Archive for the ‘Communications’ Category

Anyone that knows me well knows that I have a passion for writing – in fact, it’s really a passion for all things communication (including speaking, video, social media, etc.)

ID-10087526Writing clearly and succinctly is crucial to work effectiveness. And it’s a rarely-trained skill. It doesn’t matter what position people occupy in their profession. Everyone from the newly-hired salesperson to the CEO needs to sharpen communication skills.

If people are spending an average of 28% of their time dealing with e-mail – then just improving that one area of business writing can return a lot of potential productivity gains!

In the past month, I’ve sat down with a couple of great providers who do corporate training on communications/writing skills. I found myself nodding so vigorously during discussions that it’s a wonder I didn’t end up at the chiropractor’s office. As I underscore in my Vendor/Project Success workshops, the basic principles of project and vendor management will be used in all future career areas – just like learning to drive a car, it’s an “evergreen” skill set. Writing and communicating clearly? –even more so!

Clear communications lead to clear actions. Foggy communications lead to misunderstandings, back-and-forth clarifications, and frustration.

Let’s train our people how to effectively move thoughts to the keyboard and beyond (and if you need a vendor/provider recommendation, just let me know – stevew [at] impactiviti dot com). It can never be wrong to sharpen this skill!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What do you need? If you’re in healthcare/life sciences training, communications, marketing, and compliance – whatever you’re looking for…

Here’s the bottom line: contact me, and through the constantly-growing Impactiviti network (vendors, colleagues, healthcare professionals, digital marketers, consultants, etc.), I’ll seek to connect you with the people and providers you need.

Put me on speed dial (973-947-7429 – reaches me wherever I am) and tell me what you’re looking for. My business is to save you a ton of time and hassle, and to provide brainstorming, sound advice, and recommendations. No sales pitch. Just connections.

Great resources and good advice are everywhere. With the Impactiviti Network, we make it one phone call (or e-mail) away. Connecting you to vendors, job opportunities, key industry leaders.

Whatever you’re looking for, ask Steve!

(did I mention it’s free to tap into the Impactiviti Network? Well, it is – you can ask me how we do that when we talk!)


Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through trusted referrals.

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If you’ve followed my writing and speaking over the years, you know I’ve been a big proponent of social media as a vehicle for communications, network-building, and new business approaches. And I absolutely believe – more than ever – in the power and utility of digital networked communications

I was among the first in the pharma universe to begin blogging and tweeting pharma/healthcare topics. The first time I used Twitter at an industry conference, I wondered if I might be discovered and tossed out!

In fact, I even put together the first published list of pharma folks and companies active in social media – which, at the time, was a pretty small group! That number has since grown considerably, which is a very good thing.

As the industry has evolved, however, I can’t help but ask the question – is it time to give up on the idea of commercial prescription pharma interactively participating in the open, public social media space using current platforms? (please note the careful choice of words before having a knee-jerk reaction).

I’m not giving an answer – I’m asking a question. Here are the streams of thought feeding into this inquiry:

1. The FDA has shown zero readiness to give guidance about the use of on-line media in pharma communications. They are ready, however, to send warning letters about perceived violations in an ad-hoc fashion. This seriously inhibits pharma companies from getting involved. Regulatory fear does not go along well with open, public discussion.

2. The nature of current social media approaches and tools demands real-time interactive response and dialogue, out in the wilds of digital space. Pharma does not and cannot communicate that way.

  • Facebook demands interactivity and informal 2-way communication. Pharma companies are forced to come up with all kinds of work-arounds to make Facebook something other than it is, in order to participate. It’s like trying to enter a canoe into a speedboat race.
  • Twitter demands short bursts of communication. Pharma communications (prescription brands) demand fair balance, context, long explanation, disclaimers, and all kinds of monitoring/reporting. Would a congressman reading a speech from a teleprompter fit nicely at a cocktail party?
  • LinkedIn is all about the individual professional. Nice platform for recruiting, even in pharma. But my experience with pharma folks (I have years of it) on LinkedIn is that interactivity is almost nil. Pharma professionals live and work in an atmosphere of non-openness. You can sow seed on a gravel driveway, but don’t expect much of a harvest.
  • YouTube is one place where pharma companies can participate on a social platform, as long as you strip it down to, essentially, one-way broadcast and storytelling. It’s not social, but it is media.

3. Pharma companies tend to rotate commercial professionals (sales, training, marketing, etc.) through their job roles every 1-3 years. This means a constant default to short-term thinking. However, successful involvement in public social platforms demands long-term commitment and readiness to innovate. As soon as a little bit of expertise begins to accumulate, it’s time to move on to the next rung up the ladder (personally, I think that this, and the bondage of short-term quarterly profit reporting, are the two biggest hidden killers of pharma companies making true inroads in social networking).

4. Social media is moving rapidly to point-to-point on-demand mobile communications (including real-time UGC of all sorts, location data, commerce, and fragmented data streams). Pharma is all about centralized, one-way, controlled communications. Black, meet white.

We could go on, but the point is this: Public, interactive, real-time social media platforms and commercial pharma communications simply don’t mesh well. At all. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Stuff you can easily say about other industries really isn’t going to translate well to pharma (as much as I like Chris Brogan, he’s out of his league on this post).

Is that a death knell for social media usage across all areas of pharma? Not at all. Non-branded communications can occur on existing public platforms, albeit often with a good dose of restrictions and care. Non-public networks (private communities) are a fruitful area of valuable involvement. Private, internal social networks (Yammer and the like) are potentially hugely useful apps for digital networked communications. One-way storytelling, while not fully social, can still add value, even in the public sphere (if done very carefully). Mobile apps that provide information or services are great – though again, they are using social-ish platforms in a less-than-fully-social fashion.

Also, the maturation of a platform like Google Plus could lead to more controlled communications to distinct, defined groups – and that is where the future could well be brighter.

Commercial, prescription pharma communications happen within thickly-walled gardens. The open, public social web is anything but that – and it’s not going to change for the pharma industry. Current platforms make it very difficult to marry the two. The future may well lie in walled social gardens, but existing approaches are still maturing through the wild west stage. Maybe we should expend less concern about “getting on Facebook” or Twitter, and architecting a social strategy that fits the industry – rather than trying to fit this square industry peg into a round, shape-shifting hole.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Add your comment!


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This little animation on YouTube was so good I couldn’t help but share it. Pharma Creative Review. Enjoy!


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Novartis’ CibaVision subsidiary has released a new iPhone app, called the Academy for Eyecare Excellence. I have downloaded it and am going to write this review “live” – that is, give my impressions as I walk through it. I believe that intuitive user interface is the key to good software design, so let’s see how this app strikes a newbie from a user experience point of view.

First up is a required registration page, asking for first name, last name, email, zip code, country, and profession. Below that there are a couple of notification options (for updates), and a link to the Privacy Policy.

Right off, I’d prefer to have a brief explanation why this amount of info is being requested. It’s intrusive compared to most iPhone apps, and may be a barrier to entry. Now, there may very well be excellent reasons to ask for it – but if so, please share them up front in capsule form (you do get a better idea by reading the detailed Privacy Policy).

When I first use any app, I want to feel a sense of intuitive ease with the interface, AND I’d like a little “Wow” factor. The home page interface is a bit busy, but the Intro video of two guys talking about what the app can do for you is very impressive – smooth, hi-res, and motivating. Thumbs up on that idea!

From the initial screen, the user can jump to Courses, Video, and Articles. Let’s try Courses…OK, two courses present (on contact lenses, of course), several future courses listed. The course is structured in topical nuggets, each of which is a tasty combination of video and animation with nice, clear narration. I cannot comment on how helpful these little courses will be for eyecare professionals, but I can say, as someone with a lot of background in eLearning design, that this is pretty good stuff from a production standpoint. Thumbs up here.

The Video section is just promo videos for the digital Ciba educational properties, including this app. This could eventually be a potential repository for helpful little practical hints, or clinical updates, if Ciba heads in that direction – right now, it seems like a placeholder. Thumb at rest in horizontal position.

Articles doesn’t go anywhere. I assume there will be resources populating this at some point. Thumb hiding.

On the bottom navigation bar is a button for Academy, which opens up (essentially) a miniaturized website explaining CibaVision’s educational approach and offerings. The iPhone form factor is not ideal for information structured this way – small type and standard web navigation design. Thumbs down – not on the idea of explaining more about the offerings, but on the information design. There is also a button fro Prof. Affairs which currently goes nowhere.

-> It occurs to me that perhaps the two non-functional buttons are because I registered as an “Other”, not as one of the designated titles for an eyecare professional. So, I just left the app and registered under a different name, as an Opthamologist. And, sure enough, now those nav buttons are occupied! The Prof. Affairs is just a repeat of the intro video – a placeholder, nothing to see here – but the Articles now show a couple of article summaries with a link to the .pdf. Sparse here at launch, but the potential is there. Plus, you are invited to pop open (to full screen) an ad for one of the CibaVision contact lens products.

There is also a Back and a More button on the bottom – Back does what you’d expect, and More gives links to CibaVision site; Acknowledgements; a Contact link (which opens up your e-mail); and Tell a Friend (also e-mail driven). Nothing special.

OK, let’s sum up:

Putting on my branding hat: The visual design, naming, and branding are mediocre. The graphical elements used, and page layouts, are only so-so.

Putting on my application user experience hat: It has potential. Right now, I question the value, especially for the amount of personal information I’ve “given up” at registration. And the experience is “choppy” and stitched together – cool video here, clunky web interface there, etc. The app doesn’t feel smooth and well-integrated (yet).

Putting on my eLearning/professional education hat: Very nice. With lots of potential to evolve.

It is a one-way application – nothing truly interactive or social about it. I think a lot of first-gen pharma apps will fall into that camp. I’d have to say that this one is not particularly compelling, unless an eyecare professional really needs those courses in the palm of their hands. Then, there’s clear value.


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As someone deeply immersed in pharma communications, and especially the newer realm of social networking, I’ve been closely following the ongoing process of the industry/FDA dance, trying to figure out how social media/web 2.0 approaches “fit” with pharmaceutical manufacturers and their various audiences.

And I keep wondering if we’re going about the whole thing the wrong way.

Think about the fine print PI (Product Information) you see in a magazine, accompanying a prescription drug ad. How many people do you think really READ that? And, of that miniscule number, how many actually UNDERSTAND it?

This is not “communication.” It is “exposure of comprehensive required information.”

Now stop and think. If the joint goal of patients, doctors, regulators, and manufacturers is the right treatment given to the right patient at the right time for the right reason (shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal for all involved?), then what we need is more than mere CYA disclosure. We need communication, designed properly for each audience, and digestible in ways that reflect how we (in fact) genuinely communicate.

I’m in the process of selling and buying a house. And, roughly, there’s a 3-fold communication/thought process:

    1. Basic, initial go-or-no-go information that helps me figure out whether something might be for me (e.g., a 2-bedroom split-level with a flooding basement on a 0.2 acre lot near a highway is not of interest).
    2. A deeper layer of information that will let me whittle down further what matters, based on key points (e.g., a house visit with the realtor to really explore the place after all basic stuff has narrowed things down).
    3. All the inspection and contractual details that must be waded through (comprehensive disclosure) once we have a pretty good idea of direction (e.g., call the lawyers and examine the paperwork).

We don’t start with #3. But much of what passes for pharma communications is so hog-tied by regulatory pressure on the comprehensive disclosure front, that the cart is effectively placed before the horse – if the horse is even allowed to show up. Effective communication is severely hampered.

If we’ve done full disclosure, such that the FDA isn’t dropping big fines, yet we’re really not communicating effectively with about the right treatment for the right patient at the right time for the right reason, then I have to conclude that we’ve all failed. And that’s what I fear will happen with the proposed FDA guidance on social media in pharma – we’ll all be so tied up with the disclosure minefield that no one is paying attention to the real point – what does it mean to effectively communicate on every level about prescription drugs and health?

There are basic principles of instructional design and “layered” multi-channel communication that seem to me far more vital than an endless “cover your backside” fear-based pursuit of comprehensive disclosure. I’d far rather see time and creativity invested in designing a prescription drug product information portal with layers of information (digestible for all audiences), multimedia education, and controlled interactivity than figuring out how we’re going to stuff a full PI into a coffee mug, a magazine insert, a TV ad, or a tweet. Can’t we take advantage of all this linked and multi-channel approaches to communicate more effectively and completely, rather than less so?

Social media provides wonderful new ways to establish information-sharing and build bridges with stakeholders across the entire healthcare chain, from drug manufacturers all the way through to patients. But if we look at it through all the old lenses, I suspect we’ll end up with the same old communication constipation that we have now. That would be a shame.

End of rant. Your ideas and feedback welcome in the comments.


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As more and more pharmaceutical companies dip their toes into social media, one of the issues that surfaces regularly is this: do you put someONE in charge of a blog and/or Twitter account, or do you make it more anonymous? Or something else?

Let’s discuss this. I’ll put out my thoughts; add yours in the comments.

I’ve always advocated that pharma companies should use social networks to humanize their companies, which means employing human faces and voices – having real, authentic, and effective communicators working these channels. People. Folks you can relate to meet, meet at a conference, carry on backchannel discussions with, etc.

J&J has been very effective with this; Marc Monseau has served effectively as the “voice” of J&J in the socialsphere. Recently, Pfizer (@pfizer_news on Twitter) has updated its Twitter account to include a face and a name – Jennifer Kokell, self-identified as tweeting from Global Corporate Media Relations in NYC. Jennifer works with Ray Kerins, who has been aggressively shaking up the Communications practices at Pfizer, including a healthy push into social media.

But the question comes up – what if a company’s social media presence is too dependent on one person? And here the fine line must be walked – on the one hand, social media is all about individuals and personality and dialogue between people – but companies are not one person. And people move on.

By and large, people don’t want another nameless, faceless monolithic channel in social media – some unnamed drone churning out one-way communications in the name of “the company” who has about as much relational value as a dead fish. So – how to strike the balance?

Here’s one idea for larger companies – have a team presence for your blog and Twitter account. Multiple people – say, 3 or 4 – who contribute posts and tweets about a cross-section of the company’s activities. These would be real people with names, pictures, and off-line appearances – but the team approach would reflect the reality that a company IS made up of diverse individuals, and would also make the social media presence less dependent on a solo individual (reflecting the hit-by-a-bus reality of the non-expendable individual). While J&J’s social presence is spearheaded by Marc Monseau, their corporate blog actually has other contributing authors.

That would be one approach for an “official” social media presence. What about “unofficial” social media representatives? I like what is happening at Novartis, where various individuals such as Brad Pendergraph, Colin Foster, Mark Davis, Erik Hawkinson, Ben Atkins and others tweet as professional and accessible human beings who work at Novartis (thus achieving some humanizing of the company) but who have a unique presence reflecting their personal interests and professional perspectives. In fact, with Novartis, the “unofficial” social media presence has far outstripped progress on its “official” corporate social media footprint.

We’re all still on the learning curve with this stuff and companies are experimenting and evolving. What’s your take? One? Many? None? How can a company project humanity and authenticity without too much solo-representative risk?


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This week, I attended two conferences relating to pharma and eCommunications/Social Media. The MDRx conference (sponsored by IIR) was in Philly, and the Social Communications and Healthcare Case Studies and Roundtable event was held in NYC.

Instead of writing my usual post-event description, I decided to just spill my guts a bit on where things are at with pharma and social media, having participated in these events and interacted with so many people this week. In short: we’re making progress! Let me take you on a brief retrospective tour, then give some current perspectives…


is this thing onWhen I started pharma-blogging three years ago, as a cornerstone of launching my consulting business, it was lonely out on the Internets. A handful or two of us were blogging pharma (and only a few of the original crowd have survived), there was NO participation by people within pharma companies, Twitter was a distant dream, and Facebook was not yet mainstream. Even a year and a half ago, when I first started on Twitter, there was hardly anyone on that platform with a pharma focus.

All that has changed.

Nine months ago, I ran into fellow networker Shwen Gwee at a Digital Pharma conference, when he turned to me in the back of the room and asked, “Are you tweeting?” At that point, I had just begun live-blogging and live-tweeting pharma events, which was a novelty way back in 2008. Shwen and I became fast friends and pharma conference collaborators. In fact, this spring Shwen launched the first Social Pharmer conference in Boston, where we experimented with a more informal format, and a number of those who are trying to do pioneer work in social media attended. Still, as of early 2009, it was pretty easy to identify and list all the active pharma bloggers and Twitter users (<–that link is a good starting point, by the way, if you’re just getting started in pharma social networking).

bdi_tweetup_smIt’s not so lonely anymore. In fact, spontaneously during the BDI conference, a bunch of us planned a post-event lunch tweetup, and about 15 came in order to get to know one another better, socialize, and brainstorm. And that is one of the main goals of social networking. SOCIAL. NETWORKING.

Now, it’s getting hard to keep track, because so many individuals and companies are rushing into the social networking space. And I say: FANTASTIC! Join us – and if you need some help getting started, here is an e-book I put together for just that purpose, loaded with links and resources (including a pharma-specific Appendix).


Ray_Kerins_smWe have a long way to go, but now, it’s not just consultants and agencies talking about it. Companies are jumping in, taking baby steps, learning. Ray Kerins of Pfizer (<–that’s him) gave a very encouraging presentation at the BDI event about the transformation going on in their global communications group. He’s someone to watch. Boehringer is using their Twitter account to interact, and Brad Pendergraph of Novartis is one of the most active and interesting pharma folks on Twitter.

In fact, if you want to know almost everyone who is doing stuff in social media, and where all the case studies are, leading agency thinker Jon Richman keeps a continually-updated wiki outlining the pharma social media space. Highly recommended.

One of the things to bear in mind is that, while the public case studies are still relatively slim, there is a lot going on behind-the-scenes with networked communications approaches that aren’t being much talked about. Internal blogs and social networks. KOL communities. Resource portals and discussion groups. Yes, we are all frustrated with the slow pace of regulatory comfort-level when it comes to new technology, and there’s a lot of fear abroad. but things are happening. We should start our considerations, not with ROI calculations and regulatory handcuff fears, but with two main questions: What are the needs of our audience? and, How can we add value?

I’ve seen all this before. There was the same slow uptake with Web 1.0 technology. And with eLearning. But eventually, we hit a tipping point where people stop asking “if?” and start asking “how?”

We’re getting there. We’re making progress.


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I’m at a conference on Physician Relationship Management (MDRx). As usual, we’re talking e-marketing, social media, and fear. If  you know pharma, you know that anything new is embraced with enthusiastic expressions of…terror.

Often, the starting points for these discussions are the following:

    1. How are we going to do this and keep clean on the regulatory front?
    2. What’s the quickly-demonstrable ROI?
    3. Risk. Risk. Risk.
    4. Who else is doing it?

So, of course, these starting points doom the participants – who often are in short-term marketing rotations – to think about “safety in tactics,” rather than strategic opportunities.

Careful – you might shoot your eye out.

There are structural reasons in this industry for this mentality. However, if we’re going to make any progress, I’d like to suggest that anyone thinking about Networked Communications strategies in pharma START with only two perspectives:

    1. What are the needs of our audience(s)?
    2. How can we add value?

That’s it. Begin the initial discussions there and leave all the other stuff for the last 5 minutes, or you’ll never approach it with an opportunity mindset. Now I know that all these other concerns have to be addressed, but that’s like choosing your outfit only after putting on handcuffs and chains.

That’s my e-Vent at this event. Your thoughts?


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Later this month, I’ll be leading an interactive discussion at the first “Social Pharmer” unconference – a gathering of folks exploring how social media fits into the pharmaceutical industry. Others who will lead sessions include Mark Senak, Josh Bernoff, Jack Barrette, Fard Johnmar, and Michael Parks. Shwen Gwee is ably orchestrating the event.

My session will focus on the Key Business Needs that can be Addressed NOW with Social Media. And that’s where I could use your help!

I am not going to go to the event to present conclusions, but to engage in a discussion. And I’d like to prime the discussion there by beginning the dialogue here and now.

What do YOU think are the best opportunities for pharma/biotech companies to begin utilizing social networking technologies? You may have consumer marketing ideas in mind, which is fine…but also, what are some other inward-facing or outward-facing areas that may be low-hanging fruit? Are there some applications with fewer legal/regulatory snares that ought to be discussed and explored?

Where are there intersections of low-risk, existing technology/community, and clear reward?

I’d really like to get ideas flowing before the get-together on April 21. Feel free to put some thoughts in the comments, or if you’d rather communicate privately, you can e-mail me (stevew [at] impactiviti.com). My hope is to have a fistful of ideas that will spark rich discussion at the gathering, and perhaps find ways to hasten adoption of networking approaches in this conservative market sector!

(for the record, I do believe that the pharma industry will embrace social media. I would like to see it hastened by identifying clear business applications NOW)

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