Marketing with opinion leaders in mind

Johanna Jarvis, head of advocacy at Wyeth, on how to incorporate opinion leaders into marketing strategy.

Johanna Jarvis, head of advocacy at Wyeth, on how to incorporate opinion leaders into marketing strategy.

Decreased access to physicians, increased competition from generic houses, ballooning registration hurdles, and the rise of social media are just a few of the reasons why selling pharmaceuticals is harder today than it was a decade ago. One key to fashioning a successful marketing strategy in light of these new challenges is to identify a broader range of key opinion leaders and to fully integrate them into all marketing tactics, says Johanna Jarvis, head of advocacy at Wyeth. Its important that companies get to grips with the idea that opinion leaders are not just health care professionals as its been in the past, and that we have to change the way that we work going forward, Jarvis says.

Reaching out to opinion leaders

Opinion leaders (OLs) traditionally have been defined as established medical professionals, such as prominent medical school faculty, who can influence physicians if they advocate for a particular drug. Jarvis believes that to market effectively in the 21st century, pharma firms must broaden this definition to include members of government, patient organizations, and the media. More importantly, once OLs have been identified, they should be courted and sustained, so that if a crisis hits, as it did with Wyeth five years ago, all the OLs are lined up and can go to bat for you.

To pull this off, Jarvis offers a specific process. First, pharmas must engage in OL mapping. That is, long before a brand has been launched, do the due diligence and identify which OLs will be critical for your brands success. Jarvis strongly recommends using an outside agency for this step. Hiring an outside vendor will both validate internal knowledge and identify information gaps. And I guarantee it, she says, there will be gaps.

Gain access, build confidence

Once a range of OLs has been identified, the next step is to gain access to them and build their confidence. You need to know the clinical, emotional, or economical rationale as to what makes these people tick, says Jarvis. To do that, she encourages marketers to become more customer-oriented: Know what OLs want and care about and prioritize that when talking to them. For instance, if youve identified an OL at a patient organization, hold an advisory board meeting with them and ask what that patient organization really needs. Maybe, for instance, they dont need yet another lovely glossy handout that they already have twenty thousand of, says Jarvis.

She also recommends setting up Google Alerts for each of your OLs so that you know when theyre giving a talk, or releasing an article or new research. A personal email or phone call shows a vested interest on behalf of the pharma. Its the easiest thing to do on an opinion leader, Jarvis says. I cant tell you the response I get from the simplest thing with a Google Alert. And it shows that Im taking an interest in them. Let them know that you know what theyre up to.

Opinion leaders and business strategy

Once youve identified OLs and curried their favor, the final step is to implement them into your business strategy. Jarvis recommends building out local tactics 24 months before launch. Once youve started the process, develop OL business plans for all key therapeutic areas, ensure these business plans include cross-functional team members, and develop systems to monitor and track the execution of these OL business plans once theyve been hashed out.

And do this work internally. While Jarvis recommends using an outside agency to help identify OLs, she says internal management of OLs is critical for the wellbeing of the relationship and the execution of the business plan. It also saves a lot of money. We have saved the company a fortune by not using outside agencies to organize advisory boards, who take over, Jarvis says. Why on earth would you want that? The relationship should belong to the company.

Be proactive

Finally, Jarvis encourages listeners to be proactive in adopting this new approach to OLs before a crisis hits. Five years ago Wyeth had to learn the hard way. We had a number one product worldwide, and in a way we had a little bit of arrogance, Jarvis says. We thought we knew everything. We were number one. We hit a crisis, where if we had profiled the right opinion leaders, we wouldnt have been in the position we found ourselves in.

At the time, Jarvis says, Wyeth couldnt answer simple questions like: Do you know the top five most influential OLs in your region by therapeutic area? Do you have CVs and contact information on the top five OLs if you need to access them quickly? Do you store this info in a database for access? (If you dont have their mobile number, then youve got more work to do, Jarvis says. If an OL is willing to give you their mobile number to be contacted anytime, then youve done a good job.) Do you have a list of the top five investigators in each therapeutic area within your region? And finally, if you were in a crisis, do you know the strongest OL advocate who could speak to the media on the companys behalf?

Every company goes through a crisis, Jarvis says. Its absolutely critical for the business that you have these people lined up and you dont just pick the phone up having not spoken to them for the last year. You need to keep these people up to speed and on board.

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