A recent Business Week article titled Just Say No to Drug Reps focused on how pharmaceutical companies influence physician behavior through free donuts, bagels, lunches, and dinners.
Clients, friends, and colleagues know my stance on this issue: Buying someone food is not marketing…it pretty much borders on bribery. The entire marketing profession is tainted because some industries focus more on taking food to prospects than on finding out how to solve their problems or meet their needs.
I realize pharmaceutical reps do more than buy food. However, the ‘other stuff’ they do is not being noticed nearly as much as the food purchases. And, some of the marginal pharma reps use the food delivery as too much of a crutch.
The amazing thing is that it actually works. Dr. Andriane Fugh-Berman of Georgetown University conducted a study that is referenced in the Business Week article. Her data shows a doctor who spends just one minute with a sales rep typically ends up prescribing 16% more of that rep’s product than before. A four-minute encounter is likely to prompt a 52% jump in prescriptions.
Fugh-Berman has spent the past six months lecturing med students at Georgetown and neighboring schools on how to resist sales reps’ overtures. Her website, http://www.pharmedout.org/, includes videos of current and former pharma reps talking about their ‘marketing tactics,’ one comparing doling out drug samples to what “your typical street dealer employs on the corner when he’s selling crack. The first one’s free, then you pay, then you’re hooked.”
Programs similar to Fugh-Berman’s are rolling out at medical and nursing schools across the country. They often provide data to doctors showing expensive drugs like those featured in direct-to-consumer ads are not any better than cheaper over-the-counter alternatives.
Locally, UPMC Health System instituted new ethical guidelines with respect to ‘marketing’ to physicians, imposing restrictions on consulting relationships and banning gifts from industry representatives.
The big drug companies won’t sit idly by while their ‘marketing strategy’ is challenged. It will be interesting to see what their next move is.
Let’s hope it involves focusing more on how to reach their target audiences with creative marketing efforts instead of debating whether to go with pizza or hoagies.