From conflict to collaboration – the marketing and medical affairs interface

Image of two people standing either side of a large piece of paper, one side is confused lines pointing everywhere, the other side is a straight line, they are working together to reveal the straight line to show From conflict to collaboration – the marketing and medical affairs interface

Mark Davies of Res Consortium and Paul Riley of Health Insights & Guidance discuss optimising the marketing and medical affairs interface to achieve greater value for the company, customers, and patients.

They share their three simple rules that companies must follow if they are to leverage the full commercial potential of their brands.

Setting the scene

Imagine a busy Monday morning. The pressure is on for the marketing team – an urgent campaign, bringing key opinion leaders onboard, addressing the sales challenge. “We need materials and approval now. Why won’t the medical team be more flexible, more supportive?” Imagine the same Monday morning. The pressure is on for the medical team – urgent requests for approval and technical content. “We need time and thinking space to get this right. Why won’t the marketing team be more flexible, more supportive?”

Familiar story? For decades marketing and medical teams have regularly locked horns; this results in friction and stress, causes delays affecting marketing deadlines and customers, and risks compliance breaches with consequences for company reputation and legal standing.


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From conflict to collaboration

Conflict between marketing and medical affairs departments persists within many companies for one of two reasons: either leaders have not acted to bring about the required changes to address the conflict, or they have tried and failed. Efforts to change tend to fail for various reasons, including long‑established cultural patterns and routines, information flows, decision rights and so on.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that neither side alone can make the changes required. So where do we go from here? For any complex problem, a good starting point are some mutually agreed ‘simple rules’ of engagement:

  1. Enhance understanding of each other’s functions, jobs, and priorities

In many companies, the only real opportunity an employee has to be formally educated about the purpose and activities of other departments is at onboarding. After that, the focus is on getting the work of your department done, come what may. This in turn can lead to insular mindsets that blind us to other departments’ priorities, and a slow but steady decline into siloed working.

For example, medical affairs may view the marketing department as developing fanciful strategies and failing to understand the Code, whereas the marketing department may view the medical affairs department as failing to understand the commercial challenges, engaging in initiatives of limited commercial value, and not being commercially-minded enough.

Paresh Sewpaul, Head of Haematology Medical Affairs at Janssen, understands the importance of this mutual approach: “There is plenty of scope for conflict between marketing and medical affairs because of their differing priorities, and their sometimes-skewed view of what the other department is responsible for. But if each department knows how the other works, what matters most to them, what ‘good’ looks like to them in the short‑term and the long‑term, then they are better positioned to work with them productively. It has to go both ways, you need each side to understand the other to make the relationship work really well.”

By taking time to learn about the functions the other department is expected to fulfil, and understanding its purpose and priorities better, departments can better anticipate the other team’s position as part of day-to-day collaboration. Companies can take a systematic approach to this by proactively scheduling ‘enhanced working’ meetings. These are not about vague information sharing; instead, they must have clear learning objectives about how the other department thinks, what it prioritises, and how it sees itself creating value. Such an approach provides insights that are long‑lasting, and can shape how people work for the better, long‑term.

  1. Agree and deliver an achievable collaborative approach

A common symptom of silo working in pharmaceutical companies is a misalignment of goals between departments, with no clear joint operational framework to remedy this.

Colm Galligan, Chief Medical Officer at RemedyBio, believes that a key issue for many companies is that the interactions between marketing and medical affairs tends to take place within a negative framework, in an almost adversarial manner. “You need to have trust and confidence in what the other person is trying to achieve,” says Colm, “but achieving that across whole departments is not easy, because it tends to be to do with behavioural traits. Some companies do manage it, but it’s like a secret sauce, it’s not easy to replicate – but that doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t try.”

Insights gained from following simple rule #1 can help achieve simple rule #2 by moving from value‑destroying adversarial relationships and replacing them with routines and patterns that involve strategic planning workshops, brand team review meetings, project team meetings – nurturing a value-creating partnership between marketing and medical affairs.

  1. Benchmark the impact of collaboration against the overall success of the company

A reasonable expectation is that all pharmaceutical company employees want to contribute to the success of the company they work for. However, their actions can sometimes belie that assumption, with internal conflict ultimately negatively impacting on overall company performance.

Companies can use their new value-creating partnerships gained by following simple rule #2 as a vehicle to ensure they meet simple rule #3. Anecdotally, marketing and medical teams that collaborate effectively create even more value for the company, by systematically identifying synergies between departments and opportunities to save time and energy. For example, marketing can be proactive at ensuring their congress speakers provide material as early as possible to allow approval, whilst medical affairs can prioritise compliance flows based on a clearer understanding of commercial priorities.

Implementing medico-marketing partnerships that generate greater value

By following these three simple rules, marketing and medical affairs can achieve greater value for the company, customers, and patients.

  1. Enhance understanding of each other’s functions, jobs, and priorities
  2. Agree and deliver an achievable collaborative approach
  3. Benchmark the impact of collaboration against the overall success of the company

For further details about the interface between marketing and medical affairs, and for access to the ‘Collaboration Blueprint’ report for medico-marketing partnerships that generate greater value, contact Mark Davies at mdavies@resconsortium.com.