Marketing to Professionals: No Sales Force, No Problem

Pharma companies turn to direct-mail marketing tactics to boost sales for older drugs
May 01, 2007

George Koroneos
When it comes to direct-mail marketing, tiny envelopes and wordy letters just don't cut it. But for a fraction of the cost of a sales call, you can create an eye-catching mailer that will land on physicians' desks rather than in the circular file.

The key is to use a dimensional mailer that will stand out from the ton of regular mail that doctors receive every day. This can be anything from a poster tube to a box containing an alarm clock shaped like an egg.

Direct-marketing firm Harte-Hanks recently took advantage of this marketing tactic when King Pharmaceuticals approached the agency to reinvigorate interest in Intal, an inhaled mast-cell stabilizer indicated for allergies, seasonal allergic rhinitis, and bronchial asthma. The 17-year-old brand hadn't been marketed since 1999—the only thing that existed in any form from an aesthetic standpoint was a logo. Worst yet, King had no e-mail lists or customer-relationship management (CRM) information and zero funds for sales force marketing.

Harte-Hanks mailed colorful posters to physicians in a campaign designed to boost interest in Kings Intal asthma medication.
According to Julian Parreño, senior vice president of pharmaceutical markets at Harte-Hanks, the product had been a favorite among allergists. However, as new medications were introduced and as the asthma inhaler category widened, doctors stopped prescribing the drug. Many physicians weren't even sure which company manufactured the product.

The challenge was on, and Harte-Hanks accepted. The agency began up-front studies and phone surveys and established a control group before any marketing activity started. This was done to determine the average physician's propensity to prescribe the drug. Harte-Hanks also surveyed King's existing database of physicians to better target the marketing material. The most coveted audiences were allergists, pulmonologists, pediatricians, and family and general practitioners.

Since there were no e-mail lists for e-detailing, Harte-Hanks felt that mail would be the best route for marketing. Matt Rosenblatt, vice president of creative services at Harte-Hanks, told King, "You're really going to know the viability of the mail tactic because there is no other game in town. There is no sales force, no e-mail address list, no general advertising being done—nothing."

The agency segmented its audience into categories on the basis of impact; doctors who write a lot of scripts in the category of asthma but don't have high brand awareness were hit with the biggest packages and the most mailers. Fewer mailers were sent to doctors who don't prescribe much but who do prescribe a lot of Intal. Finally, the smallest mailers were sent to physicians who consistently prescribed the drug, despite the lack of reminder marketing.

"Physicians are the toughest audience to reach by mail," Rosenblatt says. "Very often, you're dealing with office managers who are tossing promotional packages before they even reach the desired physician. We had to create mailers that felt clinical but that really popped so they'd get past the office manager to the doctor."

Make Mailers Matter

Harte-Hanks had the budget to do four high-end packages: two dimensional and two flat. The first wave of mail came in a large blue tube with Clear the way embossed on the label. The tube held a large poster. According to Rosenblatt, posters work very well as mailers because physicians hang the posters on their waiting-room walls, spurring further patient–healthcare professional dialogue.

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