Pharma Reassessing Traditional Promotional Efforts for the Post-COVID Era

The pandemic has changed how many industries interact with customers, professionals and salespeople, the pharmaceutical industry is no exception.

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A survey of 266 U.S. specialty physicians conducted by market intelligence firm Spherix Global Insights in mid-January 2021 demonstrates that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to spur long-term changes to how physicians, pharma and sales reps interact.

Amgen noted the pandemic has led to "lasting changes" in the way they do business, according to CEO Robert Bradway during the Q4 2020 earnings call. Amgen confirmed during the call that it is shrinking its workforce, "primarily in the U.S. sales force," as it pivots to upcoming drug launches and adopts pandemic-time digital marketing tools for the long run.

According to Spherix's Special Topix series*, which kicked off in March 2020, of the respondents who had routine engagement with sales representatives prior to COVID-19, 20% now have a closed-door policy and 45% more report that interaction is substantially lower than it was pre-pandemic.

Only about one-third of specialists reported a face-to-face visit with a representative in the prior week; a similar percent reported virtual engagement with industry representatives. Among those with any contact, about 60% of the interactions were done virtually, a figure that has been consistent over the past several months.

As companies shift focus to provide more digital promotion, one concern is that only about 25% specialists said they are likely to engage in a virtual program, even if new data is being presented. Collectively, the survey cohort received invitations to nearly 800 virtual speaker programs in the past month – they attended 23% of those. When it comes to the leading topic in a virtual detail, there is high variability across specialties; in neurology, much of the focus is on newly-launched agents while in gastroenterology, the virtual calls are more likely to be "check-ins."

Despite the future of in-person promotional efforts, pharma will need to dedicate more resources to alternative (digital) promotion and find ways to make engagement compelling.


*Special Topix: Multi-Specialty Impact of COVID-19 (US) is an ongoing series of monthly monitoring that evaluates the impact of COVID-19 on physicians and their practices.

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