Stop telling pharmaceutical marketers what to do all the time.
Unfortunately, I have never kept that resolution. So, here's my list of 2015 resolutions for pharma marketers:
1. Forget about using Twitter to promote brand name drugs to consumers.
Although most pharma marketers know that it is impossible to "fit a square peg in a round hole," they still want to believe it is possible to "fit" all the FDA-required important safety information in a branded Rx tweet as long as they can convince the FDA to sanction the "one-click rule."
Granted, in the past the FDA has itself used this rule in its own tweets about Rx drugs. But it no longer does that and PhRMA's argument that "what's good for the goose is also good for the gander" (see "Drug Industry Rips Into FDA Over Social Media Guidelines") just won't sway the Agency, IMHO. So let's just call the whole thing off and get on with using Twitter for more meaningful dialogues with stakeholders; e.g., tweet chats (see "OMG! AstraZeneca Hosts Twitter Chat & World Does NOT End!" and "How to Host a Successful Pharma TweetChat").
I have a few more.
2. Spend less on broadcast TV and print advertising and more on digital.
This is a perennial problem. Pharma spends disproportionately more on TV and print (magazine mostly) advertising than do other industries (see here). There may be good reasons for this; i.e., the typical target demographic of the pharma industry -- older folk and women -- are more likely to suffer from some medical condition for which pharma has a pill and they tend to watch more TV -- especially nightly news programs and daytime talk shows -- and read more magazines. Hence, the focus of pharma advertising in these media. However, I think allocating 65% of your direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad budget to TV and only 2% to digital (excluding search) is just way out of whack.
3. If you can't break the TV DTC over-spending habit, at least stop broadcasting commercials that embarrass the industry as a whole.
Yes, I'm talking to you Pfizer. Your new ad for Viagra (see "Oh Yeah, Baby! Show Me More!... Viagra TV Ads Like This. But Don't Let My FDA See It!") has drawn criticism not just from me but also from your friends and even former Pfizer executives (see here). The industry can abide my criticisms, but can it afford to alienate its friends?
4. Turn on comments on your YouTube channels/videos. Corollary: Actually have a conversation when you encourage conversation.
Take, for example, Pfizer's disease-awareness YouTube video about "vaginal atrophy" (see here), which kicked off a campaign that aims to "Encourage Women to Change the Conversation on Sexual Health Post-Menopause" (see here). The video is also embedded in Pfizer's "Let's Talk About Change" website. Unfortunately, the only entity talking about change is Pfizer, which does not allow comments on the YouTube page or on the website. Boo!
5. Try not to break the law and pay big penalties when caught.
I had to update my "Pharma Criminal & Civil Settlement Planetary System" graphic several times in the past couple of years. The latest update was in April, 2014, when Takeda was ordered to pay $6bn in punitive damages for hiding a possible link between a best-selling diabetes drug and bladder cancer and Eli Lilly, which marketed the drug in the US until 2006, was ordered to pay $3bn (see here). The criminal record of the pharma industry also does not help improve its reputation. Duh!
6. Stop talking about being "patient-centric" and "putting the patient first" when everyone knows that's just window-dressing business as usual.
"It remains easy for pharmaceutical companies to enthusiastically support ‘patient engagement’ initiatives as long as they are not required to relinquish their position of dominance as engager," said a sage pundit (read more here). I could cite a number of examples that belie the patient-centric promise of drug marketers. Recently, I reported that Biogen, which has five MS drugs on the market, gave out 250 Fitbit bands to MS patients in the U.S. last spring to track their level of activity and sleep patterns. Mobility is affected by the disease, and Biogen says collecting data on a daily basis—about how much and how fast MS patients walk, for example—could yield data about the progression of the disease and lead to better treatments. Needless to say, MS patients need better treatments, but I suspect Biogen will reap more benefit than the patients who wear the devices.
Another example of being non-patient centric is when a company sells its entire portfolio of drugs in a specific treatment area. You can't have your cake (claim you put patients before profits) and eat it too (beef up profits without innovation); read "When Big Pharma Sells Older Drugs, Is 'Putting the Patient First' Devalued?".
7. Develop Mobile Health "Guiding Principles."
The pharmaceutical industry (e.g., via PhRMA) should differentiate itself from "wild west" mHealth app developers by publishing "mHealth Guiding Principles for Mobile Health Apps Developed by the Pharmaceutical Industry." PhRMA already has issued other self-regulatory guidelines such as the DTC Guiding Principles and the Code on Interactions With Healthcare Professionals. To get you started, read my list of Guiding Principles here. P.S. While you're at it, how about Digital DTC Advertising Guiding Principles (the current version of the DTC principles only apply to TV and print advertising).
8. Develop more drugs that ALL patients -- not just the rich ones -- can afford.
You can argue about how much it costs to develop a new drug these days (see here), but charging what the market -- especially the rich patient market -- will bear to recoup costs as soon as possible is just another example of putting profits before patients.
If pharma were to keep only 50% of these resolutions, 2015 might shape up to be a banner year for the industry's reputation index. Meanwhile, here's my retrospective look at 2014: