PharmExec Blog

A Tentative Eye from Pharma

HealthTalker head Andy Levitt returned a bit bleary eyed from San Francisco on Friday morning to attend eyeforpharma’s 3rd Annual eCommunication and Online Marketing Summit.

Day Two of this event focused first on how physicians are using the web. CEO Daniel Palestrant from Sermo gave a compelling overview of how his company is becoming the dominant player in the physician online space. In contrast to the consumer-focused search and portal sites that I commented about in my previous post who are still competing to earn the trust of Internet health seekers, Sermo appears to have won the trust game with US physicians.

Sermo announced a new partnership with Bloomberg the day before at Health 2.0, and that they expect to break the 100,000 mark of physician registrations by the time the rest of us eat our holiday turkey dinner next month. What’s exciting to see about Sermo, among other things, is the deep level of engagement from their physician user base. Physicians are finding value in connecting with other colleagues around the country, engaging in the community, providing second opinions and collaborating on various issues.

Palestrant continues to challenge the status quo, announcing a new pricing model that will go into effect in the weeks ahead for Sermo’s CME offering that should threaten traditional approaches by other companies in that arena. The smart money from pharma should continue to flow in their direction.

RJ Lewis of e-Healthcare Solutions did a nice job moderating the discussion in the afternoon, addressing online spending and leveraging social networks for consumers. His comments about pharma’s uncertain – and perhaps underwhelming – approach to online marketing raised the prickly issue of proving ROI. Several pharma managers expressed frustration about this issue, noting the perceived lack of a clear ROI remains the key reason that limits their spend from senior management.

RJ noted an AdAge study that revealed how pharma over-indexes in both TV and print (as compared to the CPG industry), with more than 90 percent of media dollars going to those two channels. However, pharma spends less than half of what other industries do in the online space. The irony here is that the web is arguably more measurable.

The topic of how to measure ROI is certainly not new. It’s a reasonable question, of course, and one that must be asked. But is it also safe to say that this question may often be a diversion based on an underlying issue of risk avoidance in our highly-conservative industry?

What if the year-end bonus for the brand manager – or even for the entire senior leadership team, for that matter – was tied to “testing new ideas” and sharing what was learned as a result inside the organization? Should it be? What affect might that have on innovation in pharma? I’d love to see that model embraced, and I’ll bet that many brand managers would welcome it, too.

We’ll probably hear more about this issue next week at the DTC Perspectives annual fall meeting in New Jersey.

Photo by bensheldon

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  1. Mark Gleason
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The pharma-physician interaction is considered the most valuable. You miseed the first day of the eComm, that demonstrated a model of live video detailing that connects physicians with pharma education reps covering clinical data on demand. Physicians have little time during office hours to see reps, but need to understand the clinical data about the drugs they prescribe — right patients, watch outs, etc. This alternative physician access channel is driving 10s of thousands of interactions each month according to Verispan and is gaining traction — adopted by 7 leading pharma companies. Look up The ROI potential is pretty obvious when they are getting 7-15 minute rep-physician interactions and access to 450,000+ physicians through 35+ physician websites.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Be glad you missed the first day of the eComm. It was over-run with the self-serving salesy speak featured in the commentary above.

  3. Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:47 pm | Permalink


    It’s worth noting that when the audience was polled on the questions “Who has NOT yet seen a positive ROI from online efforts?” only a few hands went up. When asked, “Who HAS seen a positive ROI from online?” the vast majority of the hands went up. Brands, agencies and publishers all need to take responsibility to ensure their online efforts are converting to sales. This means Brands need to adequately fund these programs and go to bat with their organizational resistance at all levels (including med/reg) to give these programs a chance to succeed, agencies need to supply excellent needle moving creative and optimization skills, and publishers need to deliver the right audience. The web provides an excellent customer communications channel with both physicians and patients. Listening and dialogging with one’s customers is a core tenant of successful business. What is ROI on NOT engaging with customers?

  4. Posted June 24, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    There’s always new challenges in using web as a tool to provide a genuine health care advice from a licensed doctors.

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