Growing Advocates

We put a fair amount of time, effort and thought into cultivating what we call "advocates" for our clients' products. An advocate is a patient who thinks enough of the drug to voluntarily start going around and telling others about it.

Advocates are incredibly valuable people. They have immense credibility, because they're independently sharing their experiences rather than representing the pharma company or the drug. They're even more important given that, as our surveys have demonstrated, most patients get their healthcare information from, at least in part, conversations with friends and families. In that kind of environment, an advocate is going to play a major role.

The challenge presented by advocates is that they have to be self-identifying. You can't recruit them because that weakens their perceived objectivity, which is the source of their identity. Basically, you have to get them to raise their hands, and begin acting as advocates without any real prompting from you. You can provide them with information, and perhaps a little bit of direction, but that's about it.

What would be REALLY helpful is if you knew not just that advocates existed, and that they were important, but who they were, how they tended to think and act, and how they developed a role as an advocate in the first place.

Some recent research, written up in the wonderful Psyblog earlier this week. The study dealt with the dynamics of the emergence of leaders within groups, so the parallels aren't exact. But they are instructive.You can't be a leader without followers — what do leaders do that gets other people to listen?

Here's what, according to a study cited by the blog post:

This study suggests leaders emerge through more
subtle processes than the word 'dominance' might imply. Rather than
brow-beating or bullying others into submission, leaders-in-waiting
effectively signal their competence to the group by making greater
verbal contributions to discussions. Others then assume that their
greater contribution will mean their group will be more likely to

In other words, they talk more, and when they talk, people listen. Which means they need raw material, which means information.

And not technical or medical information. Remember, they need to communicate this with other people. That's what they're all about. No self-respecting advocate is going to get up there and go on about pH levels or the likelihood of side effects. But what they will go on about, what will serioiusly goose your brand, and what will encourage them to advocate even more firmly, is information about what your drug does on a day-to-day basis, hints and advice for managing the condition, and most importantly, the opportunity to learn — and disseminate — more if they want to. A newsletter, a packet of information, whatever, and in whatever form they really want it.

Advocates are priceless, and they're out there. Let them help you spread the word by giving them what they need to do it.

Gems Amidst The Networking Socially

If I had to reduce my description of the E-Pharma Summit to one word, it would be: strange. Like all conferences it had its moments of "wow" as well as those where the blinding glimpse of the obvious makes one wonder why you pay to go at all. I won't mention the food.

But as someone who focuses on patient strategies and communications, there were some very encouraging signs – really hopeful insights and discussions. Before I went, I made the point that whatever innovation was in the process of occurring still needed feeding from the mass market world to gain the best understanding of how a patient (who is also first and foremost a consumer) behaves, and how to leverage that learning on behalf of pharma/biotech digital marketing. i posted examples from the mass market side of the Ryan agency (


A few moments worth recounting…Bob Harrell of Shire made a point long overdue: offer more holistic communications to patients. “As marketers, we need to think about the whole patient…rather than just a solution [to an illness],” said Bob Harrell, director of eMarketing at Shire Pharmaceuticals. “Why can't we promote a more holistic solution?” he asked, offering by way of example the promotion of Omega-3s alongside Vyvanse, Shire's ADHD treatment.

This can be interpreted many ways — which is what makes for a great strategic/creative experience — but he is so right. Take thrombosis for example: besides offering tips for exercising while on a plane, add content or links about travel in general. In other words, deepen and broaden your  engagement with the patient by seeing them as humans. The flight is only one part of the package –  how about being the brand that takes their health and their happiness in equal portions? Bob's comments are written up by MM&M (  This falls right under one of our most hallowed precepts: do not just see the patient as a sick person, but as a whole person. Kudos to Bob.

The woman from Health Ed Interactive gave a great presentation — did I say yet that their were too many panels and not enough case studies? — on adding greater meaning to communications through use of analogies, video, sound, all the basics that Learning Styles have made clear, but few marketers seem to hear. Ms Collins showed a short video about sustainability and told us to ignore the content and focus on the way it was delivered and how we retain the information much better when these different techniques are involved. At one point I imagined a MOA done in the style of scratch art…the different organs making different sounds — try this one: what about branding the sound of your MOA? What about creating a unqiue identifier for when your treatment shows the cascade of events it causes? Now that would stick with patients.

John Mack ( made some good points in his "10 Things" about the conference. Perhaps unwittingly, he focused on the socializing and seeing pals and buddies and meeting people…made me think that the real social networking was happening in the halls. I actually got pitched in the Men's Room…maybe I should re-phrase that…I actually met an excellent HCP list vendor while washing my hands.

Overall, there was a "clubby" kind of feeling to the event — same people, same complaints, everyone that much smarter than last year, most still frustrated by the slow adoption of digital innovation. Thus back to one of my opening comments: not enough case studies. Not to diss all the very smart people on panels, and I quoted one with Bob Harrell, but this had the feeling of some Masonic Temple where everyone knew the secret handshake, but that the outside world, the brand folks with the budgets, the Regulatrry groups with the power, were nowhere to be found.

Maybe next year.

Patients are Consumers, Too

So, off to Epharma Summit! It has been a year and a lot has changed in the online pharma/biotech world since the last conference. Video has taken off. Obsessively text-based sites are on their way out. Some brands are starting to use social media, and it is increasingly being considered an essential part of pharma marketing. Unbranded marketing is back for good, now that brand marketers understand that a database of prospects is worth the cost and effort of an unbranded campaign. It has been a year in which the exer-expanding capabilities of the interactive world have started to be properly utilized by more and more brands.

And much of the innovation that has occurred is due to the influence of mass-market interactive work. Marketers are gradually realizing that patients are not simply data points, but human beings who respond, feel and react to pharma marketing just as they respond to all other marketing. This is especially true of interactive. Pharma has always operated in its own silo, and gradually, that is being removed. Our marketing thinking is guided more and more by the same principles that govern regular consumer marketing. This is a good thing.

We here at Ryan are very straightforward in our nod to the real world patients live in: we believe patients are consumers. Plain and simple. How they make decisions, how they approach  "purchase" decisions (read = treatment), how they are appealed to and how every day brands ask for their loyalty and re-purchase(read = adherence.) are all very similar to consumer marketing, and getting closer all time.

The structure of our agency reflects this. We may be a group of smart, compassionate pharma/biotech marketers, but we tap into the agency we are a part of, Ryan iDirect for creative inspiration. Ryan iDirect does direct response campaigns for some very big consumer brands, and what they do gives us a real boost in doing what we do. So, despite my praise of pharma, the fact is, iDirect's consumer marketing expertise helps power our work at TrueHealth. Take a look:


Like a
lot of people, we read and organize the blogs we subscribe to by using
the Google Reader. Like a log of blog readers, one of the features is
that it indicates which of the blogs have been updated recently, and
therefore, by default, which haven't. And one of the big, echoing voids
is the blog for GSK's Alli, the weight-loss drug.

If you go to
the blog, the most recent post is from September 4, 2008. That's five
months ago. Either someone pulled the plug on this blog, or Google has
some kind of colossal bug in their reader that someone needs to look


it's the former, just zapping a communication channel like this is a
major relationship marketing no-no. You don't do that.

marketing is built on trust. Over time, and if it's done right, there's
a gradual increase in trust among your customers. They trust that you
will be truthful, that you will participate, and that you will give at
least as much as you get in the relationship. If you suddenly just
vanish, what you've done is yanked the curtain aside, and reveal that
what you had labeled a relationship was actually a transaction. You've
also implicitly revealed that trusting you was a mistake, and that when
it came down to it, you were manipulating your own customers. This is
slightly better than the recording industry suing their own customers
for illegally downloading music, but not much better. It's still pretty

And it's vastly worse than having no relationship at all to
begin with. If Alli simply ended their blog, and have not so much as
put up a post announcing that they've suspended it, they've committed
the cardinal sin of relationship marketing. If you need to end or close
the blog, fine. Just say so, apologize, and do it. But do not ever just
disappear. Not only will your readers wonder where you went, they'll
wonder if you were ever really there in the first place.