The Permanent Campaign - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Permanent Campaign

Pharmaceutical Executive

Lesson No. 1: Start and Win the Campaign As Early As Possible

In the 2008 presidential race against Republican Senator John McCain, then-Democratic Senator Barak Obama and his team anticipated that Internet-empowered voters and other constituents, with ready access to all types of information, would make much earlier decisions about presidential candidates than in previous campaigns. According to media consultant Pete Snyder, the team believed that the traditional timetable for voters to select their candidate had fundamentally shifted from the traditional 72 hours before Election Day to weeks or even months prior to the election.

Using an unconventional approach, Obama conducted his most intensive campaigning very early in the cycle. For example, in the usually slow summer months preceding the election, Obama outspent McCain by nearly 10 to 1 and secured Virginia, a traditionally Republican state which allowed voting six weeks ahead of the election. In fact, over one-third of all votes cast in the 2008 presidential race arrived before Election Day, double the amount in 2000. By starting his campaign early and aggressively, Obama shaped early opinions, drove fundraising money and volunteers into his campaign, and ultimately won the election.

Similarly, pharmaceutical companies need to initiate their product launch campaigns much earlier than in the past. This is particularly important for new challengers, since incumbent products already have established brand-name recognition, clinical experience, and stakeholder relationships. While companies must remain compliant with commercial regulations, many companies make the mistake of waiting for most of their market research and clinical data before initiating late, traditional launch campaigns. This outmoded approach allows rivals to pre-position and create a negative initial perception of a company's launch product.

Lesson No. 2: Define Your Message, Agenda, and Competitors

In election terms, a "message" is the core concept that a candidate wants to convey to voters. It is analogous to the "positioning" of a product. Obama's 2008 campaign message was clear and simple: "change." Using the slogan, "Change we can believe in," Obama incorporated the word change into nearly every speech, interview, press release, and debate, including 11 times in his last three debates with McCain. While the McCain campaign switched from message to message, the Obama campaign consistently stayed with the change message throughout the election. The Obama team positioned Obama as the agent of change in contrast to McCain and leveraged change to highlight his election agenda, including healthcare reform.

Obama's campaign demonstrated the power of owning a single word—change—in the minds of the voters. Likewise, companies that position their drugs in stakeholders' minds with one or only a few key words are generally more successful in product launches. Moreover, Obama early in the campaign was able to define his opponent and the election on his terms. Defining or pre-positioning your competitor and establishing the criteria for product comparisons are particularly effective launch techniques.

Lesson No. 3: Create a Winning Perception

In the 2008 election, the perception of Obama as the presidential agent of change was carefully crafted and cultivated in several ways. In the presidential debates, Obama appeared "presidential:" composed, calm, and sensible, while conveying optimism and hope. He regularly told stories about his upbringing, including the many changes in his personal life and how his grandparents, who raised him, gave him "hope." Obama's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope," highlighted his message of change in the form of election reform. His image was literally created in the ubiquitous "Hope and Change" portrait poster, one of the most widely recognized symbols of Obama's campaign.

In presidential elections, certain constituents base their vote primarily on the candidates' issues and facts. However, Obama's campaign team recognized that many undecided or swing voters, who often determine the outcome of close races, rely more on the character or perception of a candidate. Similarly, in highly competitive launches, the overall perception of a new product is often more important to many pharmaceutical constituents than the details of a drug's clinical profile or data. Within regulatory constraints, launch teams should create and ensure an initial, positive perception of a pre-launch drug very early in the campaign. This can be achieved through a variety of approaches, including public relations and stakeholder management.


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