Top marketer connects the dots

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Greg Duncan is VP-U.S. product marketing at Pfizer, and at his disposal is a myriad of leading products to market.

From perhaps the most well-known drug in the world, Viagra, to the biggest-selling drug in the world, Lipitor, Mr. Duncan oversees Pfizer's efforts at communicating its brands.

That includes the inherent challenges this industry presents. As Mr. Duncan and many others at Pfizer like to say, a consumer simply can't watch a commercial for a Pfizer product, get off the couch, get in the car and go buy it.

From a evolving climate toward direct-to-consumer advertising to the changing marketplace, Mr. Duncan talked with Advertising Age's Rich Thomaselli about his role and Pfizer's place in the industry.

Advertising Age: Is there a philosophy, or a corporate culture, to Pfizer's marketing and advertising?

Greg Duncan: What we have worked hard to do, especially post-acquisitions, is establish standards and principles in which we judge our excellence. First, we do the analytic work. We want to make sure the decisions we're taking are by actionable insights. We do our mental homework. We're prepared. We're making decisions on actual information.

The second piece is understanding the key stakeholders, and that's keen customer focus.

The third thing, which is quite different, is we're making sure our platforms are based on compelling scientific data.

The fourth piece is consistency of the brand power. Everybody must understand what that value proposition is. That's incorporated into all channels of communication. Everybody must be well-versed.

The fifth thing that is really critical about Pfizer is the alignment and the execution of the goals we have. We are committed to excellence in execution, and that's where we believe our competitive edge resides. Our basic philosophy is we assume our competitors can also come up with good plans. The hard part comes when you have to execute that plan. What has separated us from others is execution.

The last thing is improvement and innovation. The industry is constantly changing, and the markets are changing. You have to stay with that and sustain it.

So, to summarize: actionable insights, keen customer focus, compelling scientific platform, commitment to brand power, excellence in execution and sustained improvement.

AA: How would you say the markets are changing?

Mr. Duncan: The markets are changing in a couple of ways. For established markets, you have to find out where the opportunity resides. For some diseases, like hypertension, the physician puts the cuff on you and decides whether you have high blood pressure. For other things, like depression, it's different. So that makes it different in terms of how we market Norvasc to how we market Zoloft. We're moving to get the dialogue going. Our research shows patients spend 7-10 minutes with their doctor. You have to make those 7-10 minutes count.

AA: So does that mean your marketing philosophy changes dramatically from brand to brand?

Mr. Duncan: When you're talking about quantitative conditions like cholesterol, you're more able to talk to the professional segment.

There are specific measures that are more routine than not. For others, like arthritis or erectile dysfunction, you have to make sure the patient has the information readily at hand for when they have that dialogue with their doctor. This is a case where you can't measure it, but you know there's something going on there and you have to figure out what it is. A disease you can't test for has a much greater patient focus.

But the trick here is that the basic value proposition has to be similar. When [doctor and patient] get together for those seven to 10 minutes, they have to be on the same page. The means by which we go through that communication will be different. We have to do it in a readily comprehensive way. With the doctor we have a little more latitude to get into the science and the fine details.

But the basic value proposition for the brand is there. When we talk to the docs, we talk about the best in class treatment that we have because the doc sees the multiplicity of choices.

AA: Much has been made of Pfizer's extensive sales force, as well as the sales forces of other pharmaceutical companies. Some see them as a conduit, or a bridge, between the company and healthcare professionals. Do you see your sales force as an operating arm of your marketing teams?

Mr. Duncan: Absolutely. The basic business model for Pfizer is a cross-functional model. When we talk about marketing Lipitor, for example, the team leader for marketing is the quarterback, and they are all together. You might be surprised to know we have increasingly had sales VPs on our teams, prelaunch. What's different about this industry is that in marketing to professionals, you're marketing to arguably the most educated group of people in the country. You have to respect the profession.

AA: Some observers, including people within the industry, have said that pharmaceutical marketing needs to be more like package-goods. Pfizer has started making inroads along those lines with the Viagra "buy six, get the seventh prescription free" coupon. Can you talk about that?

Mr. Duncan: There are a couple of points I can speak to. Yes, we did the Value Card for Viagra. We've also done a ton for our arthritis business in what was formerly known as infomercials. Where we're going is quite holistic.

AA: Pfizer is the largest pharmaceutical company in the world so, for better or worse, it gets the lion's share of attention and the lion's share of criticism. And, since this is an election year, DTC is a hot-button issue, as are drug prices and Canadian drug imports, among others. How does your advertising try to balance things such as the misconception that your ad spending on brands exceeds research and development, which it obviously doesn't?

Mr. Duncan: It would be safe to say there is enormous attention on the industry in general, and we're doing our best to operate in a way that is responsible. What we do best of all is make a difference in the quality of people's lives, and we have to do a better job of telling that story.

There is a certain amount of hyperbole and incendiary comments because it was an election year. Pfizer worked with both parties, and we will continue, post-election.

AA: To that end, will we see more spots like the 90-second commercial you did that told of Pfizer's beginnings back in the 1850s in Brooklyn?

Mr. Duncan: One of the things we're committed to doing is ensuring the Pfizer brand is appropriately positioned. You're starting to see that evolution, and I guarantee you'll see us do a better job of positioning Pfizer.

AA: You've talked about everybody being on the same page. How do you do that when, unlike your competitors who seem to be consolidating, you're using multiple holding companies and agencies?

Mr. Duncan: It's worthwhile to step back and look at what we expect from our agencies. The days of saying `Let's get together and talk about the brand' are gone. That was yesterday, particularly in an industry where science is so important.

We're looking for our partners to be an extension of the brand team. I want to go into a room and expect that every one of those people is a brand marketer. They need to know the science and the brand issue. Different agencies have different ways of thinking. We need to make sure we have the best and the brightest people sitting at the table.

AA: This is not a knock on agency people or creatives, but this industry is a lot different from selling a Swiffer. Are you saying that you expect the people on the agency side to be as knowledgeable about the science of how a drug works as people inside this building?

Mr. Duncan: Yes. If you're working in this industry, whether it's at the agency or the company, you need to know the basic philosophy. Yes, no question. They need to be in on it [from the] prelaunch. We want to be testing what we're doing and be ready for prime time. The only way to do that is to get the agency working for us right away.

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