McCann Health Global CEO encourages pharma marketers to forget presentation, embrace conversation

It’s time for pharma to change communication styles. That’s McCann Health Global CEO John Cahill’s view. He's pushing pharma marketers to make the communications leap from one-way communication presentation to shared conversations.

His opinion was informed by recent McCann research around using behavioral science and patient insights to improve health outcomes. The work concluded that understanding human behavior is “key to developing meaningful and effective health interventions,” Cahill said in email interviews with FiercePharma.

The way he sees it, for too long, pharma companies have used push communications to broadcast their evidence-based message to consumers, rather than working on deeper engagement and one-on-one communications strategy.

“Evidence must--and inevitably does--start a conversation. And as that conversation evolves, it creates new bodies of evidence informed by experiences and real-world responses,” he said. “As these new evidence bases unfold, industry must in turn evolve its own communications to meet emergent needs. Communication must become agile, respectful and adaptive. This is the shift from presentation to conversation.”

While collaborative dialogues can be more challenging than traditional controlled messages in pharma marketing, the shift to include more theoretical constructs is necessary for the industry to keep pace with its consumers and the market in the move to more evidence-based medicine, Cahill believes.

He offered a McCann example of its polio vaccination work in Pakistan. McCann Health applied a social-ecological model to understand how community norms influenced individual behaviors; in this case, parents who believed the polio vaccine was important refused to get the shot for their children because the larger community was against it. The agency was able to apply learnings to change communication, such as hiring local vaccinators instead of traditional uniformed UN workers.

“It is true that it has been characteristic of pharma to control messaging, and to ‘tell’. But as we just explored in the case of polio, telling facts alone will not ensure success. The facts without regard for socio-cultural context may do nothing. We prove time and time again the importance of multi-stakeholder conversations in developing a platform for effective communications,” he said.

McCann Health recently consolidated its consulting agencies, in part, to inject fresh thinking into pharma strategy. Earlier this year, the agency appointed its first chief growth officer to manage and build a healthcare agency model for the future.