Just sitting there, in a tidy room, contemplating lazily those motivational posters on the wall and sipping latte with a relaxed smile. Also, figuring out how best to style those key messages in pharma promotional content. Fun and creativity!

A common stock-photo depiction of digital content makers, is can be a mighty offence trigger for many of the actual content makers. In fact, that’s why it isn’t presented here, because we all know agencies have their struggles.

Many struggles, in fact, nearly all of which boil down to competition, efficiency and, you know, kind of reaching that latte-infused ideal of relaxed creativity. However, to get on the road to that, one needs, as an agency, to find a common language with the customer, and solve the most common challenges along the way. How common are these? We have outlined but several which lie at the core of the more particular problems.

Challenge #1: Overcoming sporadicity

finding a common language with the customer

The good old customer retention rate is not just an indicator of how well you’re doing; a certain stability in collaborations brings benefits to both pharma and agency. However, certainly not all agencies can boast of having a stable customer environment. Working sporadically from project to project, taking on whatever falls into hands, is the equivalent of running a race but changing the route every minute. In this latter case, time is lost on transition; in the former, effort (and time!) is lost on establishing communications, workflows, learning anew, etc.

This random approach is mostly taken willy-nilly. Sometimes it is justified by saying something about “not being stuck in a bubble” and “trying out new things”, or “maintaining alertness in the face of new customers”. Of course, new contracts are always a good things, but they can’t substitute the confidence you get from a fully developed network of contacts. If you look at this list of last years’ 100 top-performing digital content providers, they are by no means “stuck” in their niches. They have quite impressive ranges of different channels and formats. At the same time, what puts those agencies on the radar is their ability to find their place (okay, niche if you will) within their pharma customers’ digital ecosystems.

That doesn’t mean that they’re called for particular content types, such an agency’s CEO being, to the pharma, “the email guy”, or, say, “Paul, mobile apps”. In reality, they just happened to fit perfectly into the organizational structure, so that working with them is, for the PMs on pharma side, the path of least resistance. Especially taking into consideration the fact that pharmas’ own in-house digital HR has grown 30% in the last 3 years, so agencies need to fit into the long “content assembly line”.

In short, overcoming the sporadic, chance-to-chance, project-to-project way of business is a challenge you can only solve by proving you can fit into the customer’s universe. Once you solve this and get a number of “core” customers whose managers you know by name, whose requirements you can predict, etc., your agency will gain more confidence and can afford experimenting with new formats and channels.

Challenge #2: Content approvals that take ages – and deadlines that don’t

sufficient ways for content approval

So the project is rolling closer to delivery, not a cloud on the horizon. Validation by the customer, just that formality before presenting he invoice, but hey! That [phrase, logo, image, message, product name, button, color scheme, etc.] – that’s not what was needed. The agency should have asked about that in the first place to avoid ambiguity, right?

Right. Absolutely right. Hence the problem – when the communication with customers (email, phone, etc.) is chosen based on convention but is, in fact, insufficient, the obligatory approvals take up more time than they should. Most of that time is waiting to get through + the time needed to explain what exactly should be done.

To this, add the number of rounds of approval. Across industries, 58% of marketers say their projects typically endure >5 reviews before they get approved. In life sciences, this number is understandably higher, considering the legal and medical aspects, and not even counting sensitivities. Meeting the deadlines in this atmosphere is a challenge that divides agencies into those that solve it – and the rest.

So how to win at approval management? By setting up transparent communications within and around content under construction. While pharmas are increasingly using content management systems that handle large amounts of ready digital assets (think Veeva Vault), agencies are expected to come along and adopt platforms integrated with those systems. If these platforms allow to see the customer enterprise’s existing and already approved content, it’s already lowering the chance of excessive remakes. If there is also the possibility to, say, leave comments inside the content itself, or, better, co-edit the content – the pre-approval stage is done with, and the whole process is safely within the time frames.

Challenge #3: Too much effort wasted building basic things again and again

building content entirely from scratch is no longer a satisfactory option

In essence, building content (for example, email templates or interactive HTML) entirely from scratch is no longer a satisfactory option for anyone. The basics are always the same, in the same way as the entire organic life is but recurrent combinations of several types of atoms. The same logic already gave rise to things like good and not-so-good CSS frameworks for digital layouts.

Building from predesigned blocks and templates saves a lot of effort for more projects; however, the more complex these building-blocks get, the more difficult it is to organize them and ensure those blocks are flexible enough.

Suppose your agency has several templates: a couple webpage prototypes, a couple of interactive presentation stubs, and maybe some pre-cooked email layouts. These will need to be easily adjustable to meet the requirements, otherwise they’ll fail at complying with their own branding guidelines.

In order not to be trapped here, and doing the elementary tasks anew for each projects, why not make the customers’ requirements define the general building blocks? Whenever there is a general template for some content used by your pharma customer, it should be adopted as the basis for further modifications. If they don’t have it, why not suggest it?

Challenge #4: Understanding the customer’s vision of channel mix

the customer’s vision of channel mix

One of the reasons not all agencies become constant partners for pharma is not immediately obvious unless you spend some time on pharma’s side. It has to do quite a lot with multichannel.

By now, most agencies know pharma’s preferred channels (and corresponding content types) firmly by heart: eDetailing at rep visits, email campaigns, online meetings for HCPs, websites, portals, miscrosites, social media, health apps, etc. However, just knowing what these are, or even having done a couple of projects for each of them, is not quite enough. Why is that?

Thing is, the same channel (and content type) can be used for different (or multiple) purposes by different companies or regional departments. Take remote detailing, for example. In densely populated areas, these online rep calls are mostly meant to conform more closely to the doctor’s schedule. Otherwise, the same channel may be used simply so that reps don’t have to drive too long (reducing transition time). Obviously, the presentation used will ideally differ in details; and the agency is supposed to be aware of the implications.

Again, multichannel is not about many channels, it’s about cohesion and making those channels work in harmony. When making an eDetailer, the “perfect” agency will bear in mind how that content will look in the context of other brand-associated assets.

To get the clear picture of this context, and solve this last issue, the agency should take care to integrate into the customer company’s digital paradigm. As you see, this solution is recurrent – it not only ensures clearer, more efficient workflows, but also promotes understanding and trust between both sides.


More practical conclusions

It’s easy to say, integrate. It’s even easier to say, listen. Supposing you recognize one of the challenges above as something you’re facing, and start pummeling customers with extra questions. Is pharma using something like Veeva Vault to validate the content? Is it IQVIA system? What place do they occupy in the Salesforce universe? How does the project given to you correlate with their website/portal/events?

Apart from this, are there any steps an agency could take proactively?

There are; and adopting a platform that enables to solve exactly the challenge at hand (communications, approvals, content reuse, you name it) will definitely be such a step – but only provided it integrates with the major systems used by pharmas.

You can try out the solution designed by Viseven Group, the eWizard platform, which is focused around empowering agencies to overcome the challenges we described above. It grants a wide range of possibilities for content reuse, multichannel repurpose, Global Store for branded assets, clear communications with internal comments and instant content pre-validations – and is integrated with solutions from Veeva, IQVIA and Salesforce. For more information, look here; there’s also a free demo to analyze exactly what you can do with the platform.

The closer an agency stands to their customer, the less real challenges there really are. Understanding is the key point, so moving towards this understanding is paramount – and tech is the first important step.