Whichever way you look at it the heat just got turned up. Whether you look at it from a social, political or business perspective, this is true, even within the healthcare sector.

Now, possibly more than any time ever before, the marketing teams within pharma, biotech and med device need to successfully elevate the brand for which they take responsibility.

In fact, we’d argue, on behalf of all of those responsible for marketing within the healthcare sector, we’ve been letting ourselves off lightly when it comes to measuring results. We’d argue that, whilst as a sector, we achieve better results, year on year, progress is slow. Given everyone’s health is core to their being, the resulting key performance indicators from even the best campaigns could be better.

Controversial? Why is this we hear you cry? How can you be so sure?

Simple. Having worked for many years on the dark side (outside of healthcare) and for many years now on the light side (healthcare), it seems there is a monumental failure in communication between client and agency at the most critical collaborative point, when true and honest relationships should be being formed. It is, after all, the best relationships that results in the most successful campaigns – it takes collaboration to win in this competitive world.

The cost of pitching is high on both sides
As in many business sectors, pitches between three, four and sometimes more agencies take place. Each of these agencies pours in huge amounts of strategic business capability, brand and communication strategy and creative talent – from those that are immersed in ideas, copy, the user-experience, to the learned and experienced experts in regulatory and medical affairs – they are all called upon. The target audience will be researched and hard cash parted with for travel, external consultations and presentation materials. An agency will spend between £20,000 to £40,000 (and sometimes considerably more) putting on an almighty show.

In fact, the cost to the agency is greater than even this. Most agencies net 20% profit or less which on a turnover of £5M might, before corporation tax be £1M (at best). That’s the same as 25 pitches. An agency turning over £5M may do more than 25 pitches a year to sustain its turnover. (I wonder if any purchasing manager has ever figured out how much budget is actually wasted by asking agencies to pitch? I wonder if any agency has pumped up its profits by simply not pitching?)

On top of this the client organisation invests its marketing team’s time in the pitch. Time that is already in short supply. Whole careers can ride on the success of a pitch and the campaign that ensues so there is heartache and stress. Who’d ever want to be found out for handing out the wrong brief? And then there is the pressure of the corporate business objectives and shareholder expectations. Plus, the reality that operational expenses are often already out of control.

All this resource and human investment is concentrated into a ninety-minute (at best) beauty parade in which, often, very subjective points of view hold sway. Then everyone goes back to their day job managing what’s urgent rather than what’s important.

Unless you win, you probably won’t have a meaningful conversation with the client
Speaking with a wide cross-section of PM Society members reveals there is hardly ever any meaningful feedback, in either direction, after a pitch. It’s a conversation that either never happens, or, if it does happen is more of a chat rather than a constructive feedback session where both parties can give their opinion within the context of clear business-like criteria.

Improving the pitch process would be to everyone’s benefit
If looked at from start to finish there are many ways in which the pitching process could be more formalised and tightened up so that, win or lose, participants from both sides actually get something out of it. Some ideas that came up from our conversation with members are:

1 Have a briefing call with all the right people client side

One common problem is that briefs can be wrongly interpreted. This often happens when key decision makers, make themselves available only for the pitch itself and are not involved in the process, leading to specific and important criteria being missed.  The number of times agencies are told ‘you came a close second’ means that there is no agency that has ever come third or fourth. Neither side, agency nor client makes the most of the process.

2 Give enough time so that a decent pitch can be put together

Pitches always run up to the wire but there is a limit to what you can do in a week when putting a pitch together for a project worth £1million.

3 Know who is going to be attending the pitch and their responsibilities

Pitches are tailored to their audience like anything else so this can make a pitch a lot more relevant and valuable.

4 Have a formalised way of scoring

This means that each agency knows what they will be judged on and therefore the pitches should be more relevant and presentations easier to compare objectively when scoring.

5 Post-pitch hold calls with each participating agency

This is the opportunity to share constructive feedback with each agency in turn and each agency will also have an opportunity to give their feedback on the whole process as well. This is how relationships are built, even if the pitch has been lost, positive connections can still be made.

If we don’t make the most of the pitch process we lose the opportunity to continuously improve as companies and people. If this doesn’t happen, the effectiveness of campaigns within the healthcare sector won’t be as effective as they can possibly be (ironic given we’re often communicating the efficacy of a medicine).

Let’s make it happen

If every agency and every client (marketing and purchasing) committed to this – to outline clear measurement criteria for each pitch presentation and campaign and to assess the winners and losers of the pitch on pre-shared criteria giving constructive, objective feedback, then all parties would be in a position to take something positive from the experience (whether they won or lost) therefore continually improving their offering.

Which is after all what health, health that is core to our being, so richly deserves.

Does anyone disagree?


Author: Stephen Page, Brand and Strategy Director, Page & Page and member of the PM Society Industry-Agency Relationships Interest Group