Friday, August 19, 2011

Intern Experience: The Name of the Game is Pharma

In my last post I mentioned that RTC deals a lot with pharmaceutical clients. Well they do. Pharma is an interesting beast, and Dii’s department head, Carly Lesser, has been known to say, “If you can do pharma, everything else is easy”. This is probably pretty close to true as I’ve come to learn. Pharma is heavily regulated, and when I say heavily I mean scrutinized in detail many times over by internal, client, and FDA legal teams. You must remember that patient safety is at risk when it comes to prescription drugs, so all marketing materials have to be extra-super-factual. I’ve learned much and more about pharmaceutical regulations and how to be creative and still comply with them. It’s amazing how careful you have to be. Here a concept you will soon learn to love and hate:
  • Fair Balance: This is the biggie. All drugs have important safety information (ISI); if you look on any prescription box you’ll see it. Any time, and I do mean any time, there is a claim in piece of marketing about how well the drug works, what it does, or what diseases it’s meant for, FULL ISI (all the wonderful little details) must be included on the same page. Always. On top of this, ISI has to be formatted in the same way so that people don’t perceive it to be less important. Fair balance might be the toughest obstacle to creative inspiration.
As an example, working on one pitch, the team had laid out a really slick design for their concept. It was really cool, and I had a blast helping out. Unfortunately we found out later that our design wouldn’t comply with the FDA because it didn’t include ISI on every screen. The team scrambled to come up with a design that included an ISI side bar. Then we later found out the bar wasn’t wide enough. It was messy but in the end it was still a pretty awesome design.
I’ll give you a warning in regards to the research you’ll be doing on pharma subjects. It is not glamorous. It will hurt you. It will make you cringe. You’ll face many nights where you’ll go home and want to wash your eyes out with Purell. Nothing says pleasant reading like detailed conversations about Menopause or Crohn’s Disease. I think I’ve read the word diarrhea more times in one day than anyone should have to in a year and one post from last year contained the word “frothy” and I don’t even want to explain why. Eventually, you get used to it and then nothing gross will ever faze you. Suffice it to say I haven’t gotten to that point yet.
What is interesting about pharma research is how the patients talk to one another online. There’s a lot of trust between them and behind the anonymity of a username, users can speak freely, ask questions, and be very, very graphic. Discovering patterns in emotion or attitude can be enjoyable and some people have really interesting things to say; unfortunately sometimes the amount of time you spend looking for stuff can make the research tedious and frustrating. I’ve grown to enjoy the research more over the summer. It remains tedious, but once you find an insight that you know will surprise or excite the team it’s worth all the trouble. Some of this information is really hard to find as well, and the process of digging through the depths of sites, weeding through posts until you find something useful or credible, will make you much better at doing research for school projects; a nice perk.
To get back to what I was saying at the beginning, if you can get through pharma you can get through anything. When you’re finally freed from FDA restrictions your imagination will go wild. I personally think, for what it’s worth, that it looks impressive to have experience working in a regulated industry, and of course you succeeded because you’re an awesome intern right? If you’re feeling proactive and curious, familiarize yourself with the FDA warning letters and take a look at the Dose of Digital blog for some tips on pharma marketing. You’ll have a lot of learning to do when you start but it’s definitely worthwhile.
Stay tuned! I have one last post coming next week on some of the benefits you'll get from this internship.

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