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Disease awareness campaigns


Alan Emmins - Managing Director

To minimise value bleed to competitors, and to secure longevity (budget), corporate disease awareness campaigns must be connected to the core business strategy. Done properly, they should support portfolio strategy, as well as validate product core stories. A good start would be to learn from the very strong unbranded disease awareness campaigns that product teams often put out.

Maximising the value of corporate disease awareness campaigns

At one end of the scale, corporate disease awareness activities work to establish unmet needs in the minds of stakeholders; at the other end, they strive to improve treatment outcomes via education and best practice sharing. The biggest corporate disease awareness campaigns tend to belong to companies developing treatments for continually expanding problems, like diabetes and depression.

While corporate disease awareness campaigns vary in size and intent, their impact rarely makes it beyond the corporate disease awareness arena. Did we convince HCPs of an unmet need? Did we demonstrate our knowledge to stakeholders? Did we give our patient group a platform?

If any of those (or other) corporate disease awareness boxes were ticked, then something of significant value was achieved. But was that value leveraged to drive the core business? Rarely.

Not so long ago ‘disease awareness’ was better known as ‘market shaping’, which at least sounds like a marketing activity. Such a name leaves little doubt of its commercial intent, or its expected return on investment. Disease awareness sounds like a softer play. Unlike a product’s unbranded awareness activities, corporate disease awareness has sacrificed commercial intent and return on investment for a chance to be more patient centric. Even when establishing an unmet need directly related to an upcoming product release, compliance challenges mean that corporate disease awareness campaigns are often left in isolation, as if they are too precious to get their coat tails dirty by commingling with sales & marketing.

For several reasons, this represents a very expensive way to miss a great opportunity. Besides, unless you’re playing with a big budget, getting corporate disease awareness materials into the hands of the target group requires the troops on the ground: the sales force. Experience tells us that anything that is not going to help a sales rep sell a product in an increasingly diminishing amount of time won’t be taken out of the box it came in.

Now that ‘corporate disease awareness’ and ‘sales rep’ have been used in the same sentence, let’s be clear.

The suggestion is not that all corporate disease awareness activities should be rethought as sales tools, or that sales reps should dedicate their increasingly sparse HCP time to awareness. It’s that at some point, if the job was done properly, the corporate disease awareness campaign should have yielded a value-based outcome. Maybe responsibility for an unmet need was transferred from physician to nurse (disease management over diagnosis). Maybe a new disease management tool demonstrated the importance of dose optimisation while also simplifying it (increased unit sales per patient). Whatever it was, that value should be leveraged to drive the core business, whether by changing prescriber habits or increasing loyalty.

Here are five key questions that should be asked when embarking on a corporate disease awareness initiative:

  • Will our disease awareness activity a) increase access, b) change prescribing behaviour, c) improve disease management or adherence?
  • If none of the above, what tangible improvements (not benefits) will our stakeholders experience as a result of our corporate disease awareness activity?
  • How does the ‘goal’ of our corporate disease awareness campaign align with the strategic objectives of our portfolio and/or products?
  • How and where can the value output of our corporate disease awareness activity be leveraged to strengthen our relationships, market position or core sales arguments?
  • Are the timings of our corporate disease awareness and product activities aligned for maximum synergy and impact?

Who benefits from corporate disease awareness?

The benefactor naturally benefits from their own corporate disease awareness campaign, but so do all their competitors. In fact, the more successful a corporate disease awareness campaign is, the bigger the gain for all those competitors who didn’t invest a penny in the initiative. This is another key reason why corporate disease awareness should be aligned with sales & marketing in order to better harvest its value. Such alignment doesn’t need to be complicated. Aligning on something as simple as timing can drive synergy and significantly improve impact and results.

But you can’t mix patient targeted corporate disease awareness campaigns with product campaigns

People are quick to point at regulations stipulating that a corporate disease awareness campaign involving patients cannot be blended with product activities. But you do not have to blend them to get them working synergistically to deliver value in the sales call. You need to plan and align them in order to bring them as close together as regulations will allow. Many pharmaceutical companies now produce ‘sales cycle’ materials for their ‘corporate disease awareness’ brands. Yes, sales reps have to very clearly end the corporate disease awareness conversation before they start the product conversation. In some countries guidelines say a switch from corporate disease awareness to sales requires the rep to leave the room, knock on the door and re-enter the room (good luck with that). But it’s a small inconvenience for being able to turn an already known (and therefore low interest) unmet need into an emotional plea.

Sure, we can also talk about unmet needs without corporate disease awareness campaigns, but corporate disease awareness campaigns enable us to add context and make it personal. Where once the sales story had two parts, problem and solution, corporate disease awareness delivers context and a lead character. Present that character as a patient tied to the tracks of a progressive disease and you have also added a sense of urgency.

Coupled with corporate disease awareness the sales story looks more like this:

Act 1 – Corporate disease awareness (non-personal/personal)
= Unmet need + Patient + Urgency

Act 2 – Product (personal)
= Solution

Going forward, the job of creating a corporate disease awareness campaign should involve sales & marketing brand teams. Only then can we guarantee the alignment and timing necessary to extract all the value. Only then can corporate disease awareness campaigns evolve from the very literal (and passive) task of ‘making people aware’ and start pulling on the emotional levers that generate the persuasion and assurance needed to set behavioural change in motion.

The challenge is that traditionally autonomy has been the backbone and credibility of patient focused corporate disease awareness campaigns and activities. A lot of pride is placed on the separation of awareness from profits. And this would be great if corporations kept investing in them. But all too often the initiatives that start with the biggest ambitions, even having achieved great things and wielding great value, end up as little more than CSR initiatives 5 years down the line. When the purse strings need to be tightened, which they inevitably do for everybody, it’s the initiatives that are not connected to the core business that feel the squeeze the most. The Internet is littered with long forgotten disease awareness websites that suffered this fate, and many of them have absolutely amazing URLs.

It isn’t only about making money

Aligning corporate disease awareness with sales & marketing isn’t simply about making more money; it’s about working synergistically to bring about needed change. The value a corporate disease awareness campaign delivers to patients and society does not get lost just because the corporate disease awareness is aligned to actual strategies. If anything, the value is increased by being aligned with burning issues that require behavioural change that neither products nor awareness can deliver when working in isolation. We only need to look at climate change, gun control and the tobacco industry to realise that awareness on its own rarely leads to change.

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