The other night I watched a popular TV science program, Science Club, which talked about how five times the Earth has experienced times when a huge number of extinctions occur. Some scientists argue that we are in such a moment right now. But on each occasion new life has emerged and flourished.

In the world of pharmaceutical marketing communications we see the same. The days of bringing doctors on expensive trips to glamorous locations are well and truly over. The idea of ghost writing scientific papers for opinion-leading authors is now unacceptable. As a consumer I say good riddance to these types of behaviors. More recently, we have witnessed the decline of the traditional sales rep model and a shift from blockbusters to more personalized approaches to medicine.

So what will be the next great extinction event in pharmaceutical marketing communications? Will face-to-face medical meetings be replaced by virtual meetings? Will Facebook be replaced by something more engaging? The demise of the newspaper has been predicted a number of times – when radio was introduced, then when TV emerged and now, of course, with the internet.

The reality is that some things will remain consistent while new approaches will emerge. People will always have a desire to learn, to find out information and to distil it. At the same time there is a fundamental desire to communicate. And for those who are seeking to bring about change, there is a need to educate.  Virtual meetings provide new opportunities but the personal connection that comes from meeting somebody face-to-face cannot be fully replicated. The task for agencies is keeping abreast of these shifts and embracing new trends as they emerge, but also providing clients with the right blend of traditional and novel approaches.  It’s about embracing new concepts, while maintaining elements of the tried and trusted.

Strategies need to reflect the different ways in which people want to learn or receive information. Frequently the right approach will involve integrating a number of different approaches to education and communication. Above all, consistency of message is critical.

The pharmaceutical sector has undergone huge change and greater regulation, but is far stronger for it. Standards are higher, communication transparent and, as a result, information coming from pharmaceutical companies is now more credible. There are still reputational issues, but the evolution of pharmaceutical marketing and health education in recent years will only have made the industry stronger.

Ralph Sutton