Inoculation and Mutation
ON JULY 10, 2008, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a large trade organization of pharmaceutical companies, substantially revised its governing code. Among other changes, PhRMA banned the use of promotional products intended for health-care professionals, with the exception of items purely educational in purpose.
Slated to take effect January 1, 2009, the new code will cut the once-vast array of promotional products available to the pharmaceutical industry down to a few select items. Given these major changes, many distributors are surely wondering what their next move should be. To help explain which promotional items pharmaceutical companies are still interested in purchasing, Claire Edmondson, senior product manager for the drug Lovaza at the Philadelphia-based marketing headquarters
for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), spoke with Promo Marketing.
WORD FROM THE INSIDE
“We take the guidelines really seriously,” Edmondson stated. “Basically, we’re not giving out any pens, pads or premiums. Anything that is not medically relevant—all that stuff that we used to do—we will not be spending money on anymore. We take that seriously.”
As for what products Edmondson would still be open to using for promoting Lovaza, she said a lipid handbook for a physician would be a good example of a medically relevant item. “Maybe a model, maybe a wall chart,” she continued. “But, less and less of that. We’re not going to spend a lot of money there. [But] anything we give to the doctor is going to be educationally based.” She added, however, that promotional spending would vary across drug brands, meaning that Lovaza’s promotional spending may be larger or smaller than other products within the company.
GSK ia also willing to spend money on selling materials created as aids for pharmaceutical reps. These items, as Edmondson described, are FDA-regulated, clinically verified printed pamphlets and brochures that facilitate communication between health-care professionals and pharmaceutical salespeople. They’re designed to help make an immediate sale.
The overall code changes, combined with Edmondson’s statements, may create the impression selling promotional products to the pharmaceutical industry is a practice facing obsolescence. David Campochiaro, president of PromoVision Palomino, Memphis, Tenn. and Bonni Shevin-Sandy, president of Dard Design and vice president of Dard Products, Evanston, Ill., suggested otherwise. a new door opens
“We’re going to get more into the educational aspect,” said Campochiaro. “That’s going to be our force. That’s going to be what we push. We’re looking at more educational items for the pharmaceutical promotional market because they’re still going to have those budgets.” Informational charts or posters, anatomical models, or anything else that could be considered medically informative or educational in nature, are still fair game under the PhRMA code. Campochiaro also reported that now, a few months before the code revisions take effect, there have been noticeable increases in the demand and ordering of these kinds of items.
Shevin-Sandy similarly emphasized the use of educational items. In 2005, Dard Design began
preparing for a predicted tightening of the PhRMA guidelines. Assuming the trends of European pharmaceutical companies—where regulations on pharmaceutical promotions were already very strict—would continue to influence their American counterparts, Dard Design made significant changes to its manufacturing infrastructure.
To meet the new educational demands, Dard Design now offers numerous PhRMA-compliant items. Said Shevin-Sandy, “We have anatomical models, we have flip charts. We have anatomical posters, 2-D and 3-D, we do anatomical educational pullouts. We have a lot of pamphlet holders that also have pullouts about the drug.”
To help with the creation of these new products, Dard Design has expanded its staff to include several medical illustrators and designers. Besides making product design easier, the illustrators are there to ensure all items are scientifically accurate, something the new code regulates strictly. “We have to know our stuff too, because when we’re proofing these, you can’t have anything off even one centimeter, otherwise you’re going to have to redo the whole order, which is a huge liability,” Shevin-Sandy said. She also mentioned she encourages all her factories to have medical illustrators on hand to ensure accuracy
Scientific rigidity aside, there is some leeway in the code as to what kinds of products can be used in marketing campaigns. “The real strict [guidelines] are for what the pharmaceutical rep gives the doctor,” said Shevin-Sandy. “The ones that go out to the patient, they’re a little bit more lenient. You can still use a pen if it’s in a jotter, like a patient-care kit, so the patient has a little journal to write down when they took their medication or how they’re feeling or whatever they need to keep track of.” In addition, promotional items can provide necessary education and support. She pointed to an injection kit that helps patients recall the correct way to administer shots once at home and away from a doctor’s supervision.
Shevin-Sandy also emphasized the overall opportunity for growth within the PhRMA code. “For me, I’m not interested in doing five million pens,” she said. “I’m more interested in doing an educational piece where the distributor and supplier can both actually make a little bit of profit, and not have it be a price war against five other suppliers and five other distributors.” The creative challenge was something else she welcomed: “You need to think about how to use the drug, what can be done for the doctor to teach the patient about the drug and how [the patient] cares for themselves afterwards. So there are several different approaches to it.”