Effective pharma-patient interaction requires credible representation within communities

Every year, the board game community BoardGameGeek (BGG)  holds an annual convention called BGG.con. It’s pretty much paradise for US unplugged gamers: a library of over 3,500 titles, round-the-clock sessions, vendors, and more.

BGG.con is usually held in at the Hyatt Regency Dallas Fort Worth International Airport hotel.

Meet Glenn.

Glenn is a board game fan, and a member of the BGG community.

Glenn is also an employee of the Hyatt hotel and resort chain.

Glenn wants his fellow community members to have a good experience when they visit the place where he works, and proactively reaches out to pre-empt as many issues as it is feasible to address.

BGG community members express their appreciation verbally within the thread he starts, and also shower him with thumbs and ‘geek gold’ (we gamers had a virtual currency long before Bitcoin ;))

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 18.44.09

What can pharma learn from this?

Let’s start by reviewing the landscape.

I’m hoping that it’s obvious enough to those who haven’t sacrificed their intellect on the altar of madness presided over by the high priests of multi-channel marketing (MCM) that pharmaceutical marketing is undergoing a saltational evolution.

It is happening rapidly.

It is taking place everywhere.

Its effects are already being felt.

Far from rising to the challenge for the most part the pharmaceutical industry has yet even to recognise the changes that are taking place around it, let alone progress beyond acknowledgment through denial, then disdain, then acceptance, and finally to action.

Setting aside the usual conservatism, reticence and risk-aversion that is the industry’s default mode, for the most part pharmaceutical marketers haven’t ‘got what it takes’ to interact authentically with patients.

I don’t mean this in a pejorative sense.

Rather, I mean that they have neither lived with, nor had first-hand experience of the disease areas they work in.

However, there are plenty of people who, unfortunately, do have the requisite experience: patients.

Hyatt’s Glenn is a trusted, authoritative, respected voice within BGG because he is one of the community.

Similarly, pharma needs fully-disclosed patients on the payroll who were community members before they were employees. People who are known, credible, and capable of reducing the gap between the people who make the drugs, and the people who take the drugs.

In order to be plausible, pharma’s claim to be patient focused needs to be borne out in a practitioner-led reality. There need to be patients on the board, patients on brand teams, patients present everywhere the industry is, informing every aspect of its strategic and tactical activities.

Pharma doesn’t just need to ‘listen to the patient voice’; pharma needs to have a patient face. 

That’s asking a lot of the patient, of course. They’re shouldering the burden of responsibility regarding reputation risk.

However, if pharma-patient relations are going to thaw, the industry needs to represent itself within patient communities through patient employees. There’s no other way that it can legitimately take part, anyway.

Regardless of how attractive it may look to the industry in principle, MCM is far from future-proof. Personally, I’d argue that it’s already dead, and that it was always broken as a concept.


Because to speak of the ‘authenticity’ of a message expressly designed to be redistributed in more than one context is a contradiction in terms.

How authentic can an exchange be that is pre-formatted? Shaped, nuanced, with all the colour and life that the spontaneity of reacting to the opinions of others in real time confers wrung out of it?

In concept and in practice, MCM is an anachronism in the social age.

If you don’t accept that, then be prepared to explain why.

MCM may look good in a deck, but arrows and flow charts do not build relationships: people do.

Whilst digital technologies enable global, near-instant one-to-many communications, relationships are still built on a one-to-one basis. In different countries; in local languages; at a national, regional, and local level.

The bigger the Internet and social web becomes, the tighter our focus will need to be on the emerging communities around us.

The global brand plan is now local.

3 thoughts on “Effective pharma-patient interaction requires credible representation within communities

  1. Great suggestion Andrew! It surely is one of the largest but best changes tot the current health industry.
    It will be difficult to them 😉
    As in lots of great changes, the first one who dares, will take the most benefits and will learn the most from doing so. from that will emerge their (needed) profit.
    There’s just one thing that we need to ascertain too: how will patient be given free speech and will they be trusted and accepted by the patient communities they relate to?

    • Morning, Rob

      Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment.

      There’d be little point in having a patient on the payroll if they weren’t at liberty to speak their mind in order to advance mutual interests, whilst being mindful of their responsibility to their employer — just like any other employee, in any other organisation.

      The question of trust is predicated upon the perception of the patient-as-community-member. After all, they’d only take up such a role if they thought they’d be able to maintain their own credibility whilst connecting patients and industry in a more productive manner.

      • Indeed, precisely what I meant, no comments from me there.
        The critical issue is whether the patient himself is resilient enough to do the proper thing and will have the right attitude to take up the role as you so adequately describe, despite his income.. Remember the discussion about payed epatients that we had some time ago on twitter about the very issue.
        I guess I would recommend the industry first to find a right consultant, like you for instance, to give the guidelines and coach the persons involved. An oversee like this, won’t be a luxury to develop the new feature in their marketing/communication/pr. Besides, it might help to guide the internal discussions too about this.
        Thanks for your discussion!

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