Human touch: experimentation and diversity at DigiPharm Europe 2011

DigiPharm Europe 2011 was characterised by an upbeat, diverse but above all human selection of presentations.

The companies and thought leaders that participated demonstrated that there is no short-cut to social, and that it is those enterprises that have already committed themselves to answering the call of the social turn in business that are continuing to deliver the most interesting and engaging work.

A clearly-defined hierarchy of competency has now been established within the industry which is not going to be re-ordered in the forseeable future.


Because progress within social environments cannot be bought: it must be earned through connection and endeavour, which will be characterised by failure as well as success. The business that emerges will have been tempered by the flames through which it has passed, and not only hardened thereby but also made more useful.

Pharma’s social leaders will continue to lead as they expand and augment their activites. They will have been given confidence by their growing competence and the broadening of their skills as the vanguard supports colleagues across the business. As a consequence, they will feel empowered and afforded greater liberty to undertake bolder experiments by a senior management assuaged by the attention previous successes have attracted.

Those companies that continue to drag their heels or worse still delay their entry into social environments have already damaged the future prospects of their business through their tardiness. That they should persist in trying to find reasons to justify the indefensible would now be tantamount to a given pharma company wilfully placing obstacles to its success in its path by its own hand. This is not only counter-intuitive, but also sends a very poor message about a company’s strategic competency, cultural perspicacity and self-awareness to healthcare professionals, providers, patients and investors alike.

Here are some of the presentations that I enjoyed most from the other side of the presenter’s podium:

Alex Butler, who has recently announced his departure from Johnson & Johnson to start his own agency, presented a compelling account of the benefits that sharing, co-operation and collective action can confer upon the industry:

Silja Chouquet delivered an impassioned appeal for the industry to commit itself to investing as much humanity as possible into each of the connections it creates. This was not mere rhetoric of course, and was supported by some of her trademark, high-quality bespoke analysis. Silja is pictured in full flow below:

Andrew Widger gave a excellent account of how Pfizer’s understanding of social environments is evolving:

He went on to offer examples of how the company is collaborating with regional partners in different geographies in order to support its campaigns most effectively:

Perhaps the highlight of the entire conference for me was Nick Broughton‘s peerless exposition of ‘the witless tragedy that is compliance without ethics’, which he expands on in this blog post with a link to the full presentation:

Len Starnes offered a comprehensive update to his leading curation and analysis of healthcare professional networks and their significance for healthcare marketing strategies:

John Pugh gave a tantalising preview of Boehringer’s new social game Syrum, designed to raise awareness of the unseen investment that pharma companies make in drug development:

In summary, DigiPharm allowed those pharma companies that are already participating in the social web to share what they have achieved in the preceding months, and to showcase what they have planned for the year ahead.

In the interim, those companies that continue to seek out reasons not to set out on their own unavoidable journies are left to gauge how much further they have fallen behind.

3 thoughts on “Human touch: experimentation and diversity at DigiPharm Europe 2011

  1. Great roundup, Andrew. I interviewed a trusted source recently for a benchmarking report who told me that a CEO at a Top 10 pharma company was absolutely, dead-set against ever engaging in social media. She said this CEO’s position was intractable, that the company wouldn’t be entering the space until that CEO is no longer there. I wonder at what point does a company realize it has passed the point of no return in refusing to join its competition. In my research, I find that on the ground, healthcare communicators are dumbfounded by the failure of the C-suite to grasp the nature of digital communication and the imperative to engage consumers. I particularly like the way you framed it: companies looking for reasons *not* to engage fall further behind, thus further entrenching the existing “hierarchy of competency.”

  2. Hi Casey

    Thanks for the kind words, and for having taken the time to comment. That’s a pretty depressing picture that you paint. That one person should be able to impede the progress of an entire enterprise in such a manner is ludicrous, but I can both imagine and believe the scenario all too well.

    The C-suite remains one of the biggest impediments to the industry evolving as social businesses. I understand that an average day in the C-suite can include anything from new molecules to fiendish financial planning to engulfing waves of internal communications, so it is hardly surprising that its inhabitants don’t have time for the minutiae of planning the future architecture of their enterprise.

    However, being swamped by the day-to-day is not an excuse for failing to remain apprised of developments within a communications revolution that I maintain will radically reorient the way that the entire idustry does business.

    In the last instance, I believe that much of the C-suite’s reticence about engaging with social is borne of a fear of disclosing their ignorance, and a need to save face. Perhaps there is a space here for introducing the concept of the ‘social evolution of the enterprise’ as a ‘legacy project’ for Senior Executives Of A Certain Age who – for understandable, but rather pathos-inducing reasons – seek to leave something behind.

    I think those companies that have yet to commit themselves to the social turn in business have now reached the point of ‘whatever it takes to get the job done’.

  3. Andrew, I don’t mean to imply that our industry is characteristically hamstrung by corporate-level bureaucracy, and certainly didn’t intend to paint a depressing picture.

    As I tweeted earlier today, I think the data speaks for itself in that social media engagement, by the pharma companies that have chosen to undertake it, has been largely successful thus far. I raised the earlier point about one C-suite for which social engagement is a non-starter to illustrate that I think you are correct in your assessment that it will be harder for non-participants to develop the internal aptitude that participants have already gained.

    Like you, I believe that the on-the-ground reality for many of those decision-makers is a complex, highly pressurized environment in which “social media” is not a boardroom concern. In light of what’s at stake for those men and women and their stakeholders, who can blame them? In short, I am suggesting that the best way for the industry to develop its social acumen is through the incremental, demonstrable gains that internal and external digital “evangelists” are already achieving. I just think it will be a slower process than some would like, given what we both can agree is a tough crowd.

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful response and exchange (though given the caliber of people trying to make a difference in this space, is not surprising in the least).


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