Jeffrey Simbrow Associates

What is ultimately satisfying about pharmaceutical marketing? 'The products make a difference in people's lives. It's real,' says Karen Auslander, Vice-President of Jeffrey Simbrow Associates Inc. Since 1988, the Toronto agency has made a profound difference to clients in the health...

What is ultimately satisfying about pharmaceutical marketing? ‘The products make a difference in people’s lives. It’s real,’ says Karen Auslander, Vice-President of Jeffrey Simbrow Associates Inc.

Since 1988, the Toronto agency has made a profound difference to clients in the health care industry, providing marketing and communications services that make their clients’ prescription and over-the-counter products come alive.

The full-service firm has helped boost sales and awareness for the likes of Allergan, Block Drugs, Boehringer Ingelheim, Lilly, Upjohn, Parke-Davis, and Pfizer. Over the past three years, the agency has also expanded into global marketing programs, providing major U.S. and global clients with solid marketing support.

Simbrow Associates brings a range of disciplines to the table, combining expertise in strategic/marketing planning, creative and concept development, project planning and management, point-of-purchase merchandising, customer information and education material, and market/sales training programs.

‘We’re not just an agency, we’re a business partner,’ states Auslander. ‘We work as a strategic partner on our clients’ business.’

The company was formed by Jeff Simbrow, who had senior marketing and executive experience at General Foods and American Express. Today, his firm’s strong marketing discipline, and the depth and breadth of talent on staff — with pharmaceutical and marketing backgrounds — helps set it apart from competitors.

Often, clients bring Simbrow Associates on board anywhere from 12-24 months before a product launch, to help assess the market opportunities.

‘We provide our clients with solid marketing advice, we don’t just sell them creative,’ says Dan Denomme, Account Director.

As for the challenges posed by the regulatory environment of pharma marketing, Denomme jokes that if a bar of soap was a drug, you couldn’t just say it makes you clean. You would have to say it has the potential to make you clean, but only if used in a certain way by certain groups, and not in all cases.

‘In pharma, you need substantiation,’ says Auslander. ‘It’s challenging, but not a negative. It helps us do a better job of getting the right message to the right customer.’

Another marketing challenge, says Denomme, relates to the overall ‘noise’ in the industry.

‘Our ability to access and impact customers is challenged by the sheer volume of messages they receive,’ he says. ‘It makes it all the more critical to ensure the key selling messages are clear and consistent.’

Whether in the drugstore or in material that’s aimed at physicians and patients, targeted communications is critical. The agency is a strong believer in keeping messages straightforward and consistent, without burdening the audience as some pharma marketing tends to do.

Several years back, Simbrow Associates were hired to help inject life into Prozac, which had flat sales. Auslander recalls that the product advertising and leave-behinds for physicians had eight or nine messages.

‘At the time, there was a belief that it was necessary to deliver the entire drug pharmacology message,’ she says. ‘It was very cluttered. And nowhere did they say, ‘This is why you want to prescribe Prozac’. With the client, we simplified the message and the key benefit to the patient and health care professional, and worked as partners on Prozac for the next six-and-a-half years, up to the date it went generic.’

Two recent assignments for Simbrow Associates rank among Canada’s most notable pharma success stories.

In 1997, the agency helped introduce Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug co-marketed by Parke-Davis and Pfizer. ‘In market share, sales, and the number of prescriptions, it was the most successful launch of a pharmaceutical product in Canada,’ Auslander says.

Lipitor was launched into a competitive marketplace, where four major products already existed. Simbrow Associates was involved early in the process. The agency worked closely with the client in establishing the most relevant, persuasive positioning and communication strategy, and developed, researched and executed all materials.

‘Simbrow Associates exemplifies a true business partner,’ says Robert Argiropoulos, Lipitor Team Leader, Parke-Davis Canada. ‘Much more than a traditional agency, they’re a true extension of our marketing department.’

For Lipitor, the agency mounted a focused campaign, with components — advertising, direct mail, leave behinds, PR, medical education programs, publications — having the same look and key messages.

‘There was no confusion,’ says Auslander. ‘The message was that Lipitor offered superior cholesterol reduction compared to any other product on the market.’

With Zyprexa, launched by Eli Lilly in 1996 to treat schizophrenia, Simbrow Associates’ marketing and communications efforts contributed to the fastest ‘uptake’ of any new anti-psychotic drug ever in Canada.

‘We were involved about 18 months pre-launch, which let us work with the client to do a tremendous amount of strategic and marketing planning,’ says Auslander. ‘We knew the category was unsatisfied, with a lot of mixed messages from the existing drugs.’

The product was positioned around the goal of ‘re-integration’, recognizing that the term means different things to different physicians.

‘We weren’t saying the drug would make all patients ‘normal’, our message was about improving quality of life,’ says Auslander. ‘In this way, we didn’t create false expectations for either the physician or the family.’ Ensuring consistency between the message and the product’s ability to deliver is absolutely essential. But it doesn’t always happen.

Auslander points to the initial launch of Upjohn’s Rogaine about a decade ago (Simbrow Associates wasn’t involved). ‘Rogaine offered the panacea of hair regrowth, so there was great uptake. But within a year, sales started to decline,’ she says.

Eighteen months post-launch, Simbrow Associates took over the account. Market research clarified the need to put a stronger emphasis behind another message — ‘retards further hair loss’ — while not abandoning the panacea message of hair regrowth. So the agency set out to re-position Rogaine, and restore the confidence of consumers and medical professionals.

Tactics included communication to hair care professionals, advertising, brochures, seminars in major urban centres, and a fully integrated direct response campaign, the first for a pharmaceutical product in Canada. Looking back, the Rogaine re-launch involved one of the industry’s first direct-to-consumer campaigns (nobody called it that at the time).

Not only did sales climb, but compliance too, with consumers extending their use of Rogaine. Most important, says Auslander, consumers now understood exactly what the product delivered — it retarded hair loss, and in some cases would actually regrow hair.

With all of their successes, Simbrow Associates knows that in pharmaceutical marketing there’s no such thing as an ‘easy sell’.

‘The greatest drug in the world won’t sell itself,’ says Denomme. ‘If you invent a cure for cancer today, you still have to communicate with doctors about what it is and how to use it.’

To Denomme, one thing that makes pharmaceutical marketing and communications so gratifying is the mix of talents required.

‘You need the marketing skills and the scientific skills,’ he points out. ‘Here’s what’s rewarding — when you attend a scientific session that reveals a new medical treatment, then later write a marketing plan that successfully communicates the potential benefits of that treatment for the physician and ultimately the patient.’

In the world of health care, few are better at combining these demanding capabilities than Simbrow Associates.

Also in this sponsored supplement:

- Five of the best p.C1

- Audience, The Invertising Agency: Tipping the ordinary plane of pharmaceutical performance on its end p.C2

- Lally, McFarland & Pentello (Canada): We turn brands into superstars p.C3

- Anderson: Making the message memorable p.C4

- MC HealthCare Group: Going direct, to the consumer p.C5