This is the third of my New Year Resolutions. Full list is in my first post.
One thing we do pretty well in the pharma industry is define processes. We have Standard Operating Procedures for everything, from good laboratory practice to approval of marketing materials. Why then, is it that those who use today’s ways to engage with customers, embracing digital and other channels and placing the needs of the customer at the heart of the strategy, report that they seem to be constantly fighting with the processes? Are our SOPs fit for purpose in a multichannel world?
Many of our processes reflect the realities of pre-digital life. Like the behavioural patterns I mentioned in the previous resolution: Get the People Right, the processes are based on minimising risk in the development and communication of static content to be transmitted in a one-way channel to customers, maintaining control of both channel and content at all times. It is not surprising that this was the case, when traditionally content was printed in large volumes (and at considerable expense) then handed to sales reps to take to the far reaches of the planet to give to doctors. This was very long-lived content and had to be right – mistakes could not be easily rectified.
At the same time, we can see how the same processes struggle with both channels and content that we cannot control and that can and do change frequently. Guidance from official bodies such as the FDA or ABPI will never cover every eventuality; we must have processes that can adapt to a changing environment.
Our processes must be nimble and recognise that content, channels, and customers are constantly evolving. How can we achieve this? Some suggestions:
- Ensure all stakeholders – IT, legal, medical, compliance – have a good understanding of how digital channels work. I remember one legal team-member asking ‘how can we stop consumers coming to the Twitter meeting?’ missing the point somewhat that the consumers were already there, of course. Training and elearning can be a good start. Why not produce a simple introductory elearning program and make it mandatory for all those involved in digital projects?
- Get those responsible for processes using digital channels themselves, living in this space. This is the only way we really understand both risks and benefits. Have a social network intranet. Run a competition on Twitter. Provide RSS feeds or social bookmark sets as internal news or content services. Use an online collaboration tool for approval meetings.
- Set targets for approval – recognising that content can be more easily changed and is often transient. Target a one-week turnaround for approval or a (small) maximum number of approvers. Companies that are leading in the digital space have set targets like this, with impressive results.
- Get rid of job bags and serial approval. Approve content in parallel and in situ e.g. on a website, by running a web meeting and getting all approvers to step through it together.
- Approve the source, not the content. This especially applies to non-product-specific content such as a therapy area news feed or congress round-up. Find a credible partner and agree the criteria for the content (e.g. scientific, fair balanced, and rules about product mentions) then let your approvers do ‘spot checks’ on the content post-publication rather than having to read and approve it all pre-publication. Remember, online you can take content down immediately if there is a problem.
- Empower your IT team to support digital standards. Often, for example, cloud-based or web-based services are avoided because they involve storing company data externally. However, many organisations including national banks, governments, health services, use cloud-based services. Why not adapt the SOPs that they use?
- Ensure you have the basic guiding principles in place. Develop core policies for social media, websites, email, mobile, search engines and so on – the global ‘rules’ for each major channel. This will help expedite projects.
- Implement a simple project charter approach and a review panel drawn from all areas that signs off on the project, its business case, the methodology, measures of success and approval requirements up front. This can help with planning and save time.
- Build a catalogue of good examples in digital channels. Your approvers might not all have a lot of experience and it can help to have a list of examples they can refer to. Most things have been done before by someone. It can also help to have examples where complaints have been upheld – to show where the boundaries are.
- Prepare for the worst but don’t budget for it. I remember one brand team who launched a YouTube educational channel paying a large sum of money to an agency to monitor it round the clock for the first 3 months, planning for the flood of challenging comments that the worst-case scenario of their risk assessment suggested. In that time, they had a grand total of 4 fairly innocuous comments at quite an impressive cost-per-comment for the agency. Oddly enough, the social media public are not sitting waiting for us to post some content so that they can flood our channel with abuse. Maybe they have better things to do.
Now you might be thinking that the agency in that last example showed either a lack of experience with YouTube or a rather cynical cashing-in on the brand team’s own inexperience. And that brings me neatly to Resolution 4 – Get the Right Partner. Look out for that one shortly.