Dana Rodden—Merck & Co.

Dana Rodden was inspired to move into digital marketing after her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and hunted for information online. (Merck & Co.)

Dana Rodden
Company: Merck & Co.
Title: Digital Center of Excellence and marketing operations leader for the U.S.

Many biopharma majors have ramped up their digital ambitions and recruited experts to put them into action. Dana Rodden is the one Merck & Co. chose to lead its Digital Center of Excellence and marketing operations for the U.S. business.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Rodden personally witnessed the surge of biopharma as companies spread across the Northeast—and with that growth all around her, she developed an interest in the business herself.

But life sciences wasn't her only interest. She found a passion for the legal profession, driven by her sense of justice and the prospect of moving into the legal side of the pharma industry. After graduating from law school, though, Rodden decided to stay with pharma marketing, “because I loved the creativity and the commercial business management aspects of it,” she said.

Pursuing a law degree in the middle of her early career in pharma marketing was an invaluable experience, she said. It gave her a leg up on working within the multitude of FDA rules that govern pharma's commercial side.

“The legal training that I had and the ability to understand things across very broad spectrum really helped me a lot in my pharmaceutical business career,” she said. “Because it’s a highly regulated area, there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered, and my law degree helped me think differently and frame problems differently.”

Rodden’s early job with AstraZeneca in managing the launch of breast cancer drugs Soltamox (tamoxifen) and Arimidex (anastrozole) really sparked her passion for pharma marketing, but it was her sister’s breast cancer diagnosis years later—during her time at GlaxoSmithKline—that offered her a new perspective. Rodden had been a marketing-message creator, and now, she was a recipient.

"She was googling information and sending me things," Rodden recalls, "and I had already been working in breast cancer for a long time, and that really shifted my lens. It made me look at the information that I had been leading and delivering for years.”

In fact, it was observing that information-gathering and how it affected her sister that prompted Rodden to move into digital.

"As you’re searching as a patient and curating information, it can be very scary. So, I think we have a real responsibility to make sure that the information that we’re sharing is just where it needs to be and valuable to patients.” she said. “That experience for me was really humbling.”

Now, her mother is fighting melanoma, and Rodden said she brings that humility to work every day as she is thinking of her sister, her mom and all individuals struggling with health conditions. “I think every day has to be day one in terms of how we think about what patients need,” she said. “We can never assume that we understand where people are in their journey.”

Pharmas have a lot of catching up to do in the digital age of Amazon, Netflix and Google, but Rodden sees a strong commitment to delivering a new customer experience. To her, digital marketing isn’t just about social media but rather the questions of “How do we have a conversation with our customers in a new way?” and “How are you present at the point of critical decision-making?”

That’s why the more than 100 people on her digital team come from the fields of medical education, media and digital channel strategy, among others. Because pharma is a complex industry, Rodden adopts an inclusive, collaborative leadership style.

“It’s critical to make sure that you’re bringing in the experts to the table and creating an environment for everyone to do their best and work together to solve problems,” she said.

Rodden just joined Merck in June, and one of the projects that intrigues her most is using artificial intelligence to make sense of data and customer interactions that humans simply couldn’t process because of the sheer volume of information.

“It always comes down to what is the insight within the information you have and how can you leverage that to improve the customer experience,” she said.

Now as a leader, Rodden encourages those who are just starting their career to find a voice, to “pay attention to what gives you energy,” and be confident in one’s opinions, while still being humble.

The biggest lessons she's learned so far? “It’s never enough to network, and you have to ask people to advocate for you,” she said. “Surround yourself with generous people and smart people who are willing to share their experiences.”

Rodden lives in New Jersey with her husband Andrew and daughter Alexandra, along with their dogs Winston, Thatcher—both of whom got their names from the renowned U.K. prime ministers—and Gustav, a Bernese Mountain Dog named after Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Rodden sits on the marketing advisory board at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Dana Rodden—Merck & Co.

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