Pharma’s likely digital comms budget jump a blow for print channels
Pharmaceutical companies are likely to go digital in the next three-to-four years even with return of in-person engagements
The COVID-19 pandemic bolstered the value of digital channels in reaching patients and healthcare professionals. As the world enters the next stage of the pandemic, how much digitalization will remain?
- Pharma companies are likely to increase their overall budgets on digital channels in the coming years: Specifically on digital advertising and staging virtual events
- While budgets on social media and virtual sales representative-led activities are also expected to increase: There are some companies that may not increase spending on these specific approaches. Specifically, return of in-person engagements affects execution of virtual sales representative-led activities
- Due to the rise of digital channel spending, this negatively impacts budgets on print advertising: Hard reprints and medical textbook sponsorship spending are also affected
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Between June and September 2021, Reuters Events in partnership with Elsevier surveyed 245 commercial, marketing, medical affairs and sales professionals to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted customer engagement strategies in pharma.
These professionals’ geographic responsibilities are dispersed: 33% are focused on Europe, 23% have global responsibilities and 15% each in Asia Pacific and North America including Mexico. The final analysis is based on 194 of 245 respondents as they were responsible for commercial strategy, marketing and digital, medical affairs and product and brand marketing.
The survey’s first key finding is that the pandemic further bolstered the prevalence of digital channels as a marketing tool. In fact, budgets relating to digital channels are expected to increase in the next three-to-four years. The total budget for digital advertising is set to increase by 15 percentage points from 63% in 2021 to 78% by 2025. Looking at specifics, 75% of respondents indicated their companies are likely to increase digital advertising budgets in the range of 5 percentage points to more than 10 percentage points. Also, 55% of respondents expect budgets for virtual events to increase within the same range.
Some companies are also expected to increase their budgets for social media advertising and virtual sales representative-led activities in the next three-to-four years. But there are other companies who are not, with 22% of respondents noting they do not expect a change in budget for these channels. There is anticipation that in-person events will pick up: 73% of respondents indicated they were somewhat or extremely likely to undertake sales-led activities in person between 2021 and 2022 compared with the earlier months of the pandemic.
With increased spending on digital, print advertising budgets are likely to decrease. In the next three-to-four years, there is a projected decline of 13 percentage points from 34% in 2021 to 21% by 2025. Looking at the details, 45% of respondents indicated they are likely to decrease their budgets on hard reprints, while 30% of respondents stated they will decrease budgets allocated for medical textbooks sponsorships.
Spending on digital channels allows for diversified communication avenues. As a baseline, most companies (78% of respondents) either have a website, an online platform, or portal dedicated to providing healthcare professionals with product-specific or disease-related content. On top of which, companies can offer webinars, educational materials for patients and presence at scientific conferences, among others.
Marketing and medical affairs departments have the most influence in budget-related decisions related to educational materials regardless of channel. As many as 74% of medical affairs respondents and 45% of marketing respondents indicated they have a high degree of influence on educational activities.
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