To navigate the global marketplace, pharma companies have to mobilize a multifaceted team with the training to turn raw data into meaningful insights.
Publication: Pharmaceutical Executive
Date of Publication: 08/2009
Article Author: Al Topin, president, Topin & Associates, and Tony Chant, president, Eurocom Healthcare Communications in London and the Eurocom Healthcare Network
Today, more and more pharmaceutical brands are launched globally, rather than attacking the US or other primary market first before expanding into a broader group of countries and regions.
Why the shift in strategy?
There are several important reasons.
First, the pressure to maximize the return on an increasing development investment often mandates the broadest market entry and increased velocity. Plus, the need to set competitive barriers requires preempting competition in as many markets as possible, as quickly as possible.
At the same time, the communications landscape has lost many of its geographic barriers. Certainly the Web now provides immediate global access. In addition, medical congresses have seen an increasing number of attendees from far reaching locations, while many key medical journals have an added base of worldwide circulation. The result is an opportunity to capture additional reach and cost efficiencies if the brand is maximized for a global kick-off.
And while communicating on a global level has become more streamlined, certain barriers continue to be challenging. While we all recognize the need to be aware of the various cultural differences between countries and regions when launching a brand, that often seems to be the lowest of hurdles that must now be faced. More daunting are the issues of differing medical practices, varied regulatory approaches and elusive reimbursement systems.
Hence, the science of global branding comes in organizing and managing the multi-faceted team and multiple layers of information. Building and harnessing a global team often resembles a massive military effort with the need for support staff at headquarters, line troops in the field, a range of alliances with specialty groups to bring depth and experience to the campaign and a group of knowledge workers to translate a vast assortment of information on global and regional markets, from data into insights.
The art comes in controlling, balancing and focusing this multi-level, multi-cultural, multi-regional, multi-functional and multi-tongued effort. And that requires the skills of a diplomat and the foresight of a seer, combined with the measured hand of a symphony conductor.
Over the years, as both individual ad agencies and members of a European network, we have witnessed a number of successful and not so successful efforts and distilled our observations into a few key points that will help a leader of any global team master the art of control, focus and balance.
Building a flexible structure
-Define and agree on objectives – Given the scope of global brand development and launch, you might think that this first step is obvious. But often the pressure to move the program forward creates an impulse to “jump on your horse and ride forth in all directions,” assuming that all parties are on the same page. It is worth much more than the time and effort to gather the group, discuss the issues and clarify the objectives to avoid major missteps and confusion.
-Define and establish distinct roles and responsibilities – What seems to be clear at the outset, rarely ends up that way. Decision making seems simple until everyone chimes in and no one is willing to compromise. Start with appointing a “core decision making team”, a small (repeat –small) group of senior executives, including someone to represent the regions and the overall global project leader to make the close calls.
Next, form several teams to oversee key elements of the process, customized to reflect your own corporate approach, staffing them with key players that bring multi-functional backgrounds to the table. Each team would be responsible for maintaining focus, timetables and developing concise documented recommendations to the core team. You may want to consider individual teams for strategy development, tactical planning and global implementation or any other appropriate division of initiatives.
Lastly, agree upon a decision making process. Given the above teams, clarify who contributes, who recommends and who decides. Doing this right from the start can avoid the after-hours phone calls, chain of command interference and the inevitable whispers and undertones.
-Develop a schedule of pre-set meetings – While there will always be the need for ad-hoc and impromptu meetings, a series of weekly or bi-weekly team meetings and phone conferences will help relieve the stress of consistently attempting to coordinate meetings across time zones and travel schedules. Also, schedule in-person meetings with the global team at least one full year in advance. This, once again, relieves the stress of planning and, more importantly, begins to set target dates for deliverables.
-Create a preliminary outline of the brand book and tactical deliverables – It’s never too early to establish the expected outcomes. The list may change as the process evolves, but the clarity of expectations will guide each team in development and force an early determination of standards and specifications.
-Determine the keeper of the centralized files – Where is that graphic? Do you have that file? Who was the last person to see that document? What did we decide about that issue? All can be expedited with the appointment of one group or partner to be the central source for all graphic material, historic and final, plus the repository of information and documents.
When a team is spread across the globe, with players that might change as the process continues, a single digital source is both a cost-saver and often a lifesaver.
-Appoint a branding committee (or branding czar… or czarina) – While a democracy works well in most cases, a clear benevolent dictatorship, in the early phases of global brand execution is the only way to protect the hard work of the global team and the intellectual property rights of the brand. All initial applications of the brand and message should be approved by a single source ready to respond quickly and efficiently. Given the cross-cultural and other issues, a degree of flexibility should be expected, but only a single point of approval will deliver the continuity required.
-Develop a contingency plan – Given the broad scope of global branding, it’s important to develop contingency plans early on in the creative process. Set aside time at a preliminary team meetings to identify potential problems or stumbling blocks that could damage your brand down the road. Then, assign resources from your team to develop comprehensive solutions to these problems. That way, should the worst arrive; you will be fully prepared to respond quickly and decisively.
At the core, a pragmatic philosophy
Communicate, communicate and communicate – When your team is spread across the globe, fractionated by chains of command and pulled in multiple directions with an overflowing plate of responsibilities, it is impossible to over communicate. Send the note, review the conversation in writing, file the after-meeting notes and turn the oral into written. Make your pre-meeting calls to align the issues, make the post-meeting calls to be sure each party heard the same message, then write it down and circulate for confirmation. Overkill? Yes. Necessary for success? Absolutely.
Beware the Dilution Monster – With the built-in variances in regulations, medical practices, and customs in each country and region, the tendency to find a point of commonality in message, concept and brand is hardwired into the process. Yet that very process weakens the impact and distinction of the brand. Obviously, the prime directive of the process is to create a unique and uniting brand program across the globe, yet the very nature of the challenge dilutes the most diligent efforts. Can this be prevented? Not often. Can it be limited? With great care and diligence. And by paying attention to the last point on this list.
Focus, focus, focus – In any global program (actually, in any program), the forces of distraction are silently and consistently working against you: Distracting your attention, attempting to change your priorities, diverting your key team members and slowing your carefully crafted decision process.
This is where the seasoned leader earns their keep and where the art of developing a global brand reaches its highest level. Every trick learned and skill you have acquired may be necessary to keep your team on track and your priorities in place. And at times you may have to call upon your hidden talents as a diplomat and sympathetic supporter to avoid weak compromises and trivial turf battles. But if the result is a clear and focused brand that can leverage the initial position across the globe, then the payback will come at both the financial and career levels.
Al Topin is President of Topin & Associates in Chicago.
Tony Chant is President of EuroCom Healthcare in London and the EuroCom Healthcare network.
The EuroCom Healthcare Communications Network is a network of leading independent healthcare agencies in Europe and the US. With resources in six countries, EuroCom specializes in multi-disciplinary communications, including traditional advertising, digital, medical education and PR. Member agencies offer brands global distribution with proven launch experience and cross-cultural service.