Monday, July 23, 2012

ePharma Summit West: And Then We Went Home

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This week, ePharma Blogger for closerlook, inc. is in San Francisco covering ePharma Summit West.  Tune in every morning for a recap of the previous day's sessions!

Day Three of ePharma Summit West 
July 19th, 2012 

Before the day's festivities, I had a great chat with Pete Dannanfelser (@PeteDTweets, to his friends) that helped me crystalize a few thoughts I had been having about pharma conferences. Not specifically about ePharmaSummit West, but about all conferences. Thought they certainly applied here.

First, that by trying to present consumer and professional-focused sessions, conferences split the middle, guaranteeing that an audience member will only be able to take value from 50% of the sessions. Add to that the fact that even if someone is talking about something relevant to your interests, there's a 50% chance that the speaker will be talking too high or low level for you, or will simply not resonate. So at best, a conference can only bat .250 for any given attendee, though each attendee will see that 25% come from very different places.

But Pete had a different perspective, one that I started to see pop up in presentations: that the difference between consumer and professional is an arbitrary one. For example, if we make consumer-focused patient education guides, they will be built by the consumer-side. However, a professional-side rep will deliver them to an HCP, sometimes wrapped in a professional-facing product or program. That project could just as easily been built on the professional side as the consumer side, so why make a distinction?

This idea was reinforced on the second day during Chad Ballentine's presentation on consumer-side CRM. An audience member asked about HCP CRM and Chad replied that there was no connection between the two projects. I would wager that this wouldn't be an unseal reaction because as someone who works for a company that focuses on HCP CRM, we don't have too many chats about patient data. But really, the data is the data. Placing them in different silos (and systems and tools) isn't really helping anyone, is it? And yet, a common theme among presentations is that pharma needs to become more user-centered. The "user" doesn't have to be defined as patient or the HCP, but as the person that pharma touches. The gerrymandering way in which we draw a line between these two groups keeps us from really achieving such user-centered mindset.

 And yet, there are moments where you can see pharma being forced away from such separation, albeit in small ways. For example, Bill Drummy (@drumbeat) showed off apps that commonly put the rep and the HCP on the same side of the iPad to build engagement and understanding. Or Lori Keith's presentation on building a library of videos that helped build a conversation between the internal and external scientists (the more you break down walls, the more we must become comfortable giving up complete control). Breaking down walls between X and Y will grow from "idea" to "challenge" in the next year or two, I'm guessing.

The second point that gained some more clarity is the notion that these conferences serve as wailing walls for the industry. No matter how positive the presentation, the comments and off-line conversations tend towards moaning and "woe is us." This isn't helped by the common practice of starting each presentation with a series of slides that might as well be entitled, "We're all doomed and we'd be better off if we just stayed in bed."

I bet if I polled any five of you, you could build your own set of Doom slides, mentioning how blockbuster drugs are done, reps staffs are shrinking, docs don't want to see reps, technology and channels are fragmenting, the FDA won't let us play in social, and that HCPs only spend X seconds on a patient, Y minutes a month learning about new treatment options, and have to worry about Z new regulations that make everyone's life harder. It's time to eat a bowl of worms.

And yet, the last day's sessions bucked this trend. For example, when Facebook representative Christy Cooper talked about all the ways Facebook is bending over backwards to help build services within pharma's limitations, she wasn't laughed out of the room. The audience could see that even within tight regulatory limitations, good work was being done. And when Sanofi's presentation concurred, you could almost hear the light bulbs turning on. Mark Bard and Courtney McGowen's presented a strategy that helped bridge the gap between your great idea and MLR's crazy need to not get us all sued. It wasn't pie in the sky, but a set of steps that effectively closed the gap between the known and proven tactics and the new, untested and untried idea we think could have a real impact.

Finally, Phil McKinney's presentation brought home the idea that innovation isn't just in the R&D department, but can and should be leveraged everywhere. Yes, that sounds nice, but how can a brand manager or brand agency really achieve that? Well, we could let go of the what (product, service, channel) and focus more on the who (audience needs and audience segmentation) and the why (if you truly understand the "why," you can let go of what isn't necessary). By way of example, Phil told a story about his assistant who wondered why expense reports were so painful and found a new product which cut a few minutes off the process every month per person. That may not sound like much, but if you did the math across your company, you could see that a similar idea might save your brand hundreds of man-hours a year. What does that cost?

The positive note may have been lost on those people who had to catch early planes home, but it really ended the conference the right way. We all have those momentary epiphanies sitting in the audience, but how many of us end up applying them to our work? Isn't that what we really want to do? The catharsis of lamenting the future is fleeting. Walking away with action items and momentum is what we come for. Maybe I'll see you in March and we can compare notes then. Full notes of the day's events can be found at
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