Reach doctors with value

Marketing to healthcare providers is no longer about piles of freebies. Now, creative strategies are necessary to stand out

For pharmaceutical companies, the old reality of direct marketing to doctors — which existed until recently —was known as an “arms race.” Huge sales forces called on high-prescribing physicians, with multiple reps often calling on the same doctors, sometimes promoting the same brand. Then there were the “freebies” — umbrellas, pens, coffee mugs and pads, for example — that piled up in doctor’s offices as the sales reps worked to gain face time.

“The average cost per call for a sales rep could be from $150 to $300 per call,” says Julian Parreño, former SVP of sales and marketing at Harte-Hanks, whose pharma clients include AstraZeneca. “In light of the physician audience, there were too many sales reps, and the cost was very high.”

Joe Kuchta, president and CEO of Goble & Associates, a small Chicago-based pharma-focused agency, agrees. “The industry went overboard with the number of reps and its tactics,” he admits.

Today, pharma marketers face skyrocketing costs and increasing barriers to entry in doctors’ offices, including an updated version of a voluntary code created by PhRMA, a pharmaceutical trade group that recently banned the practice of leaving freebies. This new reality means pared down sales forces that target fewer physicians and creative, integrated strategies that offer physicians informa­tion in interesting and convenient ways.

“The new thinking is, ‘Let’s focus on fewer phy­sicians and let’s focus on value,’” says Parreño. “In other words, provide doctors with information that can really help their practice.”

Pharmaceutical marketers still need to reach high-prescribing physicians, to educate them about new and old products, about new studies, side effects, and proper usage. But now, they must focus on new ways to make it past the gatekeepers in the doctor’s office — including office managers, assistants and nurses — as well as stand out from the clutter piling up in physicians’ inboxes.

Tom Lindell, director of client services at Min­neapolis agency Colle McVoy, says there has been a real mindset change among marketers about how to reach doctors. “Instead of just providing what we want to communicate, we provide tools and infor­mation that doctors want,” he says. “Historically, we started with, ‘What do we want to accomplish?’ rather than, ‘What can we do to help our medical practitioners be more successful?’”

That mindset shift has become essential as free­bies are no longer an option as “door openers,” Kuchta says. “From a marketing standpoint, it’s about getting good information into the hands of people that want it,” he says. “You can’t leave golf balls anymore, but those were never about dispensing information, they were just door open­ers. Now you have to make sure the information itself is a door opener.”

Certainly, face-to-face selling is still an essen­tial part of the pharma marketing strategy. But these days, technology, such as the use of tablet PCs, offer sales reps more flexibility in offering information. “Now, sales reps can offer more per­sonalized messages depending on the needs of the physicians,” Parreño says. “It’s true one-to-one marketing versus one to many.”

Chet Moss, CCO at New Jersey-based agency ICC, says tablet PCs have made the visual aid a more engaging experience for both doctors and sales reps.

“The paucity of time you have to connect with a doctor is a killer,” he says. “I think [doctors are] looking for something more interactive, they’re always looking to be in control. The tablet PCs have afforded that to doctors.”

But there are also a lot of hard-to-see doctors, experts say, including some physicians who refuse to see any reps at all. There are also mature brand products that are very important and effective, but companies may not have time or resources to have sales reps promote these brands.

Those are examples of areas where non-personal selling techniques, such as direct mail and Web sites, have become powerful tools to reach busy doctors, especially those who prefer to look at information outside of office hours. For instance, e-detailing — offering doctors information online — has become an important option for, say, a doctor who wants to receive information between 8pm and 10pm. Today, he or she can simply log on to a Web site and read through a presentation online, and perhaps receive an e-mail follow-up from a sales rep the following week.

Direct mail is also a staple way to reach doctors that has not gone away, says Parreño. “There are physicians that like to receive dimensional pack­ages that might include tools that relate to their practice, whether it’s a patient chart for the waiting room, etc.,” he says.

But Lindell says that for direct mail to work best in the pharma world, however, it is best as part of a larger integrated campaign – reaching doctors from many angles in-person, online and by mail. Also, the message needs to be consistent. “We need to make sure what we are saying is very consistent, very helpful, not just slick marketing-speak, but is indeed tied to their medical practice,” he says.

Whether it is a face-to-face meeting with a sales rep, a direct mail campaign or an online presenta­tion, the new challenges in the pharma marketing world remain the same when it comes to targeting healthcare providers, says Parreño.

“Our challenge is, how do we upgrade the experience, how do we invite the doctor into the dialogue?” he explains. “It’s about how we make the experience as pleasurable as possible, but one that has great utility and value.”


Phadia was marketing its ImmunoCAP Specific IgE blood test, which determines whether patients have allergies and to what they are allergic. Unfor­tunately, the small company always struggled to reach primary care doctors already bombarded by a variety of big pharma campaigns. Agency Goble & Associates decided to target about 10,000 doctors in four US markets with an integrated campaign including direct mail, waiting room flyers and tongue depressors imprinted with the tagline, “Is it allergy?” The number of tests ordered went up incrementally vs. those same territories from the previous year and vs. some of the control territories that weren’t blitzed. The highest was a 40% increase and the lowest was still in the double-digits.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care looked to promote a relatively new product, One Day Acuvue Moist, which are daily disposable contact lenses. However, a majority of wearers wear a two-week or monthly modality, so this product had a lower market share. The challenge for J&J was that op­tometrists often prescribe a backup pair of glasses for contact lens wearers, but the reverse is not true. Agency Colle McVoy worked to change prescrib­ing behavior by encouraging doctors to offer the product to eyeglass wearers. The integrated direct marketing campaign included direct mail, sales rep materials, a Web site on which doctors could partici­pate in the program and in-office materials, such as a coffee table book.

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