ABPI Code and promotional emails

Laptop emails: ABPI Code of Practice

Dr Rina Newton, Managing Director of CompliMed, looks at the considerations relating to the ABPI Code of Practice and promotional emails.

In the June issue of Pf, I wrote a short article on virtual promotional meetings and aspects to consider when it comes to ensuring their compliance with the ABPI Code. I also included a compliance checklist.

CompliMed has received an overwhelming number of enquiries on this highly topical subject, as more and more NHS customers return to interacting with pharma and attending educational events. This article, therefore, continues our ABPI Code series on Digital Promotion and addresses the subject of promotional emails.

Back in 2016, Healthlink Dimensions surveyed how physicians preferred to receive information from pharma and email was noted to “win hands down” (68% preference compared to only 11% for direct mail and 11% for representatives).

The preference for emails grew over time and although overall promotion to hospital health professionals decreased with the advent of lockdown (by 57% according to research conducted by Brand Impact and Tracking Evaluation, June 2020), promotional emails remain an important digital marketing tool.

“Promotional emails remain an important digital marketing tool”

Commercial and compliance considerations

In Healthlink Dimensions’ 2020 HCP Communications Survey, the top three things healthcare professionals want from marketers is:

  • Time – They don’t have enough to read critical information.
  • Respect – Don’t condescend or waste their time.
  • Quality – They want useful and practical insights.

Whilst this article does not address email execution strategies (such as mobile optimisation, meaningful content, creative subject lines and linked content), these are nevertheless essential factors to consider before deciding on whether email really is the most suitable vehicle of communication for the campaign intent and the target audience. In addition, these factors themselves must stand fast against compliance checks and changes.

For example, if the intent of a promotional email is to encourage a reader to visit a promotional website, then a reviewer/approver asking that all email links be removed may support compliance but not necessarily the business need. Therefore, compliance considerations should always factor in whether the activity (pre- and post-approval) is in line with business strategy.

In June 2020, the ABPI noted that many companies were deliberating when to resume face-to-face engagement with healthcare professionals, and they set out a number of considerations to help members, noting that they were not able to recommend what individual companies should do regarding promotional activities. Given the continued uncertainty, it reinforces the place of promotional emails as important digital marketing tools – therefore, it is prudent to consider the compliance dos and don’ts as illustrated by the key principles.

CHECKLIST FOR PROMOTIONAL EMAILS

Some of the associated dos and don’ts have been included as examples
– this is not the full compliance checklist.

Promotional emails promote the administration, consumption, prescription, purchase, recommendation, sale or supply of a medicine.Don’t panic and think all emails are promotional just because they are sent by a sales representative or if they relate to a promotional activity – that’s just not true and it prevents many organisations from making the most of opportunities.
Target audience must be relevant.Do be as specific as possible about tailoring content to those who have an interest in it.
Recipients must give their permission to receive promotional emails.Do keep a record of permissions sought, gained and refused; brief your representatives carefully about not causing “inconvenience or offence”
on this point.
Recipients should be able to unsubscribe from promotional emails.Don’t be too slow actioning such requests and make sure your systems support you in this regard.
Promotional emails must not disguise promotion.Do ensure the whole organisation knows what ‘promotion’ actually is through giving them illustrative examples e.g. “If the representative’s email signature contains a medicine name and the body of the email contains that medicine’s indication, this will render it a promotional email.”
Content should comply with general principles for promotion.Don’t mislead, exaggerate, disparage, promote off-label etc.
Prescribing information (PI) and other obligatory information should be provided.Don’t embed PI in an email when a single, direct click to the PI is suffice (but make sure the link works and the PI is correct).
Promotional emails should be certified.Do ensure final signatories have certified the final proof to which no further amendments are made – especially important if the email is to be sent by a third party.

 

There are many considerations for promotional emails sent by third parties – relating mainly to due diligence and oversight – and there are, of course, many more considerations for each principle.

PMPCA case rulings, SOPs and Signatories

As with all compliance checklists, insight is gleaned from relevant PMCPA case rulings to develop meaningful and comprehensive checks. In their absence, utilising clear and unambiguous company Standard Operating Procedures and discussing planned promotional campaigns with modern and constructive final signatories play an important part in achieving not just compliant promotional emails, but ones that are read by customers, meet their needs and are commercially impactful.

Dr Rina Newton is Managing Director of CompliMed. Go to complimed.co.uk