Under Pressure - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Under Pressure


Pharmaceutical Executive


MD Promotion: Slash and Burn


Primary Care: Detail Drop
Pharma companies have been retreating from the sales force arms race since the height of spending in 2004. IMS reports that the pharma industry spent 7 percent less on sales forces in 2007 compared with 2006—and 15 percent less than the high of $7.3 billion in 2004. (See "The Spending Sag".)

The scaleback makes sense given the hefty bills associated with maintaining large field forces, the scarcity of physician face time, and the growing power of managed markets to dictate prescribing. It seems that detailing simply doesn't work as well. According to a 2007 IMS study, detailing for brands launched after 2000 is 13 percent less effective when compared with brands that were launched before 2000.

That said, many of the cuts have been to primary care sales forces—in Abbott and Bristol-Myers Squibb, for example—which are refocusing their pipeline on specialty drugs that require fewer field forces. There was only a marginal retreat in specialty detail spending after healthy gains in 2006.

"It's been well documented that there was saturation with respect to detailing activity across the pharma industry," says IMS's Gascoigne. "There are only so many specialists," he says. "So there could be a saturation point, but we're not seeing a step-back."

The decline in detail and journal spending—10 percent from 2006—may also reflect changing attitudes about the best ways to reach physicians. Rather than bombarding customers with messaging, more marketers are looking at ways to let doctors choose the method and timing of communication. "Two or three years ago, we would talk about finding our target and surrounding them 360 degrees with our message, so no matter where they turned, that message would be there," says Anne Devereux, CEO of LyonHeart and TBWA/WorldHealth. "The goal now is to find the five to 10 degrees within the 360-degree radius where you have the most relevance and impact."

New technologies play a big role in this scenario, but not in the way pharma professionals may have predicted years ago. E-detailing, for example, generates a lot less buzz than social media sites for docs, like Sermo. "It's hard for a rep to communicate information from thought leaders," says Devereux. "Actually capturing the messaging and images of those thought leaders and putting it on the Internet—where people can create their own community, listen to the messaging when they choose, get the depth of data they're looking for—has been a big change."


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