The Permanent Campaign - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Permanent Campaign

Pharmaceutical Executive

Lesson No. 4: Anticipate, Counter, and Respond to Attacks

Presidential candidates often handle a variety of criticisms or attacks from campaign opponents or election constituents against their policies, actions, or character. For example, in the 2004 presidential campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a political group of US war veterans, attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and his Vietnam war record. The Kerry team waited several weeks before responding to the allegations, but his campaign lost its momentum and ultimately the election. In contrast, when Obama was linked to the controversial Pastor Jeremiah Wright, he responded within days by giving an impassioned speech distancing himself from the pastor and his rhetoric.

Increasingly, competitive companies and various stakeholders are criticizing or undermining developmental drugs during pre-launch period. Some competitors conduct counterlaunches to preempt and defeat new products months or years prior to their launch. These competitors will analyze the launch company and product, identify potential weaknesses, and directly (or indirectly, through supportive stakeholders) attack during the pre-launch phase when a new product is most vulnerable. This approach is akin to campaign teams who conduct background research on opponents to exploit an opponent's "skeletons" and to identify ways to get the opponent "off-message" by highlighting political or personal liabilities. Counterlaunches are forcing product launch companies to conduct competitive intelligence and competitive simulations earlier in the pre-launch phase to anticipate and preempt such attacks in order to "inoculate" their new products.

Lesson No. 5: Be the Best on the Big Stage

As a 2004 senatorial candidate from Illinois, Barack Obama captivated the Democratic National Convention with a keynote address that catapulted him onto the national stage and later into presidential contention. Four years later, he helped secure the Democratic presidential nomination with a surprising victory in the Iowa Democratic presidential caucus, the first election of the primary season.

Early state caucuses are major indicators of front-runners, similar to professional medical society congresses for launch products. At the major medical conferences, launch and counterlaunch companies are trying to steal the show and create initial impressions for launch products and competitive products. Aggressive companies seek to dominate congresses through late-breaking abstracts or news, intensive face-to-face scientific outreach, and high-impact sponsorships.

Lesson No. 6: Effectively Execute the Brand Promise

While the Obama team ran a archetypical campaign in many ways, many constituents believe that Obama has failed during his two years in office to deliver on several major campaign promises, including proposed Iraqi war policies and comprehensive healthcare reform. For both election and pre-launch campaign teams, it is essential to execute in the marketplace. Pharmaceutical stakeholders want products and companies to fulfill or exceed their expectations.

Implications for Pharmaceutical Professionals

Increasing competition and more empowered stakeholders have transformed the timing and approach to product launch campaigns. Pre-launch competition is coming earlier, more intensely, and across a broader spectrum of better-informed stakeholders. Consequently, traditional post-launch promotions, including field sales and advertising, have become relatively less important, while pre-launch activities have become more critical. Professionals who understand this paradigm shift and adapt to it will gain significant advantage in an increasingly competitive industry.

Stan Bernard, MD, MBA, is President of Bernard Associates, a global pharmaceutical industry competition consulting firm. He can be reached at


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