Drug Co.'s Freedom Not Without a Price

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The entry of pharmaceutical companies into DRTV marketing is revolutionizing telemarketing services in many ways and has provided some interesting lessons on developing an effective campaign strategy.


Before the Food and Drug Administration relaxed the rules on drug advertising in August, pharmaceutical companies had one of two options in their consumer advertising efforts. They could advertise the brand name of a drug, but not the condition it treats; or they could advertise various therapeutic conditions, but could not mention the brand name of the drug. Since that time, the FDA has relaxed these regulations, allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise the brand name and the condition it treats. It's called "product claim" advertising and it's one of the most exciting changes in recent history for pharmaceutical companies, consumers and the DRTV industry.


Triumph With High Costs


This ruling has been a triumph for everyone. Few, if any pharmaceutical companies have wasted time in getting more information on their products into the hands of consumers. As a result, advertising for free information on prescription drugs, from cholesterol to allergy medication, is one of the fastest growing categories in the DRTV industry. Most importantly, consumers are now able to take a more active role in their health care, thanks to all of the information that is now available to us.


At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are discovering that this new-found freedom is not without its price. The costs involved with meeting the requirements of product claim advertising are high -- and so is the learning curve.


For example, the requirements of product claim advertising stipulate that consumers must be given a number of options to access detailed product information. These options include providing the information during the call itself, through a fax, Web site or in the mail. In order to meet these requirements, sophisticated call routing techniques to long distance carriers and arrangements with service bureaus are needed. To compound the complexity of these requirements, the turnaround time for delivering the information is short. The information must be delivered either during the call, faxed within several hours of the call or mailed within four to six business days.


If the consumer wishes to obtain the product information on the phone, the call can last up to 40 minutes, making it a very expensive proposition for pharmaceutical companies. In addition, customer service representatives are required to mention the advertised drug by its generic name, some of which are even difficult for healthcare professionals to pronounce. We are learning that only two percent are selecting to receive the information on the phone -- the majority of callers select the mail -- and the average time spent listening is between six and eight minutes.


Furthermore, between 15 percent to 20 percent of the callers hang up in the first 60 seconds of the call. This percentage of has led to speculation of whether the callers truly understand what is being offered to them or if they are simply impatient. We hope the FDA requirements eventually will be relaxed to the point of allowing consumers to access all vital information in a less cumbersome and expensive manner.


Experience Leads to Effectiveness


There are also costs that are associated with the learning curve for pharmaceutical companies, or for that matter, anyone new to DRTV. For example, selecting teleservices partners, database companies and fulfillment services can be a daunting task for those who are unfamiliar with the unpredictable work load and the tremendous fluctuation in volume of DRTV programs. As a result, expensive mistakes can happen. It is also common to overpay for media time if you're not using a seasoned DRTV media buyer.


Despite these challenges, the service offerings available for all DRTV marketers have increased dramatically as a result of pharmaceutical advertising on television and these companies bring prestige and credibility to our industry. More time and experience with these kinds of campaigns will further increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the pharmaceutical companies' efforts.


The FDA ruling is a major victory for pharmaceutical companies and the DRTV industry. Even more importantly, the FDA guidelines requiring "fair balance" and access to information will keep the focus right where it should be - on the best interest of the consumer. And in the end, if the consumers' expectations are fulfilled, everyone wins.


Brian Beebe is national sales manager for West Teleservices Corp., a publicly traded telemarketing company in Omaha, NE.
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