Like? Pharma and OTC brands get the Facebook treatment at first of many confabs

Pharma finally has a seat at the table with other industries in digital marketing. The Facebook table, that is.

This week, the social network convened its first health summit, a practice it already employs widely in other industries, in Facebook's ongoing gambit to secure drug marketers' trust—and advertising budgets. 

Drugmakers, both pharma and OTC, made up up the guest list at the confab, which focused on mobile marketing. But along with the day-long slate of insights and best practices, the event also aimed to reassure pharma about the safety and effectiveness on social media.

Drugmakers slow to warm to social have predictably been more willing to test the waters with disease-awareness marketing rather than branded promos. But that appears to be changing, if response to the summit is any indication.

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Meredith Guerriero, Facebook's director of the health, grocery, drug and politics verticals, said interest in the summit spiked after news of the meeting hit the media—although the get-together was not a secret as reports suggested. The ensuing upsurge in phone calls, questions and activity on her LinkedIn page confirmed for her that the industry is ready and even eager to be steeped in the Facebook milieu.

“We’ve seen the indicators now that people want more of this, and hopefully we’ll be able to make it even bigger next year and extend invites even further,” she said, adding, "It’s also just about bringing the industry together. There are not many forums where they can all come together—and live and breathe within the Facebook environment as well.”

The company plans to extend its pharma outreach beyond the annual summit as well. It plans to hold other events for pharma and OTC marketers, she said. Bringing insights and education to industry players year-round is important to solidifying leadership in the field. While this was Facebook's first health summit, the company runs other vertical segment conferences across many industries, including auto, luxury products and beauty.

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Facebook launched its health business in 2015, and Guerriero, an ad tech veteran who describes herself as “born and raised in digital,” joined Facebook at that time after more than nine years at Google.

“We have a year and a half under our belts now, and we can understand and empathize with our clients. We’re able to educate internally to move faster for them—or set any type of guardrails that they might need so that they’re feeling safe and are compliant with all the regulatory and policy constraints that they face,” she said.

That echoes what Danielle Salowski, Facebook's industry manager for health, told FiercePharma at the DTC National conference in April. Facebook has made specific changes to try to attract and work better with pharma clients.

Historically, pharma clients held back from Facebook because of things like side-effects reporting. Pharma's responsibility to track comments about their drugs created community monitoring challenges and expenses, along with medical-legal review that not every brand was ready or able to handle, she said.

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“So we worked closely with our policy and engineering teams to approve pharma brands actually being able to turn off comments on their Facebook brand pages and on their ads," Salowski noted. "That’s one example of some of the type of work we spent last year doing."

Facebook also relaxed some of its text policies to allow FDA-mandated disclosures for brand-name drugs to accompany an ad.

“Once we were able to make those changes we saw a ton of success. We started to see brands really leaning in, getting excited about working with us and pushing to get those brand pages approved and their ad campaigns live,” Salowski said.

Next up on Facebook’s health mission is a trip to Cannes Lions Health where Guerriero will take the stage with Carey Reynolds, Allergan’s U.S. director of marketing in eye care, to deliver a case study about Restasis’ campaign, along with more general musings about the pharma digital marketing landscape.