What the End of Drug Sales Reps Means for Communicators

Posted by: in Healthcare Insights, Public Relations Practice on August 5, 2010

This week, GlaxoSmithKline dropped a bombshell by announcing that the bonuses received by sales reps would, ironically, no longer be tied to drug sales. Instead, the company said it would try to fill a growing demand for “information about reimbursement, disease education, and support for improving patient health.”

What went unsaid in the GSK press release and generally unacknowledged by the coverage of the announcement was the fact that doctors don’t need third parties to bring them clinical information about drugs anymore. This used to be, theoretically, the raison d’être for detailing: a drug rep could summarize a pile of research that a doctor didn’t have the time to read and synthesize. But now, there are a huge number of services and trade publication, most of them online, that digest clinical news and spit back out actionable, concise information.

This change in how docs get information doesn’t stop with the sales rep. Biopharma public relations, too, has had as its historical focus getting information about treatments to doctors and patients as quickly and accurately as possible. That function isn’t going away, but it’s clear that we’re being called on, increasingly, to provide support for a the broader range of goals highlighted by GSK.

Reimbursement, one of the issues mentioned in the announcement, will be a key issue over the next decade, both on the systemic level (making sure that value arguments are thoughtful and well-supported) and the individual level (making sure that doctors and patients are clear about when and how a given treatment is reimbursed). Both of these challenges require crystal-clear communication that is aimed directly at targeted communities.

Disease education and patient health, too, is an increasing portion of what we do. The amount of information available about health has exploded, and the need for tools and guidance is only going to grow larger as diagnostics improve. Organizations that can fill this need are going to be able to forge much closer relationships with patients, caregivers and providers than groups that ignore the potential of unbranded, patient-centric material.

The success of sales reps, as well as public relations, will increasingly turn on acknowledging that health care is complex and getting more complicated. The science is complex. The payment system is byzantine. The diagnostic and treatment options are expanding at a dizzying rate. Informing influencers about specific technologies will remain important, but that’s a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. GSK’s new bonus structure recognizes this brave new world. So must those of us in PR.

Raison d’être

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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