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PR & Interactive Agencies Vie for Pharma Social Media Campaign Crumbs
Should a PR firm or an interactive marketing agency be in charge of pharma social media campaigns?

By John Mack

PR vs InteractiveYesterday, I received a call from a friend who works in an interactive ad agency. He/she was eager to point out that hackers gained access to Pfizer's Facebook by discovering an administrative password based upon information that Paul Dyer, the "guy in charge of this [Pfizer's] Facebook" (according to the hackers) placed on his LinkedIn page (here).

Dyer is employed by WeissComm Partners (WCG), a PR agency that Pfizer employs to manage at least some if not all of its social media campaigns, including the corporate Facebook page. Dyer oversees the WCG social media team in North America.

My anonymous informant made some very disparaging remarks about WGC in general, and Dyer in particular. Dyer, said my informant, is a twenty-something with experience only in the packaged goods industry and has little knowledge of the pharma industry -- Dyer's previous clients (at another agency) included Coors Light, New Balance, Hansen's Natural Soda, and PURE Bar.

My informant dissed WGC, claiming they have no knowledge of the pharma industry and should not be employed by pharma to do social media.

It's not the first time that a PR agency was dissed by one of my friends who specialize in developing interactive communications and marketing programs for the pharmaceutical industry.

After I outed an AstraZeneca Facebook blunder by Edelman this past February (see "AstraZeneca Hosts 'Take on Depression' Facebook Discussion -- Seroquel Lurks Behind the Scenes"), my friend Rich Myer at World of DTC Marketing had this key lesson to share: "Don't hire an agency to implement your social media strategy especially if that agency is Edelman" (see "The key lesson in AZ's Facebook mess"). Then he REALLY laid into them:
"Now I am not a big fan of Edelman. They are a 'legend in their own mind' and have made way too many mistakes for my money. What I do have a problem with is THE LARGEST INDEPENDENT PR FIRM IN THE WORLD just announced in the Chicago Tribune that the people who are supposed to be setting social media strategy in conjunction with communication strategy for their clients HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY'RE DOING!"
Myer cited this SpinSucks blog post: "Edelman Admits They Don't Know Social Media," which noted that Edelman has "what they call their 'Rotnem' program (which is mentor spelled backwards -- in case you missed that) where 95 percent of their senior executives are mentored by Gen Y."

It may have been no coincidence, therefore, that Edelman recently hired Shwen Gwee -- who may be Gen X, not Y -- as VP of Digital Health. Shwen was the former Lead for Digital Strategy and Social Media (Marketing) at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. He will have his work cut out for him at Edelman.

BTW, Myer also has criticized Gwee, giving him the honor of "Most overrated industry person" (see here), claiming he doesn't deserve all the social media accolades laid upon him despite never having developed a social media campaign for a marketed drug. But just before Shwen left Vertex, he did develop a disease awareness SM campaign (BetterToKnowC.com and the HepC.TV YouTube channel).

After my informant called, there was further outing of Dyer on the MM&M Blog: "Did a PR firm's lapse give hackers keys to Pfizer Facebook page?", which adds further fuel to the current fire consuming PR agencies and social media.

This morning, I asked this question during the #hcsmeu chat: "PR vs Interactive agencies -- who's best for developing HC social media campaigns?" and got some interesting responses, especially from current and former pharma people.

Gary Monk (@GaryMonk), UK Managing Director at Across (a management consultancy and marketing management group), said: "I generally find Pharma #PR agencies utter crap when it comes to socmed. Better trust it to a gorilla in a wetsuit," which I found interesting, coming from a former brand manager and e-Business exec at Johnson and Johnson (Janssen division).

Monk could be biased now that works for an outside marketing company that competes with PR agencies. But a current insider, @DanBax76, who works in sales at BMS, "massively" agreed that "PR agencies are indeed more in the promo sphere, Pharma should move from promo to support."

At Pfizer, it seems pretty certain that Corporate Communications (ie, PR) is in charge of all its social media campaigns. Pfizer's head of Corp Communs, Ray Kerins, has done a lot to build the company's massive social media presence, which is ALL geared toward PUSHING messages out like a good PR machine. It's no surprise, therefore, that they would hire a PR agency like WCG. But other pharma companies are also turning to PR agencies to handle their social media campaigns, even campaigns that are more marketing focused.

My informant tells me that this is changing. As more and more social media faux pas are exposed and it is discovered that incompetent PR agencies are at fault, I expect change will happen -- more brand managers inside pharma will engage interactive marketing agencies to get the social media crumbs.

If you are a YOUNG internal pharma marketing employee with good knowledge and experience in social media, but getting nowhere in your job (listen up Pfizer people), NOW is a great time to jump ship and join an outside agency. The BIG question is: Should you join a PR agency or an innovative marketing agency?

BTW, if you opt to work for a PR agency, Gary Monk recommends Aurora (@Aurorahealthpr).

[This article originally appeared in Pharma Marketing Blog
Make sure you are reading the source to get the latest comments.]

PMN1013-03
Issue: Vol. 10, No. 13
Publication date: 23 August 2011
Word Count: n/a

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Vol 10, #13 Contents








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