Bear with me – I’m revamping

Something new is coming

I have now been writing this blog for many years and during that time I have not updated or re-branded this website. This was partially because for many years it served its purpose as was – somewhere to host my blog posts – but recently that has been changing.

The other thing is that the template I was using has not kept up with the times either. It turned out it was no longer mobile optimised for starters! As someone who advises people on best practice for their websites this is not a good example to lead by.

So I took the decision to upgrade my account and get some support from WordPress, which is what I did this morning. I had a very useful chat with a customer support lady who listened to me as I explained my needs and desires for this website. In the remaining time she then proceeded to help change themes to a more modern one.

One of the issues however, that I did not think through, was that this will require quite some work on my end to actually make this website work and look good in this new (mobile optimised!) template … and right now that is not something I have! Sod’s law I have some big client deliverables next week and then I am off for my birthday so the timing is really bad. I had not actually realised that the call would result in her getting me started with the changes – but I did not want to say no to that type of support so I went ahead.

Therefore I have to ask you to bear with me for the next couple of weeks as I try to find time to finish my revamp of this website. For the time being it will be quite empty (and white!) and lacking some of the functionalities I hope to include. The content remains the same though so please continue to enjoy that.

Sit back and relax – things will look much better soon!

Patient collaboration

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen that yesterday I attend the PM Society’s event on patient collaboration.  I found it a well put together event with a good balance of presenters from all the main stakeholder groups (perhaps with the exception of carers who were not represented).

The first presentation was from Jill Pearcy from the ABPI talking about the ABPI Sourcebook.  I was not surprised to hear that the Code is still being used as an excuse for not engaging with patients.  The reality is that this guidance should be seen for what it is: guidance on how to engage appropriately – not guidance on not engaging!  There is a huge need for industry to step up and start putting patients at the centre of everything they do and this can only happen with meaningful patient engagement and dialogue.

The same goes for the ABPI – something that Jill acknowledged. In order to update the Code – and keep it relevant and meaningful in today’s online world – the views and needs of patients must be included.  Trishna Bharadia, an MS patient advocate and speaker, made the important point though that when getting patient input it is important to not only talk to patient associations but also individual patients. 

As a patient advocate myself I could not agree more.  Personally I have never had any support from a patient association – in fact there is not a Hashimoto’s patient association, only Thyroid associations like the American Thyroid Association which cover everything from cancer to Postpartum Thyroiditis.  All of my support has come from individual patients through social media.  In fact if you look at the Hashimoto’s section of the ATA you will notice it only provides the most basic information – there is nothing about the impact of living with an autoimmune disease or how lifestyle and diet play a role.  Frankly there is next to no useful patient information there nor is it remotely engaging!  Looking at this I wonder how they could possibly provide a complete and meaningful contribution from a Hashimoto’s patients perspective.

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The next presenter, Dr Liz Clark,  came from pharma company Norgine, and gave a very impressive talk about some of the work she has been doing to drive patient engagement and patient centricity in the organisation.  Patient centricity is a buzz word that nearly every pharma company has somewhere on their homepage and yet the reality is so few pharma companies are truly patient centric.  My own experience in trying to work with teams around social media makes it painfully clear that the industry really is still very unsure how to communicate with patients.  The reality is that HCPs remain the main stakeholder – with huge teams dedicated to engaging with HCPs and then tiny patient advocacy and social media teams (social media teams often tend to lead the patient communication).

Fortunately this dynamic is changing and it was heartening to hear how this being done at Norgine.  I loved that they have had multiple patient days where patients were able to come into the office and just walk around and talk to whoever they wanted.  Liz gave the example of patients asking about the option of adding a QR code to packaging so they were taken to the packaging team to ask them directly.

She also made some fantastic points – one of my favourites being that hiring a patient advocacy team does not make a pharma company patient centric – but rather it is about instilling the ethos throughout the organisation.  Years ago I did a piece of analysis looking at how patient centric pharma companies were and one quote stuck with me – “without patients we would all be without a job”.

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Another pharma company that presented at the event was Boehringer Ingelheim with Annie Gilbert talking about the work her team has done around Scleroderma in terms of patient materials as well as trial input.  She talked about how they had learned from patients that their proposed website was not resonating with them – in part because it was using the wrong terminology.  This is an issue that IMHO should never have arisen anyway but is also quite typical of pharma.  Too often I have seen brand teams insist on using pharma speak and medical terminology, which whilst accurate may not actually reflect the terminology patients are using in the real world.

In Boehringer’s case they developed a website using the term Systemic sclerosis (SSc) – only to find out that patients never use this term.   I am certain a quick bit of social media listening would have revealed this fact long before – had the team done this at the beginning of the project (and then implemented the insights from this).

This blip aside however there was some great work that Annie presented – including how input from patients actually impacted trial design and protocol.  She also talked about how they had been proactive in communicating with patients throughout the trial, doing small things such as newsletters to keep them updated and informed, which they co-created with the patients, and sending patients birthday cards and then thank you letters.  These small human touches in part contributed to better patient retention – showing that patient centricity is not just the right thing to do ethically but it can also have a direct impact on results.

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Cancer Research UK also presented and talked about how pharma could work with them and other patient associations.  One clear message that came through was the need to be transparent and to genuinely care about patients.  It may seem obvious but it is not something that pharma organisations are always very good at bringing across – and transparency is definitely not an industry strong point for obvious reasons.

They also talked about the importance about thinking about the patients needs, and this was something that Trishna Bharadia mentioned in her talk.  It may seem obvious but the point made was that if you have patients suffering from fatigue do not expect them to be able to fly in for a workshop on an early morning flight and fly out again on the last flight at night – you will have to put them up for the night in a hotel.  And as an autoimmune patient I might add – if you do not understand the ramifications and impact of a disease, such as the fatigue autoimmune patients face, then ask a patient and work with them to get an idea of what is doable and what is not.  Frankly how can you expect to work and engage with patients in a particular disease area if you do not understand the basics of the disease from their point of view?

tweet 7Trishna’s talk in particular resonated with me.  She made a great point around compensating patients and the fact that patients are normal people with day jobs!  Patients are not charity workers and whilst many of us are extremely happy to be involved and share our experiences to help other patients that does not mean we are prepared to go out of pocket to do so.  If a patient has to take time off work to attend an advisory board they should be compensated – just as we compensate doctors for their time.  At the same time though do check with the patient – some for example may not be able to accept compensation due to local benefit regulations.

Trishna also made a great point that not all patients are the same and she categorised them into 3 groups – Patient by experience, Expert Patients and Pro Patients.  The first, and broadest group, are patients with the disease but who may not be experts in the disease.  The Expert patient is, as suggested, more of an expert around the disease within their own disease community.  The Pro patient goes further and covers beyond their own disease (rather like I cover autoimmune disease and not just Hashimoto’s).

She also reiterated the importance of working with patients from a place on sincerity and also of doing so early on and not just using patients to rubber stamp activities.  Another point that also resonated with me was the importance of getting senior leader buy in.  This is something that I have seen through my reverse mentoring.   As senior leaders start to understand social media, for example, they also start to get a better grasp of patients and their power, and hence the importance of putting our money where our mouth is (i.e. let’s not just talk about being patient centric but let’s actually live and breath it).

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The final presentation was by Dr Juhi Tandon who shared some rather depressing statistics on women and contraception – and the fact that this is a field that is still full of misconceptions.  Like most health issues in the UK a large problem is GPs’ lack of time and the financial pressure the NHS is under, resulting in disease topics like contraception not being properly explained to patients.  She has done some really interesting work in this field using VR as an education tool for women and so far has had great results.

I think health information is an area where we see the internet really have a huge impact.  Technology has the ability to step in where HCPs may not have the time – or knowledge – to provide more in-depth information to patients.  My own experience for example centres on all the lifestyle and dietary changes I needed to make for my Hashimoto’s – I got none of the information I needed from my doctors but rather other patients via social media.

A great deal of this information could be coming from the pharmaceutical industry but in order to provide it and drive impact it is vital to fully understand the patient and the patient landscape.  What terminology do patients use?  What issues do they face?  Where do patients go for information? What misinformation is out there and how can we combat it?  What tools could support patients? How can we better work with patients?

The sceptics out there who ask why do this should know that it drives outcomes and financial impact for pharma.  Better informed patients have been shown to be more adherent which in turn helps sales.  Better use of technology and a greater understanding of patients improves clinical trial recruitment and retention. More empowered patients can drive improved funding and drug access and approval.  All of these things have clear financial impact.

But IMHO just as important is the fact that as an industry working in healthcare we have an ethical obligation to do this.  Patients are not just money making machines to drive sales – they are human beings with needs and issues.  And just as patients need the industry to provide treatment and  solutions to their diseases we need patients to fund our jobs and industry and provide the insights we need to succeed in combating these diseases – it is a symbiotic relationship that we absolutely must respect.  Without each other we would all be worse off.



Yes I love PowerPoint

I have recently seen a number of articles on the death of PowerPoint or how terrible PowerPoint is and I just had to counter with … I love PowerPoint!  PowerPoint is an amazing tool to support presenters or present insights in a more visually appealing way that a 50 page text heavy word document – if used properly.

The problem is that over the years people have used and abused PowerPoint.  I have sat through more PowerPoint presentations than I care to remember where I have found myself squinting to try to make out what is on the slide or lost at what the main point of the slide is because there was so much crammed on it.

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There is most definitely such as thing as death by PowerPoint and it is thanks to people not understanding how to put together great PowerPoint decks.  A good presentation deck should support the presenter, telling a story, and should not be an encyclopedia of every single minor bit of information that might be vaguely relevant.  A good presentation should keep the listener (not reader!) engaged throughout the presentation.  At the end of the presentation the audience should have a clear idea of the main points and any action items.

I started my career at McKinsey – a company well known for their professional PowerPoints – and one of the things I got from that experience was some great training in how to do great PowerPoint presentations.  In fact I would argue that that training was some of the most useful I had. Having a good understanding of PowerPoint, how it works and what it can do for you can turn this “onerous” piece of software into something valuable.

So here are a few of my top tips for PowerPoint presentation decks:

  1. Slides are for presenting not reading
    • Minimise text, use bullets and never, ever have font size below 16
    • Your slides should support your presenting – people should pay attention to what you are saying and not be distracted by trying to read the slides behind you
    • Use appropriate colours – using yellow or light coloured fonts makes it hard to read your key points and will distract people as they try to read rather than listen
    • Animation should support your presenting and not distract from it
  2. Slides should also be visually appealing
    • Given point 1 your slides should look good – this means using good quality and appropriate images
    • Formatting matters!
      • Take the time to check that your titles and text are the same font size and aligned
      • Use the same style and colour bullet points throughout
  3. One message per slide
    • Do not overcrowd your slide (see point 1)
    • It is better to have more slides that you go through quickly one point at a time than trying to cram multiple messages on one slide
  4. Use descriptive titles
    • Your title should convey the key message for that slide (and hence the point above of one message per slide)
    • Your titles should tell the story as you go through the deck
  5. Tell a story
    • Rather than cobble slides together start with a plan – how will you start the presentation, what key points do you need to make, and what is your conclusion
    • Once you have your plan start with the title for each slide and only then add the content
  6. Do not boil the ocean
    • In line with the points above be succinct – identify the key messages (as opposed to all the messages) and present those
    • If you have to show additional material – for example the client has paid for it – then add it as an appendix or hand-out


Used well PowerPoint can be very impactful – used badly it can be excruciatingly painful.  Like any tool learn to use it well and think carefully before getting started, and always start with a clear plan on what you are trying to communicate.  At the end of the day use PowerPoint for what it is – a tool to support you.

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Mobile reception – not all there

Last week I read with great joy that the big mobile networks and the UK government are finally going to try to improve the mobile phone networks in rural parts of the UK. Rather shockingly 1/3 of the UK has patchy or non-existent mobile reception!   Unbelievable.


Sadly I am currently part of that 1/3 of the population. I recently moved back to rural Suffolk and after years of having great mobile reception suddenly find myself in a situation where I have to start giving people my landline number because I cannot guarantee I will receive mobile calls. Along with this dodgy mobile reception I have also had to contend with far slower internet connection that I have grown accustomed to living in a city.

This is sadly an issue for many rural residents in the UK and other countries. While city residents have been able to make full use of the latest innovations in technology often their rural counterparts have not. When it comes to patient care this is a huge issue as often it is precisely those rural residents who are in the most need of digital health innovations, such as telehealth. Rural patients often have issues such as large geographic distances to receive care or lower access to healthcare professionals. In our village for example we have been short of a GP for quite some time, which often means months of waiting to get a basic appointment.

Times are however changing, as this latest news shows. Mobile and internet connections are improving meaning that ever more patients have access to digital health solutions without being hampered by low connectivity issues. The next hurdle however is to ensure that healthcare providers, such as the NHS, keep up by providing digitally compatible services and solutions. These providers also need to make full use of technology to address some of the other issues facing rural and less well served patients such as lack of access to doctors, especially specialists and diagnostics. Patients should not need to wait weeks and months for appointments and results when technology exists to reduce these timelines.  That issue however deserves a whole separate blog post about it!

Why social media is critical to rare diseases

Imagine feeling constantly sick or in pain.  Imagine going to doctor after doctor but still not receiving a suitable diagnosis or any idea of what is wrong with you.  Imagine being told you are making it all up or it is all in your head.  Imagine your life as this never ending litany of discomfort and pain with no hope in sight.  This is the life of an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed patient.  This is the reality faced by many rare disease patients, who on average wait 5 to 7 years for a diagnosis.

Imagine now that you find someone who feels like you do and understands.  Imagine finding someone who has gone through the same symptoms and issues.  Imagine finding answers and support.  This is what social media has enabled.

Before social media rare disease patients, and their families, often lived in isolation, with no contact to anyone else going through the same thing.  If they were very lucky there might have been a local patient association, but often they did not even have access to this.  They had very few people to turn to for support or answers.  They had very little power.

Today’s technology has changed this – enabling patients and their carers to connect with each other.  To turn to each other for support and answers, but also to get critical mass to drive action for their disease.  It is empowering patients to not accept the status quo and keep fighting for answers and diagnosis.  Social media is having a positive impact in reducing diagnosis time for patients, in connecting them to clinical trials, and in helping to cope and live better with their disease. In some cases it is also enabling access to medicines and funding clinical trials.

It is also helping doctors get answers by providing them with access to global experts and other doctors who may have dealt with a patient with the same rare disease.  It is helping them to spot those rare disease patients when they walk through the surgery door.  It is also helping doctors to better support their patients.

For the pharmaceutical companies working in rare diseases social media should be one of their highest priority channels.  Unlike in other disease areas, in rare diseases each individual patient is incredibly valuable (financially) but can be very hard to find.  The delayed diagnosis times costs the industry, and healthcare systems and providers such as the NHS,  millions.  The delays in clinical trials due to delays in finding those rare patients, also costs a fortune.

Social media supports the industry in finding those individual patients, and connecting them with other patients.  It also enables them to reach those doctors actively looking for answers.  It enables them to run targeted disease awareness campaigns to help support improved diagnosis.  It also enables the industry to better understand the patients and their needs, and in turn better optimise activities.  For example understanding the terminology used by patients – including those looking for diagnosis – and where they are turning to for information, can lead to more impactful and effective disease awareness campaigns.

Social media provides the pharmaceutical industry with the most amazing opportunity to connect and learn from its rare disease patients and families, in a way that no other channel has ever been able to do.  It is also an extremely cost effective channel to use, and one which can continuously provides new insights.

Despite this however it is still woefully under-prioritised and utilised by the industry.  Just looking at the activity on this channel of some of the top players in rare diseases shows a clear lack of understanding of the channel and its impact, both to patients and HCPs, but also to the company.  Sadly whilst some of the brand teams may now realise its importance often senior management does not.  This lack of understanding means that teams do not have access to the resources, including headcount and training, that they need to succeed in social media.

Often in order to succeed in social media pharmaceutical companies need to increase headcount or prioritisation of activities to the channel, as well as incentivise stakeholders, such as MLR, to co-operate and change their behaviour and timelines.  There is also often a need to change internal process in order to enable social media engagement but this too needs support from senior leaders.

What the rare disease industry needs is a concerted push to train and educate senior leaders on the importance and value of the channel.  This can be done via traditional training, or more tailored programmes such as reverse mentoring.  The benefits of reverse mentoring are that the programme can be personalised to the individual and go into as much depth or breadth as they need and are interested in.  Often through reverse mentoring senior leaders have an “aha” moment which in turn leads to positive impact for both the individual but also the organisation, as the senior leaders starts to drive the change needed.

The fact is that as an industry we still have a large amount of change to drive and in rare diseases one of the biggest – and most urgent areas – is around our use of social media.  We need to support our senior leaders to drive that change and in the end that will benefit not just the organisation but also ultimately the patients and their families.




The death of a brand

This week I popped up to London for a bit of sightseeing and to catch up with friends from my McKinsey days. A trip to London is also never complete with a visit to my favourite shop – Karen Millen on Oxford Circus. Sadly this will have been my last visit to the store as the store is closing and to all intents and purposes the brand is dead.

I am quite devastated – how did this iconic brand end up sinking so low that this happened? Karen Millen was famous for its tailored, smart business dresses, often using bold colours or patterns. At the same time they always had an element of the classic and of enduring style about them. The quality was also great – I have Karen Millen clothes that are nearly 20 years old that I can still wear (and they do not looked dated either).

The main target market was also clear – it was business women, who wanted to look smart but stylish and elegant with a touch of something different. These were dresses that you could wear to a business meeting or go out in the evening to a posh restaurant in. They made you look, and feel, like a million dollars and yet cost wise the brand with mid-range – not designer end but also not Zara cheap. This was a brand that had insanely loyal customers, who would travel from abroad to stock up on dresses (myself included).

So what happened? First and foremost I believe the new management lost its way and very clearly did not understand the brand’s USP or its target customers. All of a sudden there were less of the iconic dresses in store and more jeans and t-shirts. The style also changed becoming more “trendy” and “edgy” (much of it just plain frumpy and ill fitting). I went from spending 1000s and having dilema’s on which dresses to buy to struggling to find a single item I liked. I was not alone. Every other long standing Karen Millen customer I spoke had the same issue. The brand started to be dropped at foreign retailers such as Globus in Switzerland – a warning signal of things to come.

Employees I spoke with also echoed my thoughts – why would customers pay £90 for a simple t-shirt when you could get the same type thing at Zara for a third of the cost? They complained about having the same conversations with customers time and time again – where was the classic Karen Millen clothing? Why was there a sudden increase in full length evening gowns when smart business dresses were virtually gone?

Karen Millen is a classic business school case study of a brand that had it all and lost it. The brand broke cardinal rules of business – not understanding the business proposition and even more importantly not understanding the customers. They also failed to heed what employees were saying in store – a fantastic source of real world insight and information ignored.  Karen Millen went from serving a particular, and potentially lucrative, segment of the market to trying to serve a totally different, broader market. They went from having their own niche, with few competitors, to taking on the likes of Zara. Not surprisingly they failed. The brand has now been bought by online retailer Boohoo – but given their target market I think it highly unlikely they will take the brand back to what it used to be.

I am devastated – there is no other brand on the market that had what Karen Millen had and there is now a definite gap in the market. I mourn the loss of an iconic brand. RIP Karen Millen.

Vintage Karen Millen dress
Vintage Karen Millen


Social media – then and now

I have been working in pharma social media for over ten years and I am happy to say I have seen a huge amount of change during this time.  Back in the day there were only a few of the big pharma companies that actually had a presence on social media, and virtually none of these actually engaged or enabled any form of two way discussion.

In the early days Facebook allowed pharma companies to have comments disabled which led some to set up Facebook pages that were essentially just another way of broadcasting corporate blurb, safe in the knowledge that people could not engage with them.  One of the exceptions was Boehringer Ingelheim who very early on saw the value in engaging with stakeholders. Then it all changed when Facebook removed the exception and from one day to the next comments become enabled. This led to many closing their Facebook accounts and for some it took years before they set up a page again.

Fast forward to today and most big pharma have a Facebook page of some sort.  Most are now also on YouTube and Twitter – but again not all.  I am still amazed that in this day and age, when social media has become a main communication channel, that big pharma companies are not present on Twitter.  That said many of those that are present are not using Twitter well or delivering (and getting) value from the platform.  An example of this is around conferences where more HCP participate remotely than in person, and yet many company Twitter feeds still only cater to those physically present at the event.

One of the reasons for this remains a lack of understanding of the channel, how to use it and the value it could, and should, be delivering.  This is compounded by a lack of resourcing in this channel, still seen by many as a “nice to have” or a dalliance, rather than a main stream channel. This lack of resources is seen both in terms of lack of training but also in terms of teams and content.

One of the results of this lack of attention to this channel is that what is being shared has often been of low value, which results in low engagement, which then compounds the issue as managers show these low results as justification for not investing in the channel.   Another issue that this is a channel that is hard to tie directly to sales results, and which tends to need long term investment.

This is however a channel that we as an industry must accept and start using properly, as more and more people stop using email as their main channel and turn to social media instead (this has already happened in China for example).  If we want to engage with our customers we have to learn to engage properly through the channel of their choice.  The days of broadcasting the message we want to, via our channel of choice, regardless of what our customers want, have gone, and we must move with the times if we want to remain relevant and competitive.

I love you NHS but we need to talk

The NHS is like a very dear elderly relative – you don’t choose them, you love them dearly but you are also frustrated by their old fashioned ways and inability to change.  It is however really time to have that talk with them because this time something really has to give.

I recently moved back to the UK and despite having experienced excellent healthcare in Switzerland it came at a steep  price and sometimes lacked the empathy and compassion that makes me love the NHS (except my Swiss GP who was phenomenal).  I have also had the misfortune of experiencing the Spanish (private) healthcare system which not only lacked the compassion and empathy but was downright terrible, unprofessional and borderline dangerous.  Having moved back to the UK and the NHS I soon had my first experiences – and run ins – with our venerable old system of healthcare.   I have been left in shock at what I have experienced and has led me to say “we need to talk”.

The NHS is our sacred cow that we defend to the hilt and which we love but it has come to a point where the system is so clearly broken that it is time that we moved our sacred cow into newer pastures and gave her a good clean.  The problem with sacred cows is that no one wants to touch them and there is the hope that just throwing money at the problems will make them magically disappear.  From my experience however there are many small fixes that could be implemented that could start to help resolve some of the issues, and the very least save some much needed cash.

My first experience upon returning home was the lack of digitisation.  When I asked my local GP how to get 6 years worth of blood results to them from my Swiss records I was told to print it out and bring it in!  I looked at the receptionist aghast and asked if she was joking – she in turn looked at me perplexed, clearly unaware of what a ridiculous thing she had just asked.  My response was categorical – if they wanted my blood results they could have them either via email, USB stick or from a location in the cloud.  After much consultation I was given an email address to send my data to.

My next experience came a few days later when we had to call am ambulance for my mother in the middle of the night as she could no longer breath.  We were told there were no ambulances available but that an emergency medic would call.  This took over two hours – by which time my mother might have already died.  Fortunately she actually got better and so we followed the medics advice and took her to our local GP first thing … only to be told there were no appointments available and that we would have to take her to A&E ourselves!  By this time my mother was feeling perfectly normal again but spent the day on a ward waiting to see a cardiologist (her ECG was slightly off).  By end of day still no sign of the cardiologist and not wanted to bed block when she felt fine we asked if we could take her home for the night and come back the next day to see the cardiologist.   We were told however that this would mean she would be treated as an outpatient and would have to wait weeks to see a cardiologist.  Eventually she spent two nights in hospital, entertaining the ward, feeling totally healthy, and ended up discharging herself on the 3rd day as they still had no idea what was wrong with her.

And here comes my third moment of “WTF” – during her entire stay and during her discharge everything was done on paper!  Not a tablet in sight!  The nurses station was totally submerged in a mound of paper and even a simple questionnaire was done on paper.  Now the NHS has apparently spent millions on upgrading their IT systems … where exactly did that money vanish to?!

So as I look at this sacred cow I realise that it is clearly very sick and needs help.  Firstly we should not be having to bed block simply so that someone can see a doctor – the cost of that alone is an astronomical waste of money that could probably fund additional doctors to deal with the increased number of outpatients.  Secondly in this day an age there is no excuse for using paper anymore (and let’s not get started on the fact that the NHS still uses fax machines!) – which also costs more.  There is more than enough research showing the financial and safety benefits of going digital.  There are also now plenty of off-the-shelf products out there that could be used for at least the basics (like that questionnaire).  The cost savings of going digital would probably fund the tablets needed (or more doctors and ambulances).

The other thing that annoys me about the use of paper is the amount of waste it generates – both in terms of time (think of that poor sod who has to type up all that paper) but also in terms of environmental impact.  Which brings me on to my final “GRRRR” moment with my NHS experience – the excessive waste and use of disposable plastic.  Again this would be a quick fix and would surely save the NHS yet more precious pennies.  The wards seem to cope fine with re-usable plastic jugs and cups – why not implement this throughout the hospital.  And why on earth have we moved to using disposable plastic aprons for the staff serving food?  We seemed to cope fine in the recent past with traditional aprons that got cleaned after each use – which have the added benefit that they absorb spills rather than letting the spill drip down off the plastic apron onto the floor.

Despite all these issues, just like that elderly relative, I still love my NHS.  Whilst I am in shock at how antiquated it now is and the amount of wastage, the thing that still makes the NHS a world leader is the level of care its staff deliver – regardless of who you are.  The dedication and care of its doctors, nurses and support staff is world class and at the end of the day this is one of the most critical parts to healthcare.  If only though we could help those amazing people do their job better by supporting them with the use of technology and chipping away at the waste.  Our sacred cow deserves more and we should not be afraid to overhaul her to place what she does best at the centre, namely the care of patients – because at that the NHS truly excels, despite all its flaws.

Marketing and Sales – different skills

When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry I was told I would never work in pharma marketing without having been a sales rep. The fact that I hold a Masters in International Marketing, grew up in the industry (I followed in my father’s footsteps) and brought a range of highly pertinent skills was irrelevant – being a sales rep was seen as more critical to being a successful marketeer than having the right qualifications or skills.  I have since disproved this “fact” by spending the majority of my career working as a digital marketeer, in some shape or form, for some of the world’s top pharma companies.

During my career I have fortunately seen a shift in thinking away from this mentality but the sad reality it has not completely disappeared,  as evidenced in a job application I just saw for a top pharma.  There it was again – listed among the basic requirements of the job spec.  In this day and age I cannot for the life of me understand why work as a sales rep should still be a pre-requisite for a marketing role.  Far more critical should be a good understanding of basic marketing, multichannel engagement and a degree of creative flair or innovative thinking.

Sadly I have experienced, time and time again, the result of having sales people in marketing roles.  The lack of understanding of basic marketing by pharma marketeers, including senior people, is shocking. As I try to support brand teams and companies in developing and implementing innovative multichannel strategies I often have to also train them in basic marketing before we can even consider looking at how to navigate the complex multichannel world we now live in.  For example trying to explain to teams how to develop plans and strategies tailored to their customer segments I may discover that their idea of segment actually links to HCP group such as GP or Oncologists rather than actual detailed segments linking to behaviours and beliefs.

In order to be a successful marketeer today you need to understand not only basic marketing but you also need to understand the complexities that digital has driven.  You need to be creative and innovative to come up with marketing strategies that actually deliver real impact and engage, and not just be able to complete a brand planning template.  Our customers now face so much choice and can simply click away from pharmaceutical content and messages.  In many countries the role of the rep has diminished drastically and yet we still have many companies placing an inordinate amount of effort on this channel – and this is not helped if marketeers have been hired because of their sales skills rather than marketing expertise.  Whilst reps still play an important role for many brands they are now one of many channels and a marketeer needs to understand the reps role within a more complex and interconnected landscape.

We live in a noisy world where the customer has the power and the choice.  If companies continue to hire marketeers who tow the old line they will never see the impact they could be achieving.  Our industry needs innovators and people who will challenge the status quo.  We need people who will above all else always put the customer in the centre and try their utmost to understand what that customer wants and needs, and then deliver the brand messages in such a way that it speaks to those needs and resonates with those customers.  The big tech giants are already investing heavily in healthcare and if pharma companies start having to compete head to head with these companies it is pretty clear who the winner will be unless we change our approach and who we hire.  Anyone can learn to fill in a brand template but coming up with successful, innovative strategies that speak to today’s customers is a very different skill that takes talent, experience and a different mindset.


Life is like a mountain


Last weekend, after nearly 9 years of living in Switzerland, I finally made it to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn.  It was of course stunning, but it also got me thinking how life is a bit like a mountain.

At first it seems like this huge insurmountable obstacle, way off in the distance, but then as you get closer it becomes a challenge that you might just manage.  As you move forward and start climbing the mountain, it is tough going.  There are times when you question what you are doing, when your resolve waivers and the mountain starts to feel insurmountable again.

But then something happens and gives you the push to keep going.  This could be something such as the sun shining through the clouds and the sheer beauty of the mountain filling you with inner strength, or perhaps a friend giving you the encouragement you need.  Whilst these external elements are critical to getting up that mountain, without that inner strength and determination you probably will fail.

Once you have got to the top of the mountain there is that sense of elation and achievement – you are the top of the world and can look back at your journey with pride.  However sometimes the road down off the mountain is much harder – your drive to achieve something is gone (after all you have made it to the top!), and there can follow a low period as you arrive in the valley with no more challenge ahead.  This is when you have to start looking for the next mountain to climb and start your next challenge.

Right now I am about to start up my next mountain.  After 6 years of living in Switzerland, mostly working as an independent consultant, I am now packing up and getting ready to move and looking for my next challenge.  I have no idea right now what that next mountain will look like or how tough a climb it will be, but after climbing many mountains in the past I feel I have enough experience, and a great support network, to be able to make it up that next mountain.


Ready to climb my next mountain

Full disclaimer – I used a train to get to the top … no actual climbing involved!