The Evolution of Personal Promotion Post-Pandemic

Jose Ferreira, SVP, Product & Innovation | Melissa Caromano, Media Planner

June 25, 2021

COVID-19 has revolutionized the personal promotion side of Pharma. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, 86% of HCPs were open to engaging with Pharma throughout their workday, and 48% of HCPs preferred to receive information about existing products from pharmaceutical companies through sales reps. Personal promotion played an essential role in brand strategy to drive sales, as the live interaction ensured that the HCP was engaged with the material the rep was reviewing. It worked in tandem with multi-channel approaches on the non- personal promotion (NPP) side of the business to tell an effective story as to why an HCP should use that specific drug.

However, personal promotion did have proven difficulties. For starters, in-person meetings were already slowly declining in years prior to 2020. The number of HCPs engaging with reps was decreasing. When meetings were able to occur, appointments typically lasted for 3 minutes, max, simply due to busy schedules. Because of this, relationships with the HCPs were essential. By building rapport and trust, HCPs were more likely to meet with the reps that came to visit. Market research and data may reveal overarching insights, but the personal conversation and connection with an HCP provided reps with a higher likelihood of getting to chat with their clients to begin with.

While the personal relationship drove the HCP to see their reps, data played a large role in what information the rep shared. Pharmaceutical companies, just like many other industries, collect all types of data to fuel their strategy, from AI to social listening to HCP-level data. By pulling through insights on the people they are targeting, reps were able to understand what HCPs wanted to hear and could work from there to condense their pitch into a quick, personal conversation that was relatable to everyone. Their personal connection with the HCP would get reps in the door, and then the AI algorithms would make the sale.

Luckily, the industry is always looking to evolve and optimize, with or without global pandemics. So, while COVID-19 introduced new challenges and obstacles, pharma companies and their agency partners began to look elsewhere and develop tools and strategies to adjust. Now in a post-COVID-19 world, companies are more strongly integrating the in-person promotion with virtual components, ensuring confidence that brands can still deliver valuable messaging no matter how they are reaching HCPs.

The COVID-19 Dilemma

When COVID-19 caused everything to shut down back in March 2020, personal promotion had to adapt, and it had to adapt quickly. The immediate solution: Zoom and other video chatting platforms. Just like most industries, Pharma adapted to the digital business model for personal promotion and took on the form of remote meetings and phone conversations. Then, they heavied up on NPP strategy, focusing on channels such as email, programmatic, and other digital buys to offset the missing touchpoints and reach they normally gain through rep interaction.

On the personal promotion side, meetings suddenly became a lot longer. Rather than a quick, two-minute visit, where the rep could shake hands, catch up, and provide their elevator pitch with some samples attached, conversations were now becoming a planned, thirty-minute Zoom call. These meetings needed to be more than a quick “How you’ve been?” and “Here’s my pitch.” They needed to be educational and interactive; they needed to tell a story. All reps were now faced with this new dilemma: What content and chatting platforms are effectively engaging?

Usually, these decisions are made through collecting and analyzing data, but all the data available was sharing what HCPs wanted prior to a global pandemic. Now, amid a lifechanging event, the data they had access to no longer gave them the real insights they needed. The needs of HCPs changed to acclimate to the new lifestyle and new health regulations. Since reps no longer fully understood what their target market needed to hear, ambiguity resulted in a lot of over-saturation and digital fatigue. And since in-person interactions were rarely, if at all, happening, companies’ NPP strategy needed to be even more tailored to the HCPs they were trying to reach. It was now crucial for companies to better understand what the HCPs wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it. If the HCP was going to give a company their time, it had to be worthwhile. It all came back to the question: How does one engage with an HCP in a new digital age where everything is virtual?

How Healthcare Brands Can Continue to Engage HCPs

To answer that question, there is a need, now more than ever, for more personalized data and creativity to avoid burnout and tell a worthwhile story. And while market research and algorithms are collecting up-to-date insights, no one has a set answer yet as to how companies can creatively engage HCPs through personal promotion. Each company seems to have a different approach.

Some brands have developed their own tools to manage communication between their sales reps and HCPs. This may have taken on the form of an app or microsite to serve as a resource for any of the HCP’s needs and provide contacts to the reps available. Many companies are tapping into their media strategy to optimize reach and engagement. For example, while most brands believe digital media is the best way to reach HCPs, they may be able to partner up with print or direct mail publishers to send HCPs technology that provides quick access to a rep or samples. Across the board, Pharma is working to ensure physicians get what they need if in-person contact is not accessible, and revolutionizing personal promotion so that limited visits don’t inhibit an interaction with a sales rep.

Brands have also looked to better understand where NPP can continue to support personal promotion when necessary. CMI Media Group has begun making an impact in this space, proactively establishing platforms and technologies that enable sales reps to act as territorial brand managers with all the requisite media channels at their disposal. These technologies allow pharma reps to activate a media sequence or one-off tactics for an individual or a group of physicians in real-time. They can then monitor real-time performance and make adjustments accordingly. Through these innovations, brands can substantially increase the number of channels their reps have access to and add more qualitative insights to their database that only a rep can gather.

NPP is also a great way to extend the story when reps aren’t accessible. During the pandemic, brands worked to collect new AI insights, conduct market research, and pulled through HCP-level data as frequently as possible to understand what HCPs need in a time of pandemic. Every brand has a different strategy to optimize the personal promotion space. And as the pandemic went on and the data being collected became more reliable and usable in the marketing space, brands’ NPP approach became more tailored and effective as well.

The marketplace may never go back to what it once was. When surveyed, only 10% of HCPs want to go back to pre-COVID-19 norms for in-person meetings and 87% want either all virtual or a mix of in-person and virtual interactions with sales reps. While personal rapport will always be important in establishing relationships with HCPs, the pandemic has shown that health can go virtual in ways we had never before realized. Data and new technologies will continue evolving the interactions physicians have with their reps. Now, more than ever, pharma companies must consistently ask themselves, “What do my HCPs currently want to know and how can I share that information in an engaging way?”