Phase Six: Regain Confidence

Not since 1997 has the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association given its Woman of the Year distinction to someone from the agency world. A former nurse, researcher and Big Pharma exec, Lynn O'Connor Vos, CEO of Grey Healthcare Group and this year's honoree, is on a mission.
Apr 01, 2005

IN A BRIGHT, AIRY OFFICE ABOVE FIFTH AVENUE IN NEW YORK,Lynn O'Connor Vos is talking about topics dear to her heart: trust—and how pharma can regain it—the need to put physicians back in the center of pharmaceutical marketing, and reinvention, a theme in her own life and the core to her approach to business.

"Pharmaceutical marketing used to be a sacred industry—and a kind of secret," she says. "You'd go to a party and say 'I work in pharmaceutical marketing.' They'd look at you as if to say, 'What's that?' Nobody thought that there was marketing to doctors."

No more. At a time when trust in pharma is falling and the public increasingly sees marketing as just another word for manipulation, seemingly everyone is all too aware that there is marketing to doctors, and now to consumers—and all too eager to put an end to it.

But what can the industry—and its partners—do? "There's an interesting equation in The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford," says Vos. "When self-promotion goes up, your opportunity for trust goes down."

And self-promotion has been a big part of pharma marketing, especially in recent years. "Think of detailing. There's a lot of self-promotion in it. It's all about the data and telling doctors the same thing over and over again. We'll never win the trust back that way."

The key, Vos says, is to focus on another variable in the trust equation: intimacy. "Intimacy means that you have to understand the doctor—where they live, what their issues are, how we can help them effect a better practice," Vos says. "Let's not just present them the data. Let's present them with some interesting consumer insights. We know about consumers—but we've never shared it. And let's actually help them be more effective physicians. Let's improve their credibility. We love this industry. We've got to get the trust back."

It's no surprise that Vos sees the solution (as well as the source) of many of pharma's problems in communications. She has worked in the field for more than 20 years, most recently as CEO of Grey Healthcare Group (GHG). Under Vos' leadership, GHG has grown into a global company with more than $1 billion in billings, 725 employees and 42 offices in 21 countries. She oversees an organization that comprises not only advertising, PR, and medical education, but also consulting, contract sales, direct marketing, and research units. In campaign after campaign, she has made innovative use of patient and physician education alongside traditional advertising and PR. Recent projects include AstraZeneca's Crestor (rosuvastatin); Exubera, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis' inhaled insulin product; ReFacto (recombinant antihemophilic factor), from Wyeth; and Actonel (risedronate), an osteoporosis drug from Procter & Gamble—among many others.

Vos and her agency have won numerous awards. But this year she is the recipient of an honor from an organization she's supported for years: the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA), which selected Vos as its Woman of the Year. In part, the award reflected the success of GHG. But in reading the nominating letters, it is clear that there were other, equally important factors: Vos' vision and innovative spirit, the breadth of her expertise, her commitment to her employees, and her well-known passion for pro bono work.

To mark the occasion of the award, Pharm Exec recently sat down with Vos to discuss her career, her philosophy of healthcare communications, and the importance of public service.

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