Vertical Outlook: Health Care

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2005 YTD pages: 146,028.9*

2004 YTD pages: 151,580.1*

% change: -3.7%*

Bright spots: This year may see a long-awaited calming in the regulatory climate. Decreased direct-to-consumer advertising spending by big pharma companies has the potential to funnel ad dollars back to professional health care media.

Challenges: The lingering cloud of congressional and public criticism directed at aggressive DTC advertising is unlikely to clear anytime soon, dampening the health of the entire health care ad industry.

Flat but steady is the prognosis for health care b-to-b advertising this year. But even that would be welcome after a turbulent 2005 that brought changes in government regulations, the abrupt resignation of the Food and Drug Administration commissioner and an ongoing backlash against pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising.

Last summer, major drug companies declared self-imposed bans of six months to one year on direct-to-consumer advertising for new drugs. And while it would seem that professional advertising would benefit from a shift in ad dollars as a result of the consumer ad pullback, so far that hasn't happened.

"DTC advertising was exciting, and everyone jumped on the bandwagon," said Will Passano, president of Ascend Media's Medical Dental Division. "But they're not selling Tide, Coke or Pepsi, and whether [the drug is] old or new, physicians still need to understand it first."

Another reason for the static condition of professional health care advertising, which has been fairly flat for about a half decade, is the smaller number of drug approvals each year. "With only 10 to 15 new drugs per year, you have less to work with," Passano said.

Daniel Corcoran, sales director for Advanstar Medical Economics' Managed Healthcare Executive Magazine, offered a more upbeat assessment of prospects for this year. "We believe that 2006 will surpass 2005 in terms of overall revenues generated from health care advertising by 5% to 7%, thanks in large part to our integrated media offerings," he said.

"While we see modest gains in print revenues, much of the upside will be realized by delivering our clients' branding and solutions messages to their target audience by means of custom-developed initiatives such as webcasts/webinars, virtual conferences and interactive Web site offerings. " -B.S.B.

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