An Analysis: Big Pharma and Social Media Usage

Posted in Social Media

A study conducted in November 2011 by Cegedim Strategic Data, a market research and promotional audit firm analyzed the world’s top 100 pharmaceutical companies expenditure on traditional promotional (marketing spends) and then compared that spending with their presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Not surprisingly, Pfizer, Novartis and Merck (the world’s largest big pharma companies) finished in the top three for traditional promotional spending. However, their use of social media i.e. Twitter and Facebook varied widely. For example, Pfizer—the top promotional spender—was first in its number of Twitter followers and third in the number of likes on Facebook. On the other hand, second ranked Novartis was fifth in the number of Twitter followers and in seventeenth position for likes on Facebook. Finally, third ranked Merck was fifteenth in the number of Twitter followers (third for the number of tweets) and in the tenth position for the number of likes on Facebook (but has more pages than any of its Facebook competitors).

Other notable companies included:

  • Johnson &Johnson, eleventh in promotional spending and number two on the number of Facebook likes
  • Roche, number fifteen on the promotional spending list was ranked number two for the number of Twitter followers
  • Proctor and Gamble which ranked a distant 54th in promotional spending was number four on the Twitter follower list

What does this all mean? A whole lot of nothing because nobody can determine what effects the use of social media has on the bottom line for most pharmaceutical companies. Unlike other industries, where social media can be used to sell products, it cannot be used for direct promotional purposes in the life sciences industry. While most people will tell you this is because of the lack of guidance by FDA on the use of social media, the bottom line is that social media will never be allowed for direct-to-consumer advertising in the pharmaceutical industry. That said, pharma and biotech will have to find other uses for social media including clinical trial recruitment and retention, adverse event reporting, employee recruitment and retention and education and outreach.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting (and Liking)


A Commentary: Pharma's Ongoing PR Problem

Posted in BioBusiness

Not a day goes by without some report about pharma’s ongoing problems with illegal drug promotions, class action suits against blockbuster medications or civil or criminal settlements with state and federal governments. A quick perusal of articles posted to the Pharmalot Blog in November alone revealed no fewer than eight big pharma companies including Lilly, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer, Pfizer, Novartis and Amgen that were involved in some sort of legal action regarding inappropriate marketing claims or failure to disclose potential side effects of blockbuster drugs. To make matters worse, a larger than usual number of pharma companies have experienced manufacturing problems that have resulted in drug recalls or shortages. This list includes companies such as Genzyme, Baxter, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and most recently Boehringer Ingelheim. While chronic legal and manufacturing problems are extremely troubling (some assert it is just the cost of doing “business”), I believe that the amount of money spent lobbying Congress for legislation favorable to the industry is even more egregious.

According to a recent post on Knowledge Ecology International, the pharma industry has so far spent $115,571,832 on lobbying in 2011 (this number is sure to go higher by the end of this fiscal year). Interestingly, the biggest year for pharmaceutical industry lobbying was in 2009—a year after the Affordable Health Care Bill was passed—with totals in excess of $186,000,000. Just think about how many jobs could have been saved if companies reinvested the money into R&D rather than greasing the palms of lobbyists to induce Congress to pass laws to continue to get favorable tax rates, improve ROI and bolster the stock prices of those companies! To wit, Newt Gingrich, a Republican Presidential candidate and Former Speaker of the House has been accused of lobbying former congressional colleagues to vote for a Medicare drug subsidy while he was a paid consultant to AstraZeneca. Gingrich vehemently denies these allegations; probably because he realizes that most Americans don’t like big pharma and may vote against him if the claims are proven to be true and he wins the Republican presidential nomination.

Not withstanding the legal issues and unnecessary lobbying, what is really hurting the pharmaceutical industry is its lack of communication and transparency with patients and its unfailing practice of putting profits before healthcare. While every big pharma company I know always talks about fulfilling unmet medical needs, meeting those needs always comes at great costs (literally) to patients. Sadly, many patients can no longer afford the costs of potentially lifesaving medicines and treatments. Unless pharma begins to change the way it presents itself to the American public, it will continue to suffer the lost of confidence and trust of the American people. And, if the industry is unable to regain the public’s trust, its inability  will ultimately result in legislation that allows the US government to control drug prices: something that exists in most other countries in the world and big pharma has been desperately trying to prevent for the past 50 years!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: Have We Got a Deal for You!

Posted in Career Advice

Medicis Pharmaceutical, the maker of Dysport a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to smooth skin furrows between the eyebrows, recently introduced a marketing campaign that offers people who use Dysport drug discounts and a patient satisfaction rebate guarantee. The campaign, which runs through April 30, was intentionally designed to elevate Dysport’s image and cannibalize market share in the anti wrinkle market from Allergan the maker of Botox and the market leader.

The Dysport promotion, running on the product’s Web site and in a few glossy magazines like Us Weekly, offers a $75 rebate check on an initial Dysport treatment for wrinkles between the eyebrows, a procedure that can cost consumers $300 to $500. Satisfied customers can receive a $75 rebate on a follow-up Dysport treatment, while dissatisfied customers who want to switch can receive a $75 rebate on a Botox treatment.

While this is an unprecedented and novel campaign, it demonstrates the lengths that Medicis is willing to go through to garner market share from Botox which enjoyed a monopoly on injectable toxins in the US until the introduction of Dysport last year. Last year, worldwide sales of Botox were roughly $1.3 billion. Industry analysts estimate that Medicis may be able to capture a 20 to 25 percent share of the US market.  

While the marketing campaign may seem a bit odd and brash, Medicis isn’t the first pharmaceutical company to use rebates and drug discounts to inspire patient brand loyalty. For example, Sepracor offers a seven-day free trial of its popular sleeping pill Lunesta. Merck is running a print ad with a voucher for a free 30-day supply of its Januvia tablets for Type 2 diabetes. Another Merck ad carries a $20 coupon for the allergy and asthma drug Singulair. However, the use of product rebates and drug discounts is mostly used to market so-called vanity medicine drugs (like Latisse, Botox and Dysport) which have been approved by FDA for clinical use but are not covered by medical insurance. Patients who use these drugs are paying out of pocket and, in essence, are buying from physicians. Many worry that this practice may induce doctors and patients to make medical decisions based on money not safety or efficacy. 

In the case of Botox and Dysport neither product is entirely risk free. For those of you who may not know, both are purified forms of botulinum toxin — a toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum that interferes with nerve transmission and involuntary muscle contractions. The injections cause temporary cosmetic problems like droopy eyelids or uneven eyebrows. And these drugs now carry federally mandated “black box” warnings on their labels stating that botulinum toxins have been associated with rare but potentially life-threatening health problems.

Although promotional programs like the one being offered by Medicis may be inappropriate or seemingly reckless, it—like those of Sepracor and Merck—are permissible under current direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising regulations. Isn’t it time to reevaluate regulations that allow powerful, potentially-dangerous prescription drugs to be treated as consumer goods where price, not medical need, safety or efficacy, promotes their acceptance and use?

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Looking!!!!!!!!!!

From the Are You Kidding Me Files: Pharm Giant Sales Force Goes Green With High Fashion Handbags

Posted in BioBusiness

As a blogger I get on average 2-3 press releases per day from publicists who want me to pick up their releases and publish them on BioJobBlog. I usually pass. But, the one that I received from a publicist who represents eco-friendly and politically-correct Red Handed Bags was too good not to share with my readers (see below)

Pharm giant sales force goes green with high fashion handbags

Raleigh NC-based fashion designers Aaron Turney and Tracy Russomano are used to working with fashion conscious women.  But this year, they devoted their special talents efforts to addressing the special needs of a unique group of highly specialized handbag users – pharmaceutical sales reps.

GlaxoSmithKline asked them to design an environmentally friendly work bag specifically for their pharmaceutical sales reps to use on the job.

Redhanded Bags has created a line of beautiful handbags using green technologies, animal free materials, and sweat free manufacturing facilities and workforces. 

“It’s pretty admirable that they’ve set themselves a goal for using handbags that don’t hurt animals, don’t pollute the environment and don’t exploit anyone,” said Tracy Russomano. “We worked directly with the sales people to design the ideal pharm sales rep bag. When we were done, GSKs onsite ergonomist gives the bags an excellent rating for ergonomic design.”  

“Handbags should turn heads, bring out inner beauty, and contribute to a sustainable environment,” said Ms. Russomano. “Pharmaceutical sales reps can look great  and be eco-friendly.”  I am partial to the middle bag; which one is your fav?

I find it admirable that GSK is thinking environmentally. However, are several thousand eco-friendly handbags for sales reps really going to make a difference? I think it would behoove GSK and other drug makers to invest in developing green manufacturing technologies and facilities if they are truly concerned about reducing the size of their carbon foot prints. 

After visiting the Red Handed bags website, I agree with Ms Russomano, that pharma reps (who still have jobs)  will look great and turn some head while sporting the new bags (exactly what GSK wants). That said, it is extremely gratifying to know that the environment is safe, no animals were killed and no workers were exploited to help sales reps sell drugs to their customers!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Shopping (check out the handcuff clutch)