This year I had the honour of being asked to take part in one of the panels at Digipharm around the effective implementation of digital strategy. Having only arrived straight from the airport 30 minutes before and with very little idea of what I was meant to be talking about I was a little worried.
I am happy to say though that I really enjoyed the session. Then again no surprise there – I LOVE social media in pharma and here I was getting to answer questions about my favourite subject! It was noticeable though that the moment I mentioned that I was a social media expert ears pricked up and I suspect there would have been a great deal more questions had there been more time. But why? Social media is not rocket science is it? Even within the regulatory constraints it should not be this complicated.
Unfortunately though the reality is that social media is a minefield of complications, misunderstandings and false expectations. In big pharma though one of the largest issues can be internal politics. Traditionally pharma has been very siloed and this has led to what is often a highly political internal environment. It can be these siloes and the subsequent politics that can cause some of the largest barriers to effective digital and social media implementation.
Big brands for example can have far more political clout internally than cross brand functions and they certainly hold the budget. In digital and social however the world does not work by brand but by disease or topic area. Even where cross functions have more internal power the whole set up of pharma companies is still invariable stuck around big brands which does not fit with the external reality.
I am not for one moment saying that pharma companies need to restructure but there does have to be a realisation, at senior level, that the current set up is not optimal for today’s conditions. The world has changed and the industry needs to change more to align with today’s reality. Patients are online and trying to engage – they do not understand (or care) about the industry’s structural and regulatory impediments.
This is not a new message – and this is the sort of thing that I was hearing way back at Digipharm when I last attended a few years ago. It is sad that the industry has still not moved fast enough and we still face the same issues. It is however heartening to see changes that have occurred. When I attended digipharm a few years ago there were the familiar faces (Alex Butler, Gary Monk, etc.) that you always came across at these events. They were the few pioneers. Today the audience is full of pharma digital marketers (ok not bursting full but mildly full). The industry is definitely changing and digital is now being taken seriously and organisations are starting to build digital resources and knowledge.
However the sad reality is that one of the reasons the same issues still crop up is that the industry is just not changing fast enough and is still not putting enough resourcing behind digital and social media. The industry does have more digitally skilled employees now but still not enough. Invariably digital and social media within pharma is still far too much in the hands of agencies simply because pharma companies have not bulked up internal skills and resources.
The world has moved full stream ahead into digital and social media – our stakeholders are there – why are we still so far behind?