS): So, you are a legend in the space you’re known as Pharma Guy. Amazing following 28,000 followers on Twitter, and really high quality when you look through the list of people that are on your Twitter following, it’s pretty impressive. You are a fixture at many conferences, pretty much every industry conference for years, and you stood out all the time because you’re a trademark Hawaiian shirt. Tell us a story about the Hawaiian Shirt, how did that come to be?
John Mack (PG): Wow. Yeah, I mean, that’s pretty interesting. I think I somehow, I was reading about Hunter S. Thompsons’, you know biographies and I kind of liked his style as his Gonzo Journalistic style. So, this was back in 2009, and I hosted a Halloween party at my house, and I decided to dress up as Hunter S. Thompson. So, I went online to look for the most outlandish Hawaiian shirt that look like the one he was wearing. It’s yellow and black. That’s the original Hawaiian shirt. But then I really got into Hawaiian shirts. So, I, you know, the same kind of shirt that Johnny Depp wore in the movie, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s a great movie, I love that. But a few days before that I would start wearing these at conferences. There was in those days, social media was sort of a little bit of an outcast, in terms of the major conferences didn’t focus on it too much. So, a bunch of us who were really into social media said, “Look, we’re going to have an unconference”, you know, sort of Like, yeah, a satellite conference. So you know, there was a, so I decided to wear it because I said, well, the thing about social media is, you know, really standing out in the crowd these days, because if you were into social media at that time, there weren’t a lot of people. So you kind of stood out.
RJ Lewis (EHS): You started this way before social media was even around. I mean, you and I met way back in, like 99 or 98. When we both sold our companies to Med consult. I was at Physicians Online at the time. You were PharmInfoNet. And so I believe shortly after that is when you first started what was started as a listserv, right?
John Mack (PG): Right. Well, the Listserv was kind of held over right, you know I actually have a patent on issuing reward cards on the internet. We haven’t made any money from it. But to market that patent, we developed the, we had a listserv. We wanted to just use the listserv as something to promote it. And I maintained that even after selling to many. They didn’t know I had this listserv they were kind of pissed off that I didn’t sell them the listserv. It wasn’t in the contract. Sorry.
RJ Lewis (EHS): So the Hawaiian Shirt, you later turn that into an award, right? Tell me about the Hawaiian Shirt Award.
John Mack (PG): Oh, well, that came, you know, a few years later. And I said, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of kind of negative things and always being critical. And I said, you know, I gotta reward people who I think are doing a good job in the pharmaceutical industry in terms of social media, because, at that time, there were few and far between. And so, I said, Well, you know, this Hawaiian Shirt, I should make some kind of award out of it. And I also had a pin, Hawaiian shirt lapel pin that I created. And what I did at a conference, somebody was working for, it was Novo Nordisk, No, it wasn’t Novo Nordisk. It was US and UK. They were the first that the first Facebook Page that was a product page, I believe, or a diabetes that was maybe a diabetes page. And they allowed comments without pre monitoring. So, it was more social media to me than other Facebook pages that didn’t, you know, shut down the commenting, for example. So, they were the first recipient and I actually at a conference, took off my Hawaiian shirt…
Don Langsdorf (EHS): and gave the shirt off my back…
John Mack (PG): and gave him the shirt off my back to him. And I was glad I had been dieting a few weeks before that. So, I didn’t look so bad. Yeah, I even wanted to wear the shirt to this FDA meeting. You know, in November 2009, the FDA held a public hearing about the promotion of Food and Drug Administrative Related Regulated Medical Products, using the internet and social media tools. So, I was actually presenting there. And they gave me two slots, but I was gonna wear the Hawaiian shirt, but I felt that would be a little disrespectful. Plus, I don’t think… I don’t know how the FDA would respond to Hawaiian shirt. I don’t think it was televised.
RJ Lewis (EHS): You mentioned you mentioned that you were being kind of negative and when, when I think of what you do, and I actually pulled a number of people in the industry before we bought the blog, to say, Hey, you know, what do you think from a reputational standpoint, you know, what do you think of John Mack? First off, everybody knows you. I mean, I don’t think there was a single person I talked to who isn’t aware of you and didn’t know pharma guy for sure. But I said, you know, what’s, what do you think of, you know, the content? And kind of universally the answer’s kind of where something like this. He could be controversial. But at the same time, there’s a bit of a healthy respect, because you’re willing to speak truth for power to power. Several people told me, Hey, he calls us out on some stuff. You know, some of it might be a little bit overboard, but most of the time, he’s right. He shouldn’t be calling us out on some stuff, which I was very impressed to kind of hear that as a general consensus from people that there’s a healthy place for watchdogs and you would, you know, you would speak truth to power and you call people out in certain situations and I think it was actually well received and you gained a lot of credibility in the industry for doing that.
John Mack (PG): Well, that’s good to know. I mean, I heard that from a lot of people and lots of times people would say to me, Well, you know, I would say the same thing if I could, but you know, I’m going to keep my job. So I didn’t have to worry about it. But actually, I made a lot of friends.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Those were all private comments, by the way. I didn’t ask them to make a blog about it or anything, go back to the FDA, you thought about wearing the Hawaiian shirt.
John Mack (PG): But my wife told me not to.
RJ Lewis (EHS): You were wearing the suit but tell me the story about the Sidewiki…
John Mack (PG): Oh, yeah. Well, Google was in the audience. Google also would give presentations there; I forget exactly what that presentation was. But I use it as an occasion to yell out that, you know, Mr. Google tear down the Sidewiki, and that was because of this, I guess add on that they had for browsers where you can make comments on any website that would appear sort of it in the side panel somewhere.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Yeah, probably he doesn’t remember the Sidewiki. Google would automatically open a little window on the right-hand side, is it right or left?
John Mack (PG): Probably left.
RJ Lewis (EHS): and you could basically comment on people’s websites
John Mack (PG): Right so…
RJ Lewis (EHS): you can imagine in pharma highly regulated
John Mack (PG): Yeah.
RJ Lewis (EHS): they were freaking out.
John Mack (PG): I went into viagra.com and I said, you know, I took for Viagra, my left arm fell off. Well, I didn’t track it for how long it might had been out there.
RJ Lewis (EHS): But why did you get into this business? What got you started on blogging, about pharma marketing?
John Mack (PG): So, when I got laid off and as a consultant, I was working for a consulting company, helping them do websites for pharmaceutical companies in the .com bust, you know, a lot of people got laid off. So I was kind of older at that time. And I said, Yeah, you know, what am I gonna do? I’m probably never going to get a job. You know, so because I didn’t talk to you at that time RJ, maybe I should’ve. So I said, You know, I get this listserv, and you know, there’s number of people on them, you know, I should get into some kind of business and like publishing, I like the pharmaceutical industry. I want to publish a newsletter, if you have a listserv, you want to keep people engaged. And the best way to do that is to post something regularly. I mean, we used to use it for discussions, but then that kind of trailed off, you know, I noticed and these people have less and less time, even down to today. So my whole strategy kind of segued with that, but at that time, people wanted content and I thought a newsletter would be cool. And I had experience doing these highlight bulletins when my work with RJ at the physicians’ online. We would go to conferences where you’d have medical writers go to conferences. They would write up the presentations by physicians about drugs. And then they were distributed to physicians’ online and the next day. So what I said, you know, what I could do is I could go to pharmaceutical marketing conferences and, and summarize them. And then that developed into the business of how I developed the content. And how I got to start working with different people in the pharmaceutical industry and how I got advertising cause the main advertisers were people who were running these conferences, and also the suppliers who would have displays at the conferences and so on. So that’s how that develops. So that developed into a pharma marketing news.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Right. What was your reception at first? I mean, were you welcomed into the community were people put off by you?
John Mack (PG): No, yeah.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Did they understand what you’re trying to accomplish?
John Mack (PG): Well, you know, at that time, I was just saying, hey, look, you know, I thought your presentation was great. I’d like to write it up and you know, let you kind of review it, we can I interview you a little bit more, get some more details. And it was very well received lots of times, I would cover mostly the people who are sponsors in products and services to sell and I thought, you know, they weren’t just pitching me the product, they were making some good presentation, but then it developed into a business, you know, it’s kinda advertorial that would may call it, but some of it was, I gotta admit.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Were you controversial out of the gate? Were you speaking truth at the very beginning, or did that develop over time?
John Mack (PG): No, no. That developed after the blog started, I mean, with the newsletter, he said, you know, I have some opinions, I don’t, you know, I’ve been seeing and hearing some things about pharmaceutical marketing that maybe is a little bit unethical. Questionable, because before that I had started the internet healthcare ethics movement that Dr. Kap, what was his…
RJ Lewis (EHS): Dr. Coop.
John Mack (PG): Coop. they got into trouble for putting out some recommendations about hospitals, and that they were actually paid ads. So I was saying, you know, and I was doing PharmInfoNet at the time, and I said, you know, we need to have some ethical principles otherwise, you know, reputable companies that pharmaceutical companies may not want to advertise with us. And so we started this coalition, and they work with pharmaceutical companies and others to develop this code of ethics.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Did that evolve into the HON, the HONcode?
John Mack (PG): The HONcode was, was sort of side with that they were in Europe, mostly.
RJ Lewis (EHS): What did you come up with your committee?
John Mack (PG): This is a code of ethics, the code of e-Health ethics, the e-Health Code of Ethics.
RJ Lewis (EHS): And that was the first of its kind at the time.
John Mack (PG): Yeah, it was put together by a real coalition. It wasn’t just pharmaceutical companies and others. So that’s got me thinking about what the ethical ramifications are of pharmaceutical marketing, how could it be done more ethically and, and I would have opinions. So in my newsletter, I would have the front page would be like, three 400 words, that I could write my opinion every month. And then I said, Hey, you know what, I really like this kind of writing and I like doing this. You know, the other stuff is interesting, but it’s hard work. You have to get all the facts and everything. Who wants to deal with facts?
RJ Lewis (EHS): Today, not many people apparently
John Mack (PG): So, I said, you know, hey, there’s this new thing. It’s a blog. So that was 2005. So that’s when I started marketing blog. yeah.
RJ Lewis (EHS): And you and others were the early adopters of social. You were on Twitter very early. Tell me about how you did that. You built a tremendous social following. Tell me about that.
John Mack (PG): I met with somebody for lunch it in our town, he was a vendor, I forget what product he was working on. He said, hey, did you ever try Twitter? No, what’s Twitter? What the heck is that? That was in 2008. And as soon as I got home, I signed on to Twitter. And I just picked a name, I mean, a handle, you know, and I said, Hey, how am I gonna… I’ll go with pharma guy.
John Mack (PG): There was just like, you know?
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Spur of the moment.
John Mack (PG): Pharma guy…I didn’t even think about it..
RJ Lewis (EHS): That’s how the brand was born with Twitter handle? That’s awesome. And now it’s a common communication channel even for the President. You interviewed a lot of people over the years. Tell me about the most memorable person that you interviewed or spoke with on the record for one of your pharma news pieces. What really stands out in your memory?
John Mack (PG): Well, I was thinking about that the most famous person let’s say is an IndyCar driver, Charlie Kimball. I don’t know if he still is. He was the Novo Nordisk spokesperson for an overlock Flex Pen it was for diabetes. So he was a real diabetic who would have to use the drug before race, he would have a special helmet that had orange juice in it incase while driving, and he was all logoed everything, you know, his car, his uniform, and everything. He made a tweet on Twitter on his Twitter account; it was the first-ever pharma branded tweet about Novo Pen. He said something like, I’m at the race and I just shot up with NoVo Flex Pen or something. He didn’t say, he didn’t say shoot up but whatever. So I said, Oh, that’s sleazy Twitter, spam, you know because you’re just mentioning the product. And here are people following you on Twitter because they’re interested in that you’re diabetic and you’re racing, and you have a lot of things to say. But I just thought it was, you know, a little spammy.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Shameless promotion, shameless product promotion.
John Mack (PG): Yeah. And I said, you know, and your tweet looks a little bit like those Ad Words that the FDA sent out these famous 14 Letters. We can talk about that later. And it looks Just like that, you know, as I said, what’s with that, but amazingly, the NoVo’s Associate Director of Product Communications contacted me, and we got together, and I interviewed him on a podcast I believe. And he signed an autograph, and we had breakfast at the Brick Hotel in Newtown. And we even did a photo shoot together and I was wearing the other Hawaiian shirt. And that photo became now my profile like, cut me out of that photo and used it for my profile on all social media.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Tweeting on behalf of brands has had some controversy on its own and Kim Kardashian got in trouble a little while ago, and it is it really interesting to see where all the lines blur you know, cause some things are simply out of the brand’s control now in the case it’s a paid sponsors a different story, but you know, Elon Musk, with his tweets that now have to reviewed but the question as to whether or not they are reviewed? Probably not. those are those are controllable, right? Because the entity that works for the organization or a spokesperson. But then sometimes you can have, you know, random people tweeting about things. And it does raise lots of questions. It’s new the way we all communicate today in such an open and public forum. It’s pretty interesting. What are the memories do you have about the podcast you’ve done in the interviews?
John Mack (PG): Well, you know, there were a lot of interesting people. But, you know, the podcasts were not that controversial, again, I had to make money. So a lot of them were from people who have we’re working with the pharmaceutical industry and I thought, you know, that’s a good products and services and we would, I would try to talk about issues and how their service or product relates to that or solve problems, you know, or so I still was interested in that I wasn’t critical of everybody doing things. But you know.
RJ Lewis (EHS): You’re early in that space too, podcasting too, weren’t you? you embraced social media very early, podcasting very early. You’re next cutting edge.
John Mack (PG): I think 2006 to 2012. I think I did over 200 podcasts. Yeah.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): You’d mentioned 14 letters that the FDA sent. Can you expound a little bit more on that?
John Mack (PG): Sure. Those were letters that really have to do with the Google AdWords and what Google was promoting at the time. I guess this goes back to 2006 again. They would promote and I was at a conference where somebody from Google was making a presentation about how to use AdWords to the pharmaceutical industry? And it was just like that sleazy lever mirror, whatever it was a tweet, you know, words, here’s the product it treats X so it would have the drug. So, at that time, people said there’s this one-click rule, which means that well, the FDA will allow you to have a website with product claims on the front page. But you’d have to have one click to the side effects.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Right to the indication
John Mack (PG): Right.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Yeah.
John Mack (PG): But the industry evolved from there and they have the side effects on the same page. So, they didn’t pay much attention to the one-click rule.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Well the One-click. I remembered that for a long. I mean, it had to be over two years, probably closer to three years that everybody in the industry was under this assumption.
John Mack (PG): Right.
RJ Lewis (EHS): That because the FDA hadn’t acted on these Google AdWords that said, that said brand plus indication, and they were under the assumption that was okay to be had the fair to be one click away. And the industry operated that way for at least two years. Well, remember that the FDA came out with those letters in 2009.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): So three years after this.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Yeah.
John Mack (PG): After I, at this conference, I called out this person who was making them, how to make these ads. And my good friend next to me was Harry Sweeney. He was Chief of a Healthcare Marketing company in Philadelphia. And he just said to me, you know, I could strangle that girl from Google, you know, I called her out. I said, you know, I think this violates FDA regulations because it doesn’t have… and then people in the audience got all upset and say, well, it’s only one click away, you know, and so it was a big argument.
RJ Lewis (EHS): For the agencies, everybody at the time was saying now one click is okay, right standard at the time, it became this kind of acceptable thing, the large part because the FDA never did weigh-in or was asleep or whatever. But eventually, three years later, 14 letters all on the same day, bam, bam, bam.
John Mack (PG): That’s right.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Yeah. And that was a big wake up call. I remember that.
John Mack (PG): I don’t know if the, it took the FDA that long to read my blog post about the Girl from Google.
RJ Lewis (EHS): I had a similar story when I was presenting at a conference on user-generated content because, for a long time, pharma was unwilling to promote itself in areas that had user-generated content. And I stood up at a conference and I showed a screenshot of Google with a typical search for like type 2 diabetes or something. And I circled in red, all of the links themselves that were coming up in Google results, which were user-generated. And I said, guys, you’re already all-over generated content by Google, look. I think at the time, it was like 67% of all the links were user-generated content that we’re coming up, and I literally had somebody in the front row, go sssshhh… sssshhhh.. Feel like, Don’t, don’t take that away from us too. Suddenly, it’s like, okay, okay we can’t buy Google anymore. It’s, it’s interesting, right? The history is fascinating. Tell me about some of the other memories that stand out specifically as pharma guy, pharma guy was kind of a brand in and of itself. And you’ve done some things, as you pointed out that were controversial. You know, did you ever face any backlash or what was kind of stands out in your memory in terms of backlash from something that you might have done?
John Mack (PG): Oh yeah. Well, there was a couple of things. There’s an April Fool’s post that I did in 2009. And it was a few weeks, a couple of weeks before the April letters, 14 letters, where I had a phony press release from the FDA, saying, you know, I forget exactly what the Press Release said, it said it’s going to release new guidance that will help the pharmaceutical industry use the internet. And the title was New FDA Draft Guidance Aims to Improve Health Information Obtained via Social Media Websites, something like that. And the problem was people didn’t read all the way down to the end and realize that it was April 1st, because I said in the FDA’s new guide, guidance will help them…this is like the FDA talking supposed to be in the press release. “The FDA’s new guidance will help empower these patients with accurate information from manufacturers, rather than relying upon unsubstantiated claims made by anonymous online sources. It’s also way cool!’ I tried to put in something there to warn them. So, you know, I got a lot of grief from that because the next day I had to publish an apology, you see, I had a little graphic that said, “Don’t hate me.”
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Reminds me a little bit of a War of the Worlds when you do the whole broadcast and everybody thinks the Martians are coming because they didn’t listen to the beginning that said, this is a fake broadcast don’t take it seriously.
RJ Lewis (EHS): That was your War of the Worlds moment, right?
John Mack (PG): People need to read everything. Just don’t read the headlines. You know what I mean?
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Yeah, good lesson to learn.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Well, our attention span, apparently now is even less than that of a goldfish. Goldfish has a 3 second attention span apparently. Humans have less as of recently.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Probably thanks to social media. right?
John Mack (PG): Maybe.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Yeah.
John Mack (PG): But well, you know, one thing I noticed when starting the newsletter, the newsletter would have articles that were like 1500-2000 words. And then the blog would have maybe 800 words. And then Twitter had started off with how many characters?
Don Langsdorf (EHS): 140
John Mack (PG): Then they went to 2 something
Don Langsdorf (EHS): 280. I think they doubled it in the last year or so.
John Mack (PG): And so, you know, I showed the graphic, how less and less I’m doing you know I’m writing more tweets, but…
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Little sound bites instead of full article, right? So, you just gave an example of how your voice lends itself to positive change in the industry, right? Where you were speaking truth to power, you’re calling this out, and there was a positive effect of that, right? So the letters came out after that, whether that was related directly or not, right? If it was just coincidental timing. Can you think of any other examples of the positive change that you saw come from your voice being out there and from being pharma guy?
John Mack (PG): Me specifically? Well, might have been little things like if it was a pharmaceutical company, I remember that they would hire blog writers’ patients, to write nice articles about the product or about on their blogs, but they went in, so they would call this is our XYZ team. They agreed to write articles in their blog, but they wouldn’t reveal that they were actually paying them to do this. And the bloggers would not reveal to their readers that they were getting paid to do this. So again, I was at a conference in London and I said, You know, I don’t you think that this information should be revealed to the readers that you’re paying bloggers to do this and that the bloggers should tell their readers, they’re doing this, “oh, it’s not gonna influence my writing, you know?”
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Well, that may be, but it still impacts the perception of credibility, you know?
John Mack (PG): But you know, the blogger wouldn’t change her mind. She said I don’t have to tell my readers they know already. And but the pharmaceutical company did. So they changed. They put on their website, you know that we do pay them and, you know, and so I found that the pharmaceutical industry and lots of times were more responsive than, you know, some of the bloggers out there who were trying to make money off of it.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Influences is an interesting question, right? Because there’s direct payment. I mean, you said a little while ago, that you went out for lunch with a Novo Spokesperson, and that made you feel positive about the experiences and you wrote, you know, is that influence was that payment? You know, I guess it depends on who picked up lunch.
John Mack (PG): I forget.
RJ Lewis (EHS): But I remember a great story. And I thought this approach was genius. I think it was Lily that did the presentation and event where they said, you know, we’re trying to figure out how do we interact with these bloggers, you know, because they didn’t necessarily want to get into the pay an influencer type situation, but they also knew that there was a lot of negative things coming out in blogs. And they also knew that they were somewhat limited on how and how they could communicate with the audiences in any kind of a real-time way. So, what they did instead was they identified, maybe 15 or so influential bloggers in their space. They invited them all to Indianapolis, and they said, Hey, come on out and sit with us.
John Mack (PG): One of them. They were invited to Florida a nice little resort.
RJ Lewis (EHS): I don’t know about that one. But, but the outcome of this, I mean, there wasn’t payment. I mean, they probably did cover hotel and airfare. Maybe they did, maybe they, I don’t know. But the sit down was, hey, we want to tell you why we’re not responding. Because we see your blog comments, we see lots of comments, we see people calling us out saying Where’s Lily? Why aren’t they answering these questions? And we want to share with you the regulatory scrutiny that we’re under and how these communications have to be monitored and what we can and can’t say etc. And they in a very fair and aboveboard way kind of outline the challenges that pharmaceutical companies are under and explain themselves as to this is why we’re not active participants in your blog and why we can’t always immediately answer a question an hour after it was answered, ask them those things.
John Mack (PG): Sure.
RJ Lewis (EHS): And, and they went a long way. I mean, the takeaway from that conference was that you know, almost universally, they went back and they wrote more positively generally, and kind of said, we understand now better the challenges that these companies are facing, because they can’t just jump in here and banter back and forth like we are because they’re regulated, and they have to be cautious of what they say and how they say it. And it has to be accompanied by fair balance.
John Mack (PG): Yeah, I remember that. That was good because yeah, lots of patients don’t realize that. But I think get comments from pharmaceutical companies and You know, they did have conversations with me that way, because I wasn’t really talking about their products per say.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): It’s certainly still an influencer though an influencer in the marketplace. And I would think I mean; did they ever contact you to be to take part in one of those sessions?
John Mack (PG): No.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): As an influencer? Or did they see you more as like a watchdog?
John Mack (PG): Well, they might have seen me more as a kind of like they would look at the press, you know, independent, you can’t control them. You can’t pay them off. You can’t, you know, but actually Pfizer would have conferences for the for where the press would participate. And about how do you report on the pharmaceutical industry? I was never on a panel there. But you know, yeah, there is a way to handle the press. Obviously, everybody in the pharmaceutical industry has to have press relations, communications people. And that’s kind of how like I was handled. That’s why I went out to lunch with Charlie Kimball. I really, you know, I respected the guy and I wanted him to do better things with Twitter, even after the lunch I might have said some things about his tweets. I know he wasn’t writing all his tweets himself. That’s when it got into the more promoting stuff. I mean, after all, the guy has already has a car with it all over. He goes, he went to special meetings with diabetic children, you know, so he did a lot for them already. I mean, why do you have to go through all that on Twitter as well, you know, he was doing a good job getting the word out about how you can lead a normal good life, even if you have diabetes, which I thought was a good message.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): The message may have been muddied.
John Mack (PG): Well, it was only like on Twitter. So, you know, you have to sometimes think the world is not that big. You know, it’s this is just Twitter. Let’s not get all excited about it. Unfortunately, today, people are much more too much. excited by Twitter and what people say on Twitter. It’s not the most important thing in the world.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): It’s interesting about the social media part of marketing, I think, especially when you look back at this time in the mid-2000s, is it was this emerging technology, people weren’t really sure what the etiquette was or how they should be utilizing it in a in an adverse advertising sense. And I think it’s interesting that it was a pharmaceutical company that was starting to push the boundaries with that because they’re usually more conservative.
John Mack (PG): Well, you know, we the unconference people, we were the ones who were trying to push them into social media, we said the pharmaceutical industry should definitely be in social. We weren’t saying don’t get into social media, be afraid of it. We’re saying you could do it. Do it the right way.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): What were the benefits that you saw there that you were pushing so hard?
John Mack (PG): Well, this is why communications were going, if you know you’re gonna communicate with, you know, people, you have to use social media, you know, that is basically it. I mean, even today, you know, lots of people are not reading newspapers or magazines.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Right, it’s a real-time conversation with your customer.
RJ Lewis (EHS): remember standing up a conference and saying this, you know, what, why are we calling it social media instead of just calling it customer service? Because that’s what social media felt like and still feels like to me in a big way. It’s a channel to communicate with your customers. And that kind of goes back to pharma being regulated, and how easy is it for them to have these communications in real-time. And you can get your flight changed ff you tweet to Southwest, you know, there’s they’re on it and they’re instantly responding and they’re making changes and they’ll work with customers in real-time. You know, it’s a bit harder, not impossible by any stretch but harder for pharma to do that.
John Mack (PG): Well. They did some pretty interesting things. They would have these chats, tweet, I don’t know if they still do that on Twitter, but…That was that was pretty advanced. I thought I forget what company who did it so I blogged about it beforehand, so oh my god, what’s gonna happen? You know, they, you know, you can’t control the conversation, like you said, and there were people on it, it was at something to do with the cancer drug and the woman got on there and they were complaining about how she lost her hair. You know, but basically, those tweets were kind of ignored. You don’t have to answer somebody who has negative things to say about you. And there was a different conversation going on like side so if you did an analysis, you would find that people were much more participating in the real discussion than in the and they were recognized as just being anti the company, they had an issue, which was kind of really off-topic, so they weren’t paying any attention to them.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Yeah, this is self-moderation factor that happens.
RJ Lewis (EHS): That’s what I love about online communities is the self-moderation factor if there’s enough participants, you know, the off-color comments and the people who are taking the conversation in a wrong direction. It’s kind of self-policing.
John Mack (PG): Yeah.
RJ Lewis (EHS): At least if it’s truly human participants, where it gets a little luck is when you got, you know, others in there trying to influence the conversation, but generally speaking, I think social media is pretty good at that kind of self-correction. Tell me, you did this for over 20 years, what are the biggest learnings that you had through the whole 20 plus year experience?
John Mack (PG): I thought about this and I think I started out trying to be a consultant and I did some consulting work and you know, it was difficult for me because if you’re a consultant you have to be how should I say, Yes man, a good thing to say? I don’t know. But you know, you had to be very politically correct and careful and, you know, unless you’re a really high powered consultant, you just couldn’t tell your clients you got to do it this way, you know, you go with the flow, especially if the guy who hired you would like to do X, but you think Y is really the right thing to do. You’re gonna have to gravitate towards X, you know, because he’s paying the bills. And I just figured, well yeah, this is not getting me anywhere. You know, I’m not getting hired, opinionated side coming out.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Opinionated side be coming out.
John Mack (PG): Yeah, I got to try some new tactics. So, I started out by, let me be a critic of the industry and see if that gets me anywhere, it got me a lot more attention. And you know, social media is really about attention. And so that kind of worked for me and got more business because no matter what you say if you have an audience, that’s what businesses are looking for.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Oh, very, very cool. I have a consulting story where I remember college professor of mine said. There’s, there’s only a couple of reasons people hire consultancy that they want to validate their own opinion and they need CYA so that if it goes South and you say, well the consultant thinks this and you’re trying to basically build political will, but the best way to get hired a lot of times just actually to be more controversial.
John Mack (PG): Actually, I did the, after that, I got called into pharmaceutical companies, he said, we want you to give a presentation to our social media people about the right way to do things and they could take my advice or not. It wasn’t like I was hired to build something for them. I was…
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Yeah, but the honesty was respected and they wanted you to share that with, with their team.
John Mack (PG): And it was like, you know, I was a guest and they pay my expenses and you know, just like anybody who does public speaking or whatever. After a while, I got some work during that.
RJ Lewis (EHS): So you saw the relaunch? We relaunched the website and that he would need to use the project manager and did the heavy lift. I’m relaunching your 20 plus years of, of content into a new.
John Mack (PG): Very, very professional-looking, very professional looking. Mine was like so back, you know, old school, you know, with all my stupid colors and stuff. I got to reign that in. But a very nicely organized and, the navigation is easy. I just, I liked the look of it, and it looks like it’s, you know, well put together site.
Don Langsdorf (EHS): Thanks, it’s great to have your seal of approval on it for sure. Yeah. We saw some overwhelming response when we relaunched. Um, a lot of folks still thought they thought maybe you were relaunching too. We got a lot of great positive feedback about that.
John Mack (PG): No, I’m not that creative.
RJ Lewis (EHS): I was trying to modernize for a new era. Tell us about what you’re doing now. Cause that letter shocked me when I first got it. That you’re retiring, but it turns out you’re really not retiring. You’re just changing focus with what do you have?
John Mack (PG): Well, I’m into politics now.
RJ Lewis (EHS): Wait a minute, didn’t you just say you got out of consulting because it was too political?
John Mack (PG): Now, I’m a Newtown township supervisor. Can you believe it? Whatever drove me to that. I don’t know. But you know, retirement that I’m actually doing something. You know what, my wife is still working, so I’m not going to sit home alone and do nothing. I don’t play golf. So I got to do something and I was active in my community and the homeowner’s association and I got a lot of satisfaction out of helping people and I thought, Hey, there’s this opening and the supervisors, somebody retired or left. I said, you know, I could get into that. You know, it’s like working in the homeowners association, but on a bigger scale.
RJ Lewis (EHS): That’s my hometown. So, I’m glad you have an office speaking truth to power there. What do you want to achieve in politics?
John Mack (PG): Well, it’s maybe kind of the same thing. So I try to achieve with being pharma guy. I really want this to be, I want the government to be more transparent and I want citizens to be better informed than to participate. And I’m using the same tools I used, you know, blog, Twitter, YouTube, all the social media tools. The residents love what I’m doing. I get all positive feedback from them. We’ll see how long that lasts.
RJ Lewis (EHS): We appreciate you coming in and, and talking to us. So we’re looking forward to the next chapter and we hope we can continue to build on your legacy and make you proud as we take it into the next generation.
John Mack (PG): Thanks for the interview and I really appreciate talking about myself, but enough about me. Tell me about, bout you, and what you plan to do with Pharma Marketing? Where do you see it going?
RJ Lewis (EHS): Thank you John, thank you for entrusting us to carry on your legacy. We really appreciate it. And it’s a great question. Where is it? Where’s it going to go? That’s going to bring us to our second episode. Let’s, let’s talk about that in episode two.
Listen to this podcast, Ep. 001 – John Mack here: https://www.pharma-mkting.com/the-pharma-marketing-podcast/