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First, a provocative thought, just to get you in the mood:

Right?

Anyway, last week, I attended the 6th annual Digital Pharma East conference, put on by the fine folks at ExLPharma.

I think I’ve been to all of them – maybe I missed one? – but it’s pretty interesting to reflect back on what the event looked like a few short years ago. In the earliest years, I decided to live-blog the event, which was unheard-of in the industry. Would my laptop and I get arrested for real-time pharma updates?? Now, just about everyone has a tablet or laptop, and we’re increasingly living this digitally-connected reality that once we were only talking about.

Refreshingly, we finally seem to be past yammering over our Phase 1 Problems (P1P) – whether or not we even should participate in social media; what to do about off-label discussions; can (or should) we even be on Twitter; etc. This year, discussions were more focused on practical doing, and less on regulatory hand-wringing. That’s refreshing.

The event was attended by over 600+ folks – a pretty stellar attendance number – and it ran over 4 days. The first day was pre-event workshops; the next 2 days were the main event; and Thursday was Mobile Day. Chairing the event were two pharma digital veterans, Batman and Robin Shwen Gwee and Marc Monseau (each formerly worked inside pharma companies, both now on the agency side).

I like to give high-level summaries of events like this, so here is my string of thoughts and observations:

1. Digital Pharma East was well-planned and well-run. Bryon, Jayson, Jason, Warren, and the whole team did a solid job organizing, and were constantly circulating to make sure things stayed on track. Kudos to the ExL Pharma group.

Random thought: good food really does help the mood at an event.

2. The exhibit hall was packed with some pretty interesting vendor/providers – and I’m pleased to observe that we’re finally beginning to move from first-generation iPad apps (the one-off approach) to more robust system-level platforms. I have some definite opinions about this, and for pharma/biotech/device companies who are looking to do a digital technology audit and roadmap, I can help you with recommendations (commercial plug for my client-vendor matchmaking service).

Random thought: Having the meals and social events in the exhibit hall is smart. Also, if you’re going to give out water bottles, make really cool ones, like Klick Health did! —>

3. The social media backchannel (Twitter) was quite active during the entire event, with good participation from folks who were not physically present. However, live audience participation was somewhat muted, and this is a matter of concern – part of it, I suspect, was due to the lighting (audience in darkness), but also, we’re simply not effectively incorporating audience interaction strategies. Passive listening joined to a few minutes of Q&A at the end of a talk is so 2005. We need to do better here.

Random thought: Do not put unreadable type on your slides and expect the audience to be OK with it. That transgression lights up the Twitterstream!

4. Sometimes panel discussions can be a bore, but we did have some good ones. Tuesday’s Driving Innovation panel, led by Paul Ivans joined by Peter Justason (Purdue), Joan Mikardos (Sanofi), Melissa Bojorquez (B-I), Joyce Ercolino (CSL Behring), Alison Woo (BMS), and Patricia Choumitsky (UCB) was lively and informative.

Random thought: Along with industry expertise, it’s always nice to have a sprinkling of speakers from outside the industry at any event. New perspectives are generally quite helpful!

5. For me, and I believe for many attendees, the two most striking talks were back-to-back on Wednesday – Sinan Aral took us to school on the topic of Social Networks, Viral Hype and Big Data – Distinguishing Hope from Hype with Science. This was followed by the personable and entertaining James Musick of Genentech with a session on Social Engagement & Brands, talking about a unique digital/social experiment they did exposing people to genetics. Great stuff.

Random thought: It’s always a good idea to have some presenters who know how to have a bit of fun, especially if accompanied with an accent – like John Pugh of Boehringer!

6. Mobile Day was a reinforcement of a message that still seems to be very slowly sinking in – mobile is the new normal, and we are woefully behind as an industry even in the most basic stuff like having mobile-ready public-facing websites. This is truly the low-hanging fruit for digital development in pharma. We had sessions underscoring the tensions between centralized site development (to deal with multiple mobile platforms) vs. platform-specific creativity, and the main message here is that all of these details are still quite in flux. But mobile/smartphones/tablets are going to predominate, and it was refreshing to hear at least one speaker advocate for the approach of developing for mobile FIRST, then worrying about a “desktop” version. In my opinion, that’s the only approach that makes any sense if we understand current trends correctly.

Random thought: Presenting to doctors via iPad is not necessarily intuitive – training is necessary (this is also true of facilitating virtual classrooms, etc. – don’t assume that the same skills carry over!)

7. I did lead one magical session/discussion on The Future of Digital/Social/Pharma/Life, encouraging people to skate to where the puck is going when it comes to our new world of People (24/7 human connectivity), Pockets (mobile), and Pipes (data streams from devices and information stores). I think that many are still not aware that networks of things, information, and people are rapidly converging; and that forces of disintermediation/new-intermediation are changing our culture wholesale in ways that will totally re-shape business.

Random thought: Photoshop can make any presenter into a plasma-tossing superhero!

Reconnecting with old long-standing friends (like Wendy Blackburn, Kerri Sparling, John Mack (OK, he’s old), Chris Truelove, Zoe Dunn, Carly Kuper, and Jay Bryant is always a highlight of this conference; as is the opportunity to make new connections. I always look forward to this event and may even venture out to the West Coast next year for Digital Pharma West. Philadelphia is OK and all, but San Francisco + Digital stuff? C’mon…

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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I’ll be attending two pharma-focused conferences during the autumn months of 2012 (both in Philadelphia) – hope to see many of you there!

ePatient Connections has become one of my favorite annual events. I love the mix of speakers, and the emphasis on healthcare from the patient (not merely industry) perspective. Great lineup of presenters as usual, including Mark Bard, Kevin Kruse, Arnie Friede, Carly Kuper, Kerri Sparling, and many others. More information can be found here.

Digital Pharma East is a wonderful gathering of everything tech/digital/mobile in the pharma and healthcare world. I really like the fact that there is a dedicated mobile day on the 18th. This is a great event for learning and networking! More information here.

Both of these events are put on by the fine folks at exl Pharma.

ALSO – on November 8th, I’ll be presenting (in conjunction with the Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) a one-day Successful Vendor Management workshop, in Florham Park, NJ. If there’s one area that seems to be consistently left out of on-boarding training for managers (training, marketing, & communications), it’s how to spec out and manage a project, and how to select and manage outsource vendors. We’ll be covering all of that in a practical and actionable manner during this well-received workshop – please join us! More information and registration here.

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Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors through our unique trusted referral network. Need something? Ask Steve.

Learn more about us here.

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This week, I enjoyed the opportunity to gather with a large number of professional colleagues at eXL Pharma’s 4th Annual Digital Pharma East conference.

I’ve attended this conference 3 or 4 times and it gets better every year. This year was no exception. The eXL team (Bryon Main, Jason Youner, Jayson Mercado, and others) did a great job organizing a multi-faceted event that contained far more variety than most of the ePharma conferences I’ve attended.

Instead of giving a recap of content (ably being done by several others – here, here, here, here, here, here, and including this very cool video essay by DoctorAnonymous, Mike Sevilla!), I’m going to list out some of my high-level impressions and perspectives as a veteran conference correspondent and industry networker.

1. It was great to have participation from savvy ePatients and ePhysicians. I can’t underscore enough how much it matters for pharma professionals to be exposed to “customers” on the ground, especially those emerging into thought leadership. Not only did I get to renew ties (and meet for the first time) some of my ePatient friends, but I was also privilege to have long discussions with Mike Sevilla (DoctorAnonymous online) and Bryan Vartabedian (Doctor_V online). Bryan ably served as co-host along with Shwen Gwee, the social media guru at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

2. Mobile is huge. And getting huger. If you’re not thinking about the intersection of communications and mobile devices, then you’re trying to make a faster horse-and-buggy while cars whiz by.

3. We’re finally moving past the first few years of very limited social media case studies into a variety of interesting approaches and efforts. Frankly, the ePharma conference circuit was getting a bit wearisome as industry struggled with the very basics, but now the on-line efforts are maturing, and increasingly being tied into off-line (integrated) efforts (Applause from audience). The best part is that these efforts will only increase in number and creativity.

4. Including speakers who are not embedded in the industry is very smart. We enjoyed hearing from Doc Searls (one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto), Bob Garfield (Advertising Age columnist), and futurist Ian Morrison. Getting high-level perspectives about cultural and technological trends definitely stirs up more creative thinking and discussion. As we all know, pharma can be very insular, and we need fresh infusions from the outside to keep us from being boxed in by our own self-made ruts.

5. There is no substitute for face-to-face networking. Attaching names to faces to feelings to ideas to potential collaboration…you cannot replace human networking with technology. This came up several times in talks as well, about the potential for pharma to be overly enamored with e-solutions such that human contact with physicians gets lost. And for me, it was a welcome chance to rub shoulders with old and new friends like Shwen Gwee (credit for photo above), John Mack, Eileen O’Brien, Gilles Frydman, Phil Baumann, Daphne Swancutt, Bruce Grant, Faruk Capan, Jess Seilheimer, Mike Myers, Ellen Hoenig, Jeff Greene, Len Starnes, Christiane Truelove, Cheryl Ann Borne, Hannah McDonald, Allison Blass, Mark Senak, Gigi Peterkin, DJ Edgerton, Cynthia North, Zoe Dunn, Kelly Dane, Chris Campbell, Quang Pham, Lance Hill, Carly Kuper, Alex Butler (who, for being an industry pioneer, won the Hawaiian shirt off of John Mack’s back!) and many others – these are the people that are shaping the future of pharma digital. And many have become good friends, both on- and off-line!

6. Having tracks and unconference sessions is a really good idea. The problem, of course, with tracks is that you want to be in more than one session at a time – but I think it’s great for drawing a more diverse set of attendees, and open discussions during unconference sessions can be very lively and invigorating (note: successful unconference sessions rely on a skillful moderator who knows how to draw others out, and at least a few people who don’t mind sharing opinions and being a bit provocative!)

Three years ago, live-tweeting a pharma conference was brand new territory. Now it’s becoming common practice. If you want dig deeper into the content, quotes, impressions, and resources shared, do a Twitter search under the hashtag #digpharm. This is also a great way to discover some of the most active folks involved in pharma social networking.

There is much more that could be said, but I can’t close without thanking the many sponsors who helped make the event possible, especially PixelsandPills, HealthCentral, and HealthEd, who sponsored social events in the evening.

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