Healthcare communication has been pretty average so far: Graham Edwards

By , agencyfaqs! | In Advertising | February 28, 2006
During his recent visit to India, Graham Edwards, regional president, Ogilvy Healthworld, Asia Pacific, spoke to agencyfaqs! about what drives the healthcare sector, and Ogilvy Healthworld's broader plans in India

Graham & #BANNER1 & # Edwards, regional president, Ogilvy Healthworld, Asia Pacific, was in India recently. In a candid conversation with agencyfaqs!, the man who has spent over 20 years in ad agencies and another seven working for pharma companies offers his insights on the healthcare industry and how he hopes healthcare marketing will improve in India.

Excerpts from the interview:

What sets the healthcare sector apart from mainline categories? Why do ad agencies need to have a separate department for healthcare advertising?

The healthcare sector is very different from the others; it is highly regulated by legislations, codes and practices. There is a need to understand these regulations, which requires domain expertise. Therefore, ad agencies treat it as a separate discipline.

Why has the healthcare sector not taken off as well as expected in India? What is the future of the healthcare sector in India?

In the past, local Indian companies used to copy international drugs and sell them at cheaper prices. That is why the market was so unorganised here. For instance, the success of the painkiller drug, Celebrex, which is marketed by Pfizer, generated around 50 similar drugs in India.

To tackle this problem, the Government of India introduced a law that protects intellectual property in January 2005. With the introduction of this law, the copying of drugs in this manner will no longer be allowed. And also, evidence based marketing will gain more importance.

What will also happen is the introduction of patent protected drugs by MNCs in India. MNCs will launch various marketing programmes around these patent protected drugs. Under the new law, any new molecule introduced in the Indian market cannot be copied until the patent runs out, which is usually a time period of 13 years.

The Indian healthcare market will take some time to sort itself out. The impact of this new legislation will bear fruit only over the next five years.

But why do healthcare companies in India not invest as much in marketing and advertising as they should?

Internationally, MNCs have traditionally worked with ad agencies. But I have to admit that the investment in marketing and promotion for healthcare brands has been fairly low in India. This is because there are so many drugs in one category that compete for the same market share that it makes a dent in the profit margins and doesn't really prove to be cost-effective for clients to go to full service agencies.

But as the market dynamics change, clients will have to turn to ad agencies to survive. Clients will look for partners who can help them draft positioning concepts and marketing strategies, as well as understand the dynamics of new and more evolved media for healthcare communication.

The pharma industry has been largely dependent on 'paper' communication, such as medical journals. It's time to move from paper to a bigger canvas, such as digital media…

Digital media in healthcare communication? How would you link the two?

Nowadays, it's getting harder and harder for medical representatives to catch hold of doctors. Most doctors today don't have the time to meet medical reps. On the other hand, doctors can't afford to ignore pharma companies, as these companies are the greatest source of information on the latest drugs and the pharma industry as such.

So, in order to solve this 'time' problem, digital media seems to be the way to go. In fact, it has already caught on in other parts of the globe, particularly in North America and Japan. For instance 'E-Detailing' on the Internet has a mechanism through which the doctor goes to a website and checks out information on a particular drug. This will catch on in India as well.

Apart from E-Detailing, even patient support programmes can use the digital medium effectively. There will be a time when we will be able to send 'compliance' messages on mobile phones. For instance, diabetics who don't take their medicines regularly will be sent SMS reminders.

To what extent are healthcare advertising divisions dependent on OTC (over-the-counter) products? Do you think that healthcare advertising in India would see a major boost if the number of OTC products were increased?

OTC products are significant players in the pharma market. It's true that more monies are spent in OTC advertising, as it involves communicating directly to the consumer. But still, I'll say that Rx (prescription) drugs form a major part of the market. Rx communication is targeted at the sales force and doctors, as well as patients, and involves developing educational materials and tools. After all, our business is not limited to advertising alone; it also involves the broader marketing spectrum, which includes interactive, design and medical education.

Coming to the second part of your question, I don't see how having more OTC products will result in any kind of boom. Probably, the only thing I can think of is more advertising in medical journals.

Bates Healthworld recently merged with OgilvyOne to form Ogilvy Healthworld. What was the need for this? What are your plans for the future?

The reason that this merger happened is simple: We wanted to have one global network that serves our healthcare clients in order to get more focus and clarity in our operations. We needed a consistent brand across the globe that could offer high-quality, 360-degree solutions.

Now, our aim is to make Ogilvy Healthworld the numero uno healthcare agency in the world.

The healthcare industry has been doing the same thing for the last 20-30 years. I'm referring to paper detailing, which has been going on ever since I started out as a medical rep, which, as you can see from my grey hair, was a long time ago! (Laughs)

At Ogilvy, we hope to offer more with the advent of digitisation. Just because the sector is governed by legislation doesn't imply that the communication has to be boring.

I remember when I was younger, I was handling some IT brands in an ad agency. People told me that working for IT brands was 'boring'. Today, some of the best work that is churned out by advertising is for brands such as Apple or IBM. So, you see, it's all in the mind. In pharma, too, we need to work within restraints, but what matters is that we produce good work.

So, you do admit that there is a perception issue regarding the quality of creativity in healthcare communication?

Let me put it this way: One of our goals at Ogilvy Healthworld is to change such attitudes and misconceptions. Actually, because this is one area of communication that involves a high amount of information sharing on diseases and drugs, as well as legislations, people use that as an excuse for doing bad work.

Personally, I believe the standard of healthcare communication is, by and large, pretty average, to say the least.

Any parting words on the Indian pharma industry? Where do you place India vis-à-vis other developing nations?

India will soon have a progressive pharma market, not just in terms of marketing medicines, but also clinical trials, particularly by MNCs.

Although it may sound silly, but the fact that Indians speak English very well in comparison to other developing nations is a big plus. India has some really great scientists, which will encourage companies to invest in the pharma industry here.

Besides, the costs of drug development and clinical trials in India are one third of what it costs in the US and the UK.

Another important factor that affects healthcare marketing here is that India has a large population. Out of that, the middle class comprises a big portion. From that belt, around 3-4 crore people can actually afford the best of healthcare. The real challenge lies in finding those people.

Forming strategies in the healthcare industry is quite similar to forming strategies in the consumer industry… we're just dealing with a different set of people and different constraints.

© 2006 agencyfaqs!

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