Part I: Planning the unplannable: 5 key considerations for pharma marketeers in 2021

This is the first part of a two-part series. Read the second part here.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • The questions to ask to make your marketing strategies more resilient
  • Upcoming changes to the ABPI Code of Practice

None of us could have predicted the events that would shape 2020. No matter which country you live, work and market in, circumstances have been in continuous flux. Whether it’s pivoting from in-person events to virtual webinars, or adapting marketing plans which relied on face-to-face access to healthcare professionals, everything has changed.

As we work with many of our clients on their 2021 brand and marketing planning, we’ve collated five key themes which have come up in conversation and are applicable to all pharma organisations:

1. Weather the storm by being adaptable 

The past twelve months has shown that even the best laid plans can go awry, and whilst the pharmaceutical industry is more robust than most, we know that all our clients had to shift their activity in some way. In activity and budget planning for the year ahead, ask yourself these key questions to put yourself in a resilient position:

  • Do you know how the daily lives of your target audience has changed? What do they like about the new normal? What do they want to keep? Has their perception of your organisation changed?
  • If you need to shift activity unexpectedly, do you know the lead times for digital activation or development?
  • How flexible are your contracts with agency partners? Can activity be easily switched? Conversations with your agency partners now can save time later.
  • How flexible are your budgets? Can you easily switch the activity you’ve allocated budget against? Conversations with your finance teams will also help here.

Life Sciences General Manager Leo Law expands on this theme in his piece ‘Pharma marketing in a post COVID-19 world

2. Prepare for ABPI Code changes

The new ABPI Code will be published by 1 January 2021, and come into effect 1 July 2021. Whilst the main tenets and spirit of the Code have not changed, the structure of the Code has undergone a major update, with the ABPI calling it the ‘most significant structural change in nearly 30 years’[1].  The structural change places a focus on how the Code is interpreted for different audience groups.

The new Code also introduces four key ethical principles which act as a compass for pharmaceutical companies to navigate their activity: Patients, Integrity, Transparency and Respect. Whilst specific digital channels such as PPC and programmatic are not yet referenced within the code, some language has been updated to clarify where digital activity is concerned.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) have highlighted the need to ‘stress test’ the code in the early part of 2021, so you may need to work with those involved in your approvals processes to understand any changes to turnaround times or processes during this transition.  Ask these questions early to ensure no delays to the delivery of your campaigns, involve your agencies in these discussions, and ensure everyone is up to date with the changes.

You can read more about the upcoming changes, and see the proposed 2021 code on the PMCPA website.

  • To find out more about our approach consulting for pharma brands, or if you’d like to get in touch – drop as a line at We’d love to hear from you

Read part II here.