Few things are more important to a company’s marketing efforts than choosing the right agency. But it involves many decision factors. Do they have the right experience in our sector? Do they have the full complement of skills? Do our cultures match or clash?
It’s complex, like picking a spouse. And often the dating period seems just as long. So you want to be sure you get it right. Let’s examine the process. Why are you looking for an agency? Sometimes it’s because you’re growing and need more marketing firepower, maybe for a new launch, or because your current agency is underperforming. Maybe you’re looking for a specialty shop that will fill in some niche expertise. Each of these has its own path, but all have some basic considerations in common.
LEE ANN KIMAK Global Commercial Development Lead Pfizer Vaccines
JOAN YATSKO Director, Global Commercial Development Pfizer Vaccines
Some of those we think you have to look at are:
• Strategic thinking
They’re pretty, but can they think?
• Tactical deliverables
• Limited internal resources
• New ideas/insights To address those, let’s ask the right questions.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT AGENCY
First, you have to assess your needs. Can a single agency answer all of your needs or do you have to look for specific expertise? Do you need project-based work or a more strategic longer-term partner? If you have smaller projects – like a brochure or adding to some existing materials – you may want to think about a smaller agency that offers a quicker turn-around time and may cost less. But there may be a need for a larger agency if you want to develop a more integrated campaign as an example.
But does a Madison-Avenue-marble-lobby agency really buy you better results – or do you just get to buy them some more marble for the lobby? Big-name agencies are worthwhile only if they bring with them the people who impress you in their pitch. Think of it this way: international orchestras audition musicians behind a screen, so that physical appearance (age, gender, beauty) becomes less important than talent. It’s a good model to think of when interviewing agencies (except for the screen, of course). You want the talent: the Finn Juhl chairs won’t be writing the ads for you.
Is a specific therapeutic background essential? Sometimes it is, but not always. You might be looking for a resource that’s better at breakthrough creative, or one that knows how to target a narrow demographic through social media.
Intelligence gathering is an important step. Refining your punch list of potential vendors should involve reaching out to people you trust, internally and externally, doing some homework about agencies before you actually speak with them, and generally learning who is most likely to meet the standards you’ve set. All on the q.t., of course, so you don’t start getting inquiries before you’re ready for the interview process. We have found that procurement is a valuable team member at this juncture. They often have vital information on agencies and a point of view that others haven’t considered. Bring them in early, so you get the 360-degree vista.
Can a single agency answer all your needs, or do you have to look for specific expertise?
Then there’s the quality of the work, which can fall into numerous categories. Do they have brand experience of the type you’ll require? If so, what did they deliver? How did they manage the project? Can you get some independent testimony about their style and abilities? What was the outcome, and how was it measured?
Next is a very subjective area: their creative. Is it progressive or retrograde? Do you respond to it with surprise and delight, or does it look like the same-old-same-old? Consider that the answers to these questions will have different meanings for different situations. If you have a dementia or arthritis product, you may not want cutting-edge creative: same-old-same-old might be exactly what appeals to your demographic. (Important to remember: YOU are not the demographic. Whether you “like” their creative is not the point: judge on the basis of whether you think it will provoke the proper response from the HCPs or patients you’re targeting.)
“I pledge allegiance to the biosimilar…”
Finally, there’s another subjective category: the people themselves. Do you connect with them? Do they answer your questions honestly and meaningfully, or like cliché sales reps (the kind who don’t work for you, of course)? Are they selling you their product, or truly understanding and responding to your needs? You’re entering into a partnership here, and you want to do it with the right internal and external stakeholders.
GETTING ALONG WITH ALL OF THE PARTIES
Like many of us, you probably have multiple marketing partners. Although they all report to you independently, the team has to work seamlessly. Every player is in service to the same goals.
You have to integrate the ad agency with the PR firm with the IT providers and other types of consultants. (Agencies are making an effort to merge these capabilities, but that ideal is a long way off – and may not always provide you with the best from columns A, B and C.)
One secret to this is to have very clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This may seem obvious, but most vendors are understandably ambitious and that can lead to conflict. Defining what you want from each helps to keep the focus on what is best for the assignment rather than the vendor. You want to establish a sort of “product patriotism”: everyone salutes the greater good. Sing that anthem at every meeting.
Anytime you have more than one vendor, we suggest you assign a point person who knows your standards, and keeps everyone on the same page. That might be an internal person, or, as at Pfizer, a holding company. This is an entity that serves as the gateway for your ad agency, PR firm, etc. You can have a single contact who vets all the creative and other content, so that by the time it reaches your desk it meets your standards.
HAVE CLEARLY DEFINED ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
And they wouldn’t like you when you’re cranky.
Finally, once you’ve moved in together, you have to establish the right agency management team, and that can be like the proverbial cat-herding job. Who reports to whom, when, and why? At each of your vendors, efficiency is realized by having the appropriate title in charge of the work. Do you always need a VP-level executive (at a VP-level hourly rate) in charge? Or can you manage the process with someone else who’s competent rather than titled?
Also, you don’t want agencies constantly searching for additional work: if they stick to the assignment, the “extra” projects will naturally come from the results. Financial management is similar: don’t tolerate mission creep into areas you didn’t originally define. If they are careful with your budget, that’s a good sign that they’re a potential long-term partner. And then there’s timing, the bane of every project. We live in a complex, highly-regulated atmosphere that is extremely demanding of detail. Every comma, period and tweet has to go under the microscope. At the same time, you want to get your message to market in an ASAP fashion. Remind your vendors that they should have the same schedule in mind. If they’re chronically late, you’ll get cranky.
So here’s the executive summary, at the end where it doesn’t belong:
• Bring together the right players to help make your decision
• Tend to the details
• Create a team spirit internally and externally
• Maintain control And may you all live profitably ever after. •
Pfizer applies science and global resources to improve health and well-being at every stage of life. Pfizer colleagues work across developed and emerging markets to advance wellness, prevention, treatments and cures that challenge the most feared diseases of our time.
Joan Yatsko, Director, Global Commercial Development, Vaccines, Pfizer
Joan is an enterprising, award-winning leader with over 20 years of strategic innovative marketing, sales, and commercial operations experience in pharmaceutical business models. She has broad-based commercial experience with roles in sales, sales training, sales operations, sales management, product management, and marketing. Joan’s signature expertise is in identifying customer and market needs and building and executing strategy in specialty therapeutics of vaccines and oncology. Joan is recognized for developing business partnerships across multiple global markets to identify, assess, and seize strategic market opportunities. She is currently leading vaccine market development activities for Pfizer’s Meningococcal B Vaccine currently in Phase 3. Her key signature capabilities include relationship building toward a common vision, driving organizational readiness, and maximizing market impact.
Lee Ann Kimak, EJD, MBA, PMP Global Commercial Development Lead Pfizer Vaccines
Lee Ann has over 20 years of commercial leadership in healthcare, encompassing medical devices, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Her leadership and dedication allowed the team to launch TRUMENBA, the first and only Meningitis B vaccine in the US, in a record 10 months’ time under FDA’s Accelerated Approval process, two years ahead of schedule. TRUMENBA is the only vaccine ever to be approved under the FDA’s Breakthrough Therapy designation and Priority Review programs. Lee Ann is a two-time recipient of Pfizer’s “Great Manager Award”. Lee Ann recently founded and is on the Board of Directors of UNITY: United for Adolescent Vaccination. Prior to Vaccines, Lee Ann was Executive Director, Premarin Family Marketing where she had P&L management for greater than $1B Wyeth US women’s healthcare franchise. She was named Wyeth’s HBA Rising Star in 2007 and received the President’s Achievement Award. Previously at Johnson & Johnson, she launched a new sterilization device and held several roles in sales and marketing of women’s healthcare brands at Ethicon. Lee Ann is currently on the Board of Trustees for the American Nurses Foundation.