Healthcare Survey: Marketing Medicines

Research shows that GPs value creative PR and accurate sales-force delivery from pharma firms, finds Mark Johnson.

Press releases sent out by pharma firms ten years ago, were concerned primarily with the research and development of new drugs. These days, things are different. The market is tighter and there are new pressures.

Drugs firms have shifted to focus heavily on the marketing of their medicines, and this is where strong performance is crucial.

This radical change in the dynamics of the pharma industry, moving away from production towards marketing, has placed great pressure upon the frontline sales force - now more likely to be freelance rather than employed and managed by the drugs giants themselves - to build a relationship with GPs.

But at the same time, GPs are facing ever greater time constraints as radical change across the NHS means they are being asked to take on more responsibility.

Against this background, the two crucial elements of marketing success are creative PR and a sales force that GPs trust to supply accurate information on new drugs. In this respect, AstraZeneca (AZ), the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant, has an edge on its rivals, according to an online survey conducted in October on GP Net, NOP World Health's GP online omnibus, provided exclusively to PRWeek.

Satisfaction levels

In the survey, 201 UK GPs rated their satisfaction levels across four criteria for each of ten drugs companies (see boxes). The criteria included: presenting information on their products in a generally positive manner, conveying new information about their products in a timely way, confidence sales reps have in their products when discussing them with the GP, and whether discussions on their products were a fair representation of the facts.

On average, AZ scored highest with GlaxoSmithKline close behind - but it does not hold a position of complete dominance. NOP World Health research director Gary King points out that none of the ten firms have managed to make an impression to stand out from their competitors. 'It is clear the doctors do not see drastic differences between the companies as demonstrated by the relatively narrow range across all four of the attributes measured in the survey,' he says.

However, there is one area where GPs tended to be least satisfied - the ability of company representatives to provide 'discussions that are a fair representation of the facts', where the average percentage of 'very satisfied' stood at 3.5 per cent.

'Efforts to improve GPs' perceptions of the information given in this area, by ensuring data was conveyed in an unbiased way with clear evidence to back up the data would be a means of raising GP satisfaction,' says King, who adds: 'Improvements in this area may give GPs a way of distinguishing one company from another in terms of credibility and overall perceptions.'

The challenge for every rep is gaining face-to-face access to GPs.

In2Focus, a specialist pharma contract sales company employing 320 field-based sales reps, works for a wide number of drugs firms. Chairman Steve Kerridge says: 'Some GPs only have one or two three-minute slots a year when they will see reps, and appointments have to be made a year in advance.

Gaining access to GPs is not getting any easier.'

This is where PR can help. GCI Healthcare MD Rhonda Smith makes the case for PR supporting the rep in the battle to get a foot in the door: 'Reps can empower practice managers to solve the problems of the people in their waiting rooms. Providing appropriate collateral in a timely manner to put in waiting rooms and inform staff is a very good way of getting a foot in the door.'

'Appropriate' is a key word, argues Smith. 'Gone are the days when you could send a leaflet to 500 GP practices,' she says. 'It's a question of making the material relevant and useful and contributing to the success and aims of the practice. That's what reps have to be armed with to win the practice manager and the GP's interest.'

This situation may be about to improve over the next few years. One of the biggest changes in the way pharma firms build relationships with GPs is being heralded by the new GP contract. Under the General Medical Services contract, GP practices will receive funding in new ways, with the intention of giving them the freedom to work with other practice staff to design services to meet local patient needs. This is expected to amount to GPs specialising in target areas, such as coronary heart disease or diabetes.

As a result, pharma firms will be able to target relevant information to GPs based on the services they provide locally. 'We will need more sophisticated segmentation,' says Red Door Communications director Julia Harries on the way PROs will need to change practice in coming years.

'It means that broadbrush PR campaigns with maximum reach aimed at the maximum number of GPs will become less effective in the future. But that also brings benefits because it means you can use your budget more effectively,' says Harries. 'Our challenge, in healthcare PR, is to ensure that when we have a message to deliver, it is relevant to that GP's own agenda.'

Improving access to GPs

Kerridge agrees that although the new GP contract places new strains on the time of GPs, if the sales force can provide a service that supports the GP in meeting performance targets, access could improve. He adds that research shows that to change a GP's prescribing habit, a rep needs to meet face-to-face with the GP between four and ten times, which would take too long on the twice-a-year meeting model. Which is why In2Focus is developing a way of giving promotional material to doctors in a way they prefer to receive it.

One of the most important sources of information used by GPs is doctors.net, a portal with around 100,000 users. The company is creating the 'e-rep', a source of marketing material that would normally be brought to a GP face-to-face made available online through resources such as doctors.net.

'It means doctors we can't reach physically will be more accessible because they can find information at their own pace,' Kerridge says.

But from the perspective of PR, the question in the survey that highlights company performance most tellingly is the presentation of product information 'in a generally positive manner'.

A fifth of GPs, for example, gave AZ the highest score of five when presenting information on their products in a generally positive manner. King says: 'GlaxoSmithKline was similarly well regarded in this context. Pfizer and Wyeth also fared well in terms of the positive presentation of information on their products, while the others achieved an average satisfaction rating.'

So while each company is performing to a similar standard in the eyes of GPs, the ones to emerge on top in the coming years will be the firms that most successfully adapt to the segmented market.

HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU THAT INFORMATION ON THESE FIRMS' PRODUCTS IS

PRESENTED IN A POSITIVE MANNER BY REPS?

LEVEL OF SATISFACTION %

Very Not at all

Company satisfied 5 4 3 2 satisfied 1

AstraZeneca 21 37 32 8 1

Aventis/Sanofi 6 29 51 10 3

Bristol-Myers Squibb 5 28 53 11 3

GlaxoSmithKline 13 41 36 6 3

Lilly 8 27 49 12 3

Merck Sharp & Dohme 9 30 47 10 4

Novartis 8 33 49 7 3

Pfizer 10 42 40 4 3

Roche 4 27 53 13 3

Wyeth 11 36 41 9 3

Companies rated on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is 'notat all satisfied'

and 5 is 'very satisfied'. Source: NOP World Health in collaboration

with doctors.net.uk

HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU THAT THESE FIRMS' REPS CONVEY NEW PRODUCT

INFORMATION IN A TIMELY WAY?

LEVEL OF SATISFACTION %

Very Not at all Didn't see any

Company satisfied 5 4 3 2 satisfied 1 of their reps

AstraZeneca 20 27 23 4 n/a 24

Aventis/Sanofi 5 23 26 5 2 37

Bristol-Myers

Squibb 6 22 25 7 1 38

GlaxoSmithKline 16 29 24 4 n/a 26

Lilly 6 17 26 6 1 43

Merck Sharp

& Dohme 7 23 27 6 2 34

Novartis 8 25 24 5 1 36

Pfizer 14 28 25 4 1 27

Roche 4 17 27 8 1 42

Wyeth 7 26 27 5 1 33

Companies rated on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is 'not at all satisfied'

and 5 is 'very satisfied'. Source: NOP World Health in collaboration

with doctors.net.uk

HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU THAT THESE FIRMS' REPS HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THEIR

PRODUCTS WHEN DISCUSSING THEM WITH YOU?

LEVEL OF SATISFACTION %

Very Not at all Didn't see any

Company satisfied 5 4 3 2 satisfied 1 of their reps

AstraZeneca 21 30 20 4 n/a 24

Aventis/Sanofi 9 20 27 6 n/a 37

Bristol-Myers Squibb 10 18 29 5 1 35

GlaxoSmithKline 17 32 20 4 n/a 26

Lilly 8 20 23 5 n/a 43

Merck Sharp & Dohme 11 21 25 7 1 34

Novartis 10 25 23 5 1 36

Pfizer 14 35 19 4 n/a 26

Roche 6 20 25 6 n/a 43

Wyeth 12 25 26 4 1 31

Companies rated on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is 'not at all satisfied'

and 5 is 'very satisfied'. Source: NOP World Health in collaboration

with doctors.net.uk

HOW SATISFIED ARE YOU THESE FIRMS' REPS DISCUSSIONS ON THE PRODUCTS ARE

A FAIR REPRESENTATION OF THE FACTS?

LEVEL OF SATISFACTION %

Very Not at all Didn't see any

Company satisfied 5 4 3 2 satisfied 1 of their reps

AstraZeneca 8 22 32 11 3 23

Aventis/Sanofi 3 14 32 11 2 37

Bristol-Myers

Squibb 2 17 28 13 3 36

GlaxoSmithKline 6 20 32 12 3 25

Lilly 2 11 31 10 3 42

Merck Sharp

& Dohme 3 14 31 12 5 34

Novartis 2 15 31 11 4 36

Pfizer 5 21 33 10 4 26

Roche 1 13 31 11 3 41

Wyeth 3 18 32 10 3 33

Companies rated on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is 'not at all satisfied'

and 5 is 'very satisfied'. Source: NOP World Health in collaboration

with doctors.net.uk

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