Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No, they're not joking

Full disclosure: I'm a Habs fan... sometimes the Bruins... never the Leafs. But even Leafs fans have to think this little trinket from the infamous Bradford Exchange is funny. "Celebrate a Legacy of Champions"? It's no coincidence that this is a cuckoo clock... Maybe Bradford has a better sense of humour than we thought.

Six Million Dollar Minds

Getting six of Canada’s top pharma executives together for a PMCQ meeting was years in the making. It had been tried many times. You can imagine all the things that have to fall into place to make this kind of event happen. “Like trying to herd kittens,” quipped one PMCQ board member. Scheduling conflicts, lack of time, lack of interest, you name it… Yet, on May 13, 2008, the planets aligned, the clouds parted, and there they were: Pfizer Vice-president of Marketing Guy Lallemand, Schering-Plough President Carlos Dourado, Lundbeck President Patrick Cashman, Merck Frosst President Dawn Graham, along with Novartis President David Meek and Bristol-Myers Squibb President Wayne Quigley.

The next challenge: would these captains of industry, keepers of the pharma flame be forthcoming? For the overflow crowd of more than 300 captivated pharmaceutical professionals the answer was a resounding “yes, and then some.”

With PMCQ president Greg Buie ably and courageously handling the moderator hot seat, the evening kicked off with a question about pharma’s biggest challenges in today’s market. Pfizer’s Guy Lallemand broke the ice with, “… when you come to commercialise the product, there are still a lot of challenges in the marketplace in terms of accessing physicians… there’s a level of scepticism now as a result of some of the newer products that we may not have delivered on their initial promise.” Novartis president David Meek commented, “… the issue we‘re struggling with is a fundamental lack of trust between health authorities and industry, and between the payers and industry. We’ve got to fix that.” To which Lundbeck president Patrick Cashman added, “We’ve also lost trust with patients. We’ve become the bad guys and there have been some studies that show we rank just above the tobacco industry. We’ve got a serious credibility gap with patients out there.”

Refreshing, candid, outspoken, honest and, at times, even a little angry, these six esteemed guests spoke from their hearts and minds in ways that surprised a number of pharma veterans who’ve been around the blockbusters a few times. They explained the problems of Health Canada and praised the value of RX&D. In particular, Schering-Plough’s Carlos Dourado said, “In 2006, RX&D published a little booklet on the benefits of the pharmaceutical industry to Canada. I liked it so much I sent it to every employee in the company… I venture to say that 2% of my own organisation read the book. This is a tremendous tool that has all the arguments there in terms of benefits of the pharmaceutical industry...”

They explored the differences between global marketplaces and gave us a peek at how Canada is viewed by the rest of the world. They talked about the ever-expanding customer base. They complained about how pharmaceutical marketing had gotten boring. And they talked about innovation.

For BMS’s Wayne Quigley, innovation is something the industry both excels in and lacks: “I think our research is innovative. I think our medicines are innovative. I think we lag in figuring out where this market’s headed in innovating around the customer model. I don’t think we’ve innovated enough about how we’re integrating our medical science people with our marketing people with our salespeople to really drive these marketplaces.”

Notably, they all talked about the need for change. David Meek said, “… We’ve been a massively successful industry over time. So, when you tell people we need to change… we probably haven’t done a good enough job of communicating why. Because they’ll look back and say, ‘Hey boss, we’ve been successful, look at our numbers…’ But we do need to change… right now we are sort of turning the Titanic… And if we don’t adapt and change, and shape the new world, then we’re going to be a victim like many other companies have in the past.”

For Dawn Graham, it’s not all about the strategy: “Culture eats strategy for lunch. You can have the best strategy in the world. You can have the best technical expertise in the world. But if you don’t change your culture, you’re toast. I really believe that in the next five years or so, there will be real winners in our industry and real losers. And the winners will be the ones who have innovated but have also managed to change their culture.”

Despite the dire wording and dark predictions, the six executives remained positive about the future. Guy Lallemand got the last word and summed it up best: “The solutions and opportunities are clearly within our grasp. It’s really going to be up to us to take a hold of this, forget about the past, move forward, work more closely with our field forces… about how they can become more relevant with their customers. And it’s got nothing to do with our brands but about solutions to healthcare challenges and healthcare issues.”

The World According to Diane

On a bitterly cold January morning, as we awaited Barack Obama’s swearing-in and highly anticipated inaugural speech, Diane Francis warmed up the PMCQ with her view of the world and the changes ahead.

National Post columnist, Huffington Post blogger, renowned broadcaster and author of nine best-selling books, Diane Francis came to discuss marketing and branding in a complicated world. She reminded us that everyone has to be a marketer in life and that we are all a brand, a reputation… we are the services and goods we provide. Of course, one the world’s great new brands was just three hours away from becoming the 44th President of the United States.

If President Obama saves the world as everyone expects, we will be forever indebted to his “co-branding” with Oprah. According to Ms. Francis, Oprah made it all happen. “There is no American in the world with greater soft power than Oprah Winfrey, who has built an incredible brand worldwide… a brand that is honest, has integrity, is warm… and (has) a huge audience…” Makes you wonder why Ms. Winfrey didn’t run for president.

Obviously, great brands can achieve great things. They rise to the occasion when the occasion demands it. “The principal reason he became president… is because of the meltdown of the financial system worldwide. The Republicans could have run Jesus Christ… and they wouldn’t have won.” Now that’s bad branding.

Ms. Francis cites four ways the Republicans damaged their brand: The attempt to shrink government. The Iraq war. The Katrina fiasco. And $4 a gallon gas.

The world was ready for change and looking for the kind of hope that Mr. Obama offered. And some extraordinary signs came just days and even hours before the inauguration. Russia and the Ukraine signed a deal ending their conflict. Israel declared a ceasefire in Gaza. But while the usual global suspects await the new president, a new threat rises to the republic’s south — Mexico, where Ms. Francis predicts US troops will be battling the drug cartels within the next four years.

Canada, however, remains the “nice” neighbour who doesn’t cause any trouble. In fact, Ms. Francis would like to see the border between the US and Canada “redrawn” into an all-encompassing perimeter as we form a “customs union” complete with collaboration and cooperation on immigration, customs and excise, interdiction and so on.

When it comes to business trends, Ms. Francis contends that the real-time nature of information that’s available 24/7 means companies and individuals must know how to react in real-time. As a result, decision-making and disclosures are accelerated. And if that’s not stressful enough, technology has made it impossible to hide. “Everything is known to everybody very quickly, and that includes patent information, proprietary information, gossip… (it’s all) now easily discovered.” The blogs of whistleblowers and disgruntled employees can spring up just about anywhere online, creating huge problems for businesses, governments and individuals.

“You have transparency unlike ever before. You have real-time information which changes decision making. And you have the acceleration of events and information flow that also affect decision making and careers.”

The global village’s biggest business trend is “disintermediation” or “cutting out the middleman.” This refers to the “bricks versus clicks” landscape, a very real situation in retail (hello Amazon, Ebay) and certainly becoming a challenging scenario in healthcare, where patients do their own diagnosing and would like to write their own prescriptions. “Wherever the middle can be eliminated, it has been, it will be, and that’s not going to stop,” warns Ms. Francis. “The power now is completely in the hands of the consumer… Marketers are now seeding influential blog sites with product launch information. They don’t necessarily need a huge audience but they need the audience of the influencers…”

The power shift from the brand to the buyer is evident when you consider how easy it is to do your own research online. Shopping for a car, a TV, a Valentine’s gift or a treatment for your health problems is just a few clicks away. Too bad baby boomers are such slow adopters. Their health may depend on it, especially given the stress inducing financial crisis.

“I’m an optimist about the current financial situation because I have never seen the level of multilateral cooperation, the fact that every central banker, every finance minister, every prime minister, president and even dictator in the world is probably in touch with one another on an hourly basis trying to fix the financial problem and they have done a lot already to avert an even worse outcome. With that level of cooperation and the fact that we are all wired in one globe together, I have every reason to believe that we are going to come out of this on the other end, but I think it will take two years of muddling around for the worst to be over with.”