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Tips for Medical Marketers Working with a Marketing Agency

Part of a medical marketer’s job is to work with a marketing agency, and sometimes several of them at once. This is a business-to-business relationship that needs to be well managed on a daily basis and evaluated from time to time. The agency’s job is to help you strengthen your brand by leveraging their strategic and creative expertise. Some agencies provide various services to their clients, whereas others are more specialized. Their specialties range from advertising, public relations, continuing medical education, online activities, direct-to-consumer promotions and to many other types of promotional specialties. There is usually a point-of-contact person called an account manager that is assigned to your brand, and this person is there to help you communicate your needs to the rest of the agency team working on your brand.

Here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your agency, therefore making you and your brand look good :

  1. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Do so multiple times and in various ways (telephone, follow-up with an e-mail). We cannot stress this enough.
  2. Ask questions about the agency’s work procedures before hiring them
  3. Know your brand and your strategy inside-out. You should be the one giving this information to the agency, not the other way around.
  4. Provide a written project brief with detailed information on your expectations and objectives for the project that the agency will be working on. Discuss the brief in details with the agency.
  5. Communicate with the agency on a regular basis. Yes, we already covered this, but this point is worth mentioning more than once.
  6. Read, understand and make corrections as required to contact reports, creative briefs and billing reports that are sent to you by the agency. Distribute these reports to anybody who has a role to play in the projects that you are working on.
  7. Hold regular evaluation sessions with the agency. Agencies that work on your brand on a regular basis should be evaluated twice a year. If this is not possible, then at least once a year.
  8. Try to be reasonable in terms of your expectations on output quality, timelines and cost. Balance your expectations and the realities of the agency as best as you can. For example, if you are willing to increase the budget, the agency may be able to produce a higher quality tool. Or they may be able to hire more staff to work on the project and thus complete the project more quickly. Another consideration is that if you ask for a very fast turnaround, you might be disappointed with the outcome if the agency has not had enough time to digest your needs and create a product that is both strategic and innovative. Talk with your agency to see how they might be able to squeeze either the budget or the timelines yet still produce a high quality product.
  9. This brings us to the next point; Stick to the timelines that YOU have agreed to. If you are in a hurry to produce a piece, do not hold up the agency by taking too much time to proofread or comment on draft versions of the tool. If this does happen (and this  happens to all marketers from time to time), then take a fresh look at the timelines that you have given to the agency.  They may need an extra day or so to catch up on the lost time.
  10. And finally with regards to tight timelines, try as best as possible to plan ahead. For example, considering the regulatory body approvals of pharmaceutical materials, a Product Manager in Canada should start working with their agency on a new tool at least 6-8 months before the piece is due in the reps’ hands.

If you have more tips to add to this list, please do so  in the comments section.  We can all learn from one another.


11 Responses

  1. Great post Nat. Have you any experiences or opinions about incentive comp for agencies?

    • Thanks for your support Peter. Great concept, but I have no experience with this. I have never heard of this being done in Canada, but it may be that it has been going on and it just never occurred with any of my brands or agencies. If somebody has given this a try, I hope they will let us know about their experience.

  2. Excellent points Nat. And having worked on the agency side of this equation, I agree that the “C” word can’t be overstressed: COMMUNICATE. In fact, looking over your list, I notice that all but the last two points are about communicating and tracking your (the client’s) values, needs, desires & expectations. An account executive can only help you meet your goals if the a.e. knows what the goals ARE. Also be aware that if you leave gray areas of understanding, the agency is liable to color them pink or purple when you’re partial to green.

    Good points about timelines too. To borrow a football analogy, remember that if you change the goal line mid-game you’ve got to allow the agency another down or two to score — especially since the agency may be trying to score for more than one team at a time. Changing plays on your project is likely to also affect others, so, well … play fair. 🙂

  3. Excellent guidance Nat! Having worked both sides of the fence, I completely agree that communication is key to success, and, after all, that is our business (!). This means detailed briefs and timelines. I also find daily check-point calls between client/agency useful to ensure projects are tracking against expectations–this helps to avoid surprises.

    If I may add one point to your list: never forget the human element. When clients treat agency teams with with respect and as partners in the business, they get the best possible results. Remember, agency contacts are people too. They take pride in their work and also think of your brand as their “baby”. Agency staff always want to be assigned to clients who practice true collaboration and invite ideas and participation. Let’s face it, it’s not rewarding to simply be an order taker. While in the agency SVP role, I watched my teams go above and beyond the call of duty when clients treated them with respect and as team members who have valuable insights to offer.

  4. As a person on the agency side, I can understand and recognize that a Product Manager has a full plate, but it is important to that a busy schedule and lack of response to your agency will ALWAYS delay a project.

  5. Hi Nat,
    You had touched the basic point for advertisement, & 2nd brand manager should know at the end of the day what is brand strategy, should be communicate them on regular basis. This article is really useful for newcomers & for experieced too..
    Moreover we must see the entire plan for brand campaign & how to carry forward campaign so that brand should achieve its specific objective.. Thanks

  6. I agree Nat,

    RE: Point 3
    Know your brand and your strategy inside-out. You should be the one giving this information to the agency, not the other way around.

    You can work with a step and fetch it agency or seek out a partner. You will get much more out of a partner.


  7. A few more tips to a successful working relationship with your agency

    1) Select the right agency for your brand. Do you need creative, design and medical writing or will you be using a global image and just “Canadianizing” it. If the latter, you do not need an agency with strong creative expertise. In fact, you need little more than a basic agency who can bring in a medical writer and artist as required. A company like this is likely to be 25-33% less expensive than a full-service agency.

    2) Know what you want from your agency and be prepared to pay for it. Do you want a new tactical idea every week? Do you want a choice of tactics for every strategy? If so have your agency on retainer, and expect to pay for some “brainstorming” time. Do you just want your agency to produce the tactics/tools you tell them to? If so, have the agency work on a project by project basis.

    3) Shop around. There are many respected and well established agencies, and many new agencies with different business models. There are pros and cons to both. You need to know exactly what you want from an agency, shop around for who can deliver, then consider pitches from the 3 top candidates.

    4) Consider an unbiased 3rd party to help with your search for the right agency. You wouldn’t buy a $1 Million house without a real estate agent. Why select an agency, where you might spend a million dollars or more, without some expert guidance. Like a good agent, they will first determine your needs, search out the best available options, then present the options to you and help you pick the best for your brand.

  8. Nat and all who commented:

    What strikes “us” at IDEA Pharma is the change over the past 10-15 years around true strategic capabilities of an Agency versus their tactical capabilities to execute around the creative and channels.

    Increasingly the experience (or inexperience) level of account and other key Agency personnel in terms of number of pre-launch and launches they have actively led or participated in (especially in specialty areas) has been reduced to a very low common denominator, especially for the large holding companies. The few senior people who can articulate coherant strategy are spread so thin that most brands do not get to see their talents first hand.

    The result often is bland, repetitive, emotive based ideas with lot’s of people “running on the beach” offering hope and bright sunlight.

    I would love to hear your respective thoughts around what constitutes great strategy in brand marketing and what examples you would hold up as representing “great”.


    with the resulhas con

  9. Hey, some really practical tips here. Thanks for this. Liked what Donna had to add as well – clients should treat agencies as partners in the business. Does not happen as often as one would like in India where I run my agency.

    On communication: Works the other way round as well. Communication seems the single-most important checkpoint even if you are an agency dealing with a client. But I often get stuck on the balance of written and verbal communication: Too much written communication and the client gets peeved, too little and the client has the chance to back out. Any tips on this?

  10. Great post Nat! Some of your points are very important for a successful agency relationship. Also, remember that it is a relationship and like any relationship, it does need work. Keeping a fewer agencies will able them to know your brand, management style and expectations. It may need some time to get there, but if you communicate well through difficult times, you will get there. It will allow your partners to be much more efficient at supporting your needs in the long run.

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