I was amazed at the more than 700 women attending the 2008 Womenâ€™s Healthcare Business Association (HBA) national conference today. As a first timer at the event (distinguished by the bright orange sticker on my name badge), it was easy to engage in conversationsâ€”even for those weary of the press. And for marketers, there was only one thing on their mind:
â€œThe first thing out of everyoneâ€™s mouth when they come to my table is, â€˜How are you handling the new PhRMA guidelines?â€™â€ said Tammy Kornfeld, senior account manager of Beyond Branding at Compas. The new marketing code is set to take effect in January 2009.
Kornfeld said the company is distributing flash drives with presentations explaining the tactics pharma companies can employ under the new regulations. â€œReps may not be able to pass out pads and pens anymore, but there are many things that they will still be able to do,â€ she said. Kornfeld also added that, though the gifts are gone, corporate material can still be distributed.
Times have dramatically changed for the industry, said Chris Adams Kaufman, senior director of marketing operations at King Pharmaceuticals, from when she began as a sales representative more than 30 years ago. â€œWhen I started, profits were huge, sales were going up all the time, the drugs were all patented,â€ she said. â€œAnd now it is more of a challenge.â€
Kaufman says differentiating your brand in the face of generic competition and selling products in an increasingly restricted managed healthcare system are the major issues confronting marketers. And while the new PhRMA guidelines will pull back on the activities companies can conduct (and the number of pens that they can pass out), Kaufman believes the industry can easily overcome that barrier with a little creativity. Despite a shrinking sales force, she says, reps are still integral to delivering a brand. And we shouldnâ€™t forget it.
â€œThere are business clichÃ©s that say there are two jobs in America: You either make it or sell it,â€ said Kaufman. â€œBeing a sales rep demonstrates you have the intelligence to do the job, learn the therapeutic category, learn the marketing place, understand the clinical studies, and acquire both oral and written communication skills.â€ She’s sure that reps can learn how to maneuver in the new environment as well.
The trends that surfaced today are clear: Itâ€™s time to prepare to enter a new era of marketing to physicians, be cognizant and ready for the inevitable challenges, and remember the invaluable service of our sales force teams.