DESPITE BEING AN ERA-DEFINING SOLO ARTIST, DAVID BOWIE HAD A KNACK FOR BRINGING A KALEIDOSCOPIC RANGE OF MUSICIANS TOGETHER TO REALISE HIS LATEST INNOVATION.
“He always had a vision, but never micromanaged,” said Mike Garson, the keyboard player who worked alongside a medley of funk, soul and electronica musicians during his time with Bowie.
Uniting different disciplines behind a common purpose is probably easier in a rehearsal studio than in the corridors of a pan-continental organisation (and being David Bowie probably helped), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth striving for. In March, GSK released its latest corporate responsibility report, further building on its very public commitment to patient outcomes over sales targets. Steps like the sharing of clinical trial data and more collaborative partnerships speak to this wider change.
Aspiring to something bigger than the organisation itself has necessarily meant a shift away from selling products and towards service provision
“We can’t achieve a lot of what we want to achieve on our own,” head of global corporate responsibility Clare Griffin told online sustainability community 2Degrees. “We need to collaborate with governments, other businesses and NGOs.”
Aspiring to something bigger than the organisation itself has necessarily meant a shift away from selling products and towards service provision. This same sentiment was evident in an interview Merck’s consumer health head Uta Kemmerich-Keil gave to this very publication last month.
“The change I want to drive in my own organisation is to think more holistically about how we add value to consumers,” she explained, citing a new service that aims to support consumers in identifying their individual life goals.
To this end, traditional disciplines, structures and processes are changing within the walls of pharmaceutical organisations. Where marketing programmes were traditionally worked up in siloes before being ‘signed off’ by medical and regulatory, we’re now seeing these functions brought together from the outset, with their eyes fixed on the same point on the horizon.
While these guys may not sound as good together as the ensemble musical cast of Station to Station or Heroes, there’s little doubt this approach represents a refreshing challenge to the standard model.
“The change I want to drive in my own organisation is to think more holistically about how we add value to consumers,”
Perhaps these deep cultural changes are a very natural response. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the post-blockbuster age has demanded new thinking as organisations have sought to squeeze more value from their existing portfolio. The innovation previously channelled into R&D may be finding new expression in this more integrated, outcome-focused approach.
There is evidence of some great cohesive thinking in the agency world too – there’s nothing quite like a stubborn challenge for bringing disparate people together, after all, and successful teams form around a cause they believe in or a problem worth solving. Whether those teams are populated with individuals from multiple agencies or all under one roof, the best work – delivering the most powerful impact – is likely to be driven by a grouping of very different specialisms, bought into a set of collective goals.
The inherent danger in more siloed working (either within an organisation or between partners) of course, is that different functions and personalities can often end up in competition, and a land grab mentality between functions and cost centres emerges.
there’s nothing quite like a stubborn challenge for bringing disparate people together
Breaking down this sense of competition isn’t an easy problem to solve, particularly if existing structures are deeply entrenched. It takes time and investment to formulate and formalise new processes to make this intangible concept of ‘integration’ a practical reality.
One simple, practical example, and one that we have implemented within our own organisation, is in not incentivising the performance of individual teams or business units, but in sharing in the success of the business as a whole. This can of course be trickier when multiple organisations are involved, but is still a prerequisite for success.
A cohesive team with a consistent message is also essential if we’re to be responsive to the changing needs of our audiences. As boundaries between channels become indistinct and traditional disciplines merge, our stakeholders – whether professionals or patients – increasingly expect to see in healthcare communications the same, integrated ‘golden thread’ they’ve become accustomed to in the brands they know and love.
A cohesive team with a consistent message is also essential if we’re to be responsive to the changing needs of our audiences
Again, this is only possible when the desired destination is shared by everyone involved. The Barcelona Principles – a collective of measurement principles developed by comms practitioners from across the world – voiced what some in the industry had known for some time: that our work must be measured in terms of these outcomes rather than our outputs.
It may sound idealistic, and it certainly isn’t without its difficulties, but in fact integrated thinking and delivery is a strategy born out of sheer logic and pragmatism. The great opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry and its agency partners is to meet this growing expectation in a meaningful way that results in improved health.
This article first appeared in PME (page 39)