S&R Blog

Who have pharma consulting companies and brand managers displaced from the strategic decision table?

Part 2 of “How did pharma ad agencies become “expendable”?

The advertising agencies of course! The agencies no longer had to worry about strategy because the consultants and the brand managers had that all figured out. Thus, the agencies could simply take orders on what words and “pictures” they should “paint” on the ad concepts and be done with it. And if you are simply painting words and pictures onto paper (or electronic screens), then that can’t be very difficult, so it becomes a simple commodity and even easier for purchasing to decide who did what.

Who was last horse out of the barn?

Well, ashamedly it was the agencies themselves. As all of the above was going on, most of the agencies, being the good guys that we are and not wanting to rock the boat, simply let it happen. We sheepishly gave up our seats and voice by not saying a whole lot and not challenging the decisions that were being made. We gave it up without fight

Now I know what you are thinking: “You guys deserved it”; or “You didn’t add that much anyway” or  “I never got strategic input from my agency” or  “They always saddled me with the junior AE”.

Some or all of those comments are certainly true.  But the fact of the matter is that most agencies did all of the above. They fell into the trap and believed that by simply executing what the “smart people” told them, they would earn more business. They by and large stepped away from the key issues of strategy, branding, messaging, and having the common sense and insight to tell their clients what they really need to know and hear.  And, they didn’t yell loud and clear up and down the client’s marketing/senior management chain.

What is the fix for agencies if they are to hold their ground and claw their way back?

Start with knowing the client’s business inside and out–the brand, the science, and medicine; the competition; and the real world.  Only through knowledge can an agency bring insight, strategy, and solutions that will result in brand success.

Demand and keep demanding to be part of the client’s marketing strategic decision team–The more an agency partners, participates and understands what the client’s ultimate issues and goals are, the better the agency can counsel and advise.

Hire the best AEs you can, and couple them with senior-experienced agency personnel–While it is fine to have a junior AE in the day-to-day business mix, a senior level manager must and should be highly involved with a client’s business.  Both the AE and senior level manager must frequently interact with the client team and must be sure that they bring valuable insight, strategy, and creative thinking to the client.

Finally, have frank and direct conversation with your clients (all the way up and down their management team)–Create understanding and acceptance for the value and work that you bring them, and make sure that you are not simply viewed as a vendor or commodity. Have these conversations with high-ranking client managers to make sure they understand that you understand their business and are in it shoulder-to-shoulder along with them.

It’s time to take off the vendor uniforms, put away the hand trucks, and put on the business suits and deliver insightful, strategic, creative solutions.

-Dave Recht


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