Pharma Marketing Fail: Letting a third party execute your social media strategy

As I have mentioned here before, one of the big (if not the biggest) reason why Pharma is hesitant to engage in social media is all of the regulation the FDA places on drug marketing. The FDA still hasn’t put out its long-promised social media guidance. And while pharma companies are slowly beginning to enter the social media waters, there are stumbles such as the recent one involving AstraZeneca’s “Take on Depression” discussion on Facebook.  John Mack describes it in more detail on his blog, but to sum it up, discussion participants waiting for the application to load noticed that the URL was also being accessed. That would be cross-marketing for Seroquel, AstraZeneca’s new anti-depression drug. This act is a violation of FDA guidelines.

The real interesting thing here, though, as Rich Meyer notes, is that this social media program was being executed by Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR firms. Some of the work for this program was also being outsourced to other individuals. Bad move on AstraZeneca’s part.

With all of the complex regulation involved in pharmaceutical marketing, social media programs need to be executed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. They have the staff on site that thoroughly understands the FDA’s drug marketing regulations and what they allow and don’t allow. Even large agencies like Edelman may not have specialists in this area. Certainly smaller agencies may not have the expertise in this area. And when you don’t know what you’re doing with FDA-regulated marketing, you could find yourself getting a warning letter or a fine from Uncle Sam.

It’s one thing to have an outside agency help with designing your social media strategy. But once it is designed, it should be executed in-house. If you’re a major pharmaceutical company like AstraZeneca, there is no excuse for not doing this. If you’re a small company and absolutely don’t have the resources to dedicate someone on staff to this task, make sure that the agency you outsource it to knows FDA drug marketing regulations and how to comply with them.  It may cost you a little more money now. But it could save you A LOT of money (in the form of FDA fines) later.


2 Responses to Pharma Marketing Fail: Letting a third party execute your social media strategy

  1. Krista says:

    Great post, Josh– this is an interesting issue, and having worked on the agency side, I should choose my words carefully 😉

    I think pharma is still trying to figure out how to manage a social media campaign, thus the use of third party agencies. The problem, and one I can understand, is that consumers want to engage with the companies, not their agencies, on health issues and in discussions. Add the FDA product marketing regulations on top of that, and it can get complicated.

    This issue is far from over, and I hope that pharma takes note of these instances and how it reflects on their reputations as they continue to develop a social media presence.

  2. Pingback: A Little Birdy Told Me…Week of 2/21/11 « PR in Pink

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