In the latest in its series of digital club meetings PharmaTimes asked ‘Why should your boss support digital initiatives?’ at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London. The resounding answer was: Bosses need to see results, so do your research when trying to get a budget for a new digital scheme signed off.

The meeting heard that a number of senior executives in pharma are still reluctant to jump on the digital bandwagon and take some convincing to green light online marketing campaigns.

For those who need convincing, the meeting found that you must have a good plan with a clear return on investment to get the green light. Sandra Muzinich, previously eMarketing manager at Lilly UK and now a senior consultant with digital services firm Across Health UK, said that digital is no different to any other campaign, meaning the basic rules still apply.

This means you must know your market, have realistic and easy-to-understand key performance indicators and a plan on a return on investment. If you can show this, it will make convincing your boss of the importance of a digital campaign much easier.

Chris Bubb, a digital marketer for a number of agencies, and previously sales and marketing director  at firms including Merck and GSK, said any digital initiative should also have a defined purpose. “Don’t just tick the boxes on websites or other digital media,” he said – “Know what you’re doing and why.” He adds that given the prevalence of smartphone use, pharma must also invest more in mobile technology and websites to get the best out of any initiative, something it is currently not doing.

Muzinich said that sometimes, however, the decision as to whether to go ahead with a digital scheme can boil down to the idiosyncrasies of the pharma boss. Looking to her previous company Lilly, she said that one of her senior bosses decided to buy iPads for all of his sales staff just after Apple’s tablet first came to the market, despite the IT team at the firm imploring him not to, as they were still unsure of how it could help, especially given its cost.

Many in pharma may wish they had this boss, but it serves as a reminder that sometimes it can come down to knowing how to deal with the personality of the people in charge, or sometimes just plain luck.

Pharma must be proactive

Ben Tilly, digital and multi-channel manager at Sanofi, says marketing now is inextricably linked with digital, and argued that it simply can no longer be seen as a separate entity in any pharma marketing strategy.

Mat Phillips, currently chief executive of the Engage Health Alliance, and formerly a digital pioneer at Janssen, echoed Tilly’s sentiment, and told the audience that the pharma industry has made great strides to embrace a digital approach across many channels.

“However, because of the sheer complexity involved, organisations need to zero-base their marketing approach,” he said. “Letting it ‘just happen’ is a recipe for chaos, costly duplication and customer dissatisfaction.