Thursday, June 05, 2014

Pharma "Insiders": Change Enemies or Back Stabbers?

My friend Rich Meyer, author of World of DTC Marketing Blog, once again has gone on a rant. This time his target is pharma "insiders."

"One of the reasons that pharma marketing has been in a funk is the simple fact that there is a lack of people who are willing to change processes to focus on patients," Meyer says. "Instead, most pharma people are too busy attending meaningless meetings from morning till night and trying to 'get along' with others rather than rock a boat that very much needs rocking. My personal belief is that most pharma executives are afraid to hire smarter people than they are. They are afraid that people won’t fit in or that these people could invoke real change. This is very much an industry problem and frankly it hasn’t changed in a long long time," says Meyer.

Meyer claims pharma insiders are the "Enemy of change" (see here).

Let's forget for a moment that Meyer starts out lambasting another friend of mine as an example of a pharma "insider" and focus instead on Meyer's premise that ensconced insiders prevent change.

I have a slightly different view, which is that "insiders" are given a short rope to make change but end up being hung by the rope instead (i.e., figuratively "stabbed in the back"; see, for example, "Is This the Fate of Pharma Social Media Pioneers?" and lyrics at the end of this post). These pharma "insider" change agents then become "outsiders," which is precisely what my friend who is targeted by Meyer has done.

So, it's not the "insiders" per se who block change, it's the people who hire them; i.e., higher-level executives. In recognition of that, here are my revised lyrics of the great O'Jays hit: Back Stabbers.

"Pharma Insiders"

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The pharma insiders (pharma insiders)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The pharma insiders (pharma insiders)

All you pharma marketing pioneers
And you really care, yeah, yeah
Then it's all of you pioneers
Who better beware, yeah yeah
Somebody's out to get your job
A few of your bosses they sure look shady
Blades are long, clenched tight in their fist
Aimin' straight at your back
And I don't think they'll miss

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take credit
The pharma insiders (pharma insiders)
I keep gettin' all these memos
From bosses, yeah, what they doin to me
They come to my cubicle
Again and again and again and again, yeah
So are they there to make me fail
I don't even be there but they just keep on comin'
What can I do to get on the right track
I wish they'd take some of these knives off my back

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The pharma insiders
(Pharma insiders)
Low down, dirty

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
Smiling faces
Smiling faces sometimes tell lies (pharma insiders)
(They smile in your face)
I don't need low down
Dirty bastards (pharma insiders)

Meanwhile, who do YOU think are pharma (social media) marketing pioneers that deserve recognition? Please use this SURVEY to nominate someone for the Fifth Annual Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award.

Who do you think is a Pharma Social Media Pioneer?
Who do you think is a Pharma Social Media Pioneer?


  1. John: When we join a company, any company or industry, we have the opportunity to both add value and bring change to industries or organizations or we can play it safe and try and fit in. Right now the pharma industry is very much in need of change and change agents or else the industry risks its very future as a viable business.

    May I remind you that your friend has no substantial accomplishments adding value to ANY pharma brands or growing sales of existing products. It's esay to throw up your hands and saty "the hell with this" and become an industry outsider but in doing so we are giving up on the people we very much need to help. Our job is not to take the easy path it's to try and take the road less traveled and implement change. We have to be willing to do what we feel is right rather than just playing it safe. I was able to do this with a community forum in on a launch product as well as develop a pharma website that was number 1 in conversion. I did it via a lot of hard work and hours but I am proud of what I did and the value I brought.

    You miss a lot by never having worked in a pharma organization or as a consultant and while I enjoy your posts you need to see the problems the industry faces within the organizations. If we are hired and we are not willing to try and change people/reams than we are just working to collect a check and what we do is too damn important for that.

  2. Rich: Is pharma that much different than any other large organization when it comes to "insiders," "back stabbers," etc.? I think not. While I haven't worked for pharma, I have been employed by other companies and small as they were it was still difficult to be a "change agent" from within. I believe that it is much easier -- and more rewarding personally -- to be a change agent from outside.

  3. In the current system that exists under the oligarchic umbrella of our various branches of government, and the lack of critical thinking and fear-induced docility of the general public, the only way to make real change, in the interest of PEOPLE, is to get outside of these stifling corporate boxes.

  4. Richard, you do understand that this hesitance is steeped in the fact that patients do not directly drive the pharma business. Payors and MDs do some compassion is warranted here. As healthcare continues to consumerize and patients bear more of the cost burden and thus become more of the purchase decision maker, I think you will see a corresponding shift in how we do business in this regard and more insiders will be open to your view of the world.

    I am not sure those meetings are meaningless as much as meaning something different than what you think they should. :-) I will give you 50% on that as one who has spent lots of time in those meetings myself.

    I do not dispute your "hiring fears" point but this is less a pharma, than a bureaucracy thing, which we see all over and which is not overcome without changes in incentives and leadership requirements or grave external threats.

    Aren’t all insiders the “enemy of change”, why only cite pharma? Now the obvious has been stated, let’s convene a discussion on what is being done to identify and encourage those insiders who’re change neutral to friendly, as no org is made up 100% of insiders. Yay! And to be fair even insiders think and act along a continuum being enemies of only some, not all, change.

    Let’s not also underestimate the strength of that supra-presence in any org called culture, which eats strategy for breakfast, and expels any individuals not savvy enough to effect change without being seen as a virus.

    I agree with, and have experienced, what John Mack describes. No hard feelings. It is my role in the industry and I relish and am grateful for it.

    I suppose we could also examine the definition of an insider, 1) one not interested in change, 2) anyone employed by a pharma or 3) one with the decisions rights and resources to change. These are 3 different scopes of players.

    Richard, I agree with your point about the obligation to bring change but which change and what magnitude is recognizable as viable change is always haunting us. He is speaking of a particular and debatable change depending on one’s “theory of the business”. As to Richard’s accomplishments of forums, websites and conversions. I have done the same multiple times and yet we could debate if those changes were worth noting in the scheme of this discussion we are having now.

    As to your statement about John’s friend, can you really be so intimately familiar with his career track record as to know that it is so lack luster?

    I agree with the fault of throwing hands and outsiding as long as we acknowledge that one can outside without throwing up their hands as change requires the joint work of both in- and outsiders. John has done as much to effect change in this industry from his external bullypulpit all these years as those of us inside. He has been great “pundit pressure” for my work over the years while occasionally calling me to account in productive ways. :-)

    I agree about taking harder roads but we all are experienced enough to know that the masses usually do not take the hard road, in the interest of orgs an their customers, in the way they do for themselves and their families if they even do so for them.

    And there is an interesting line between safe and right as if one is not sufficiently safe, they are not around to do right. Hmmm. Check this blog I recently wrote on tempered radicalism:

    Richard, why are you not inside a pharma company today working the bureaucracy for change from a Sales or Marketing VP role. It is not a question to fault him but only to call out that there are different courses for different horses and we all have our role to play. We should also be wary of criticizing others for not assuming roles we ourselves are not assuming, without balanced explanation as to why we are not, or constructive advice on what they can do better. We have to do more than just call out “enemies”.

    Thanks again for the thoughts.

    1. Craig,

      As always, I appreciate your comments, which has widened the topic of discussion quite a bit.

      In particular, this comment hit home: "We should also be wary of criticizing others for not assuming roles we ourselves are not assuming..."

      I have occasionally :-) found myself criticizing others when I myself have never been in their shoes. Most of the time I try to be positive and apply "pundit pressure," as you point out.

      Sometimes, however, I wonder if I have gone too far because I do not fully understand the forces at work upon "insiders." We have to have some compassion for people who are trying to promote change from inside the organization. My Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award is an example.

      I must admit, however, that I have little patience for incompetence or "yes men" and underlings that carry out the dirty work of higher ups in the organization. Although the latter are often "thrown under the bus," I still cannot excuse their actions.

      In any case, I have tried to be "wary" about criticizing insiders except for those special cases mentioned above.

      Most pharma people I know are competent, trustworthy, and not "yes men" and I respect them for the hard work they do that I could never do. Still, some "pundit pressure" is called for :-)


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