Delivery Sessions Interview with Henry Anderson, Veteran Digital Marketer

For someone whose career in marketing began right on the brink of the internet explosion, change is the only constant they really know. But that’s exactly why Henry Anderson has been so keen on identifying the opportunity that change can bring, and mastering the art of turning unforeseen shifts and challenges into exciting advantages for his clients.

So we sat down with one of the men responsible for revving pharma brands into today’s highly-digital world of communications. Check out what Henry has to say about what he’s learned throughout an impressive 20+ year career alongside the digital evolution.   

Tell us about your professional background that got you to where you are today.

As a science-loving Canadian with a background in Physiology and International Development, Henry’s introduction to the job market coincided with the internet boom, presenting a fairly natural path into digital marketing for healthcare. “I started in medical writing before moving to project management and then business development in a short time as our company grew very quickly,” Henry shared. “We went from 50 employees to 250, and back to 50 as the bubble burst. I was like what did I get myself into? But it was the dawn of the internet, so I was witnessing the very first time tech was part of the armament of communications between patients and physicians, and the learning curves that came with it. 

“From there, I moved to a senior role in an online Canadian health content publisher (essentially a WedMD-type model), and then Novartis, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical corporation, pulled me in as an eBusiness Manager (I’m dating myself a bit with that one!). I was basically selling the idea of the internet and web capabilities to commercial, medical and communications teams. The company needed an intranet to communicate with employees, edetailing for online promotion to doctors, rudimentary CRM to maintain relationships in email, and patient portals that could drive adherence. Working and innovating for a multinational company really opened the door for me to come to the US and into a far larger market, leading digital marketing in the over-the-counter business across North America.

“Then right around the time the iPad was introduced, US Pharma called me back, and I got back into the prescription space, but now, we were selling on a small, touch screen where you had to think about landscape versus portrait and displays on a deeper level, and standardize the selling experience across brands. Just as we got our bearings there, social media came around, and the organization was like ‘now that you figured out the interactive iPad experience, tell us how to be social media compliant.’ So it was head first into social, which was a fun time. Eventually, I was leading the social media charge at a global level and guiding the company’s footprint in that emergent space.”

Hold on, you have to tell us more about what that looks like — embracing a totally new space — that no one knows anything about — and making it successful on a global scale? 

“Social media was initially a big scary landscape with basic structures, processes, and standards applied to it at the time. But the common thread for me throughout my career is to always be slightly ahead of the curve and pull in applications for the industry opportunistically — sometimes you’re on the bleeding edge and too far from the short-term returns needed, but you’re generally trying to be the innovator that makes things mainstream and scalable. Social is a great example of that; you had a couple of brave marketing teams saying, we’re making a Facebook page for our business, and if they get away with it, then the task was to figure out how other brands can also benefit.

“Tackling social media was a complex challenge that involved breaking down the problem. There was a service level expectation and a certain level of control that pharmaceutical organizations were used to with broadcasts and TV that we had to reframe. Social media introduced the notion of authenticity and a two-way conversation between brands and audiences, and the challenge was demonstrating where we were versus the expectations of our targets and where we needed to be to establish rapport and build relationships. Making the simple decision to open up commenting on social channels meant we needed a moderator guide and someone regularly monitoring page activity, as well as new processes and response mechanisms that needed approvals. So there’s a lot of  design work and design thinking that has to happen before anything hits the market.”

How did you develop your passion as a digital marketer in healthcare? 

“To answer this, I think about my brand; what makes me tick. And there are three things. The first is science itself. I think the medical advances hitting the market today are truly amazing and it’s what I studied in school. Secondly, the technologies and communications platforms that have been invented in the last decade are fascinating, they’ve made the landscape we live in truly omnichannel and shaped our behaviors in new ways — it’s like studying the movie, The Matrix. And lastly, the third passion for me is storytelling – the intersection between where a brand benefit and unmet need meets a creative idea, an insight, or an audience behavior. So basically, you have scientific advances, technology & communications advances and the human empathy part — my brand is bringing these three things together.” 

What are some of the skills you’ve developed that are necessary to excel in digital marketing / storytelling in the pharmaceutical world? 

At the risk of sounding cliche, Henry shared what we all know couldn’t be more true: You have to understand your customers and the pressures on them at the deepest level. But while that may be first and foremost, it’s certainly not the only thing.

“You also have to be aware of how the marketing landscape is continuously changing so you keep tabs of where trends are headed. There can be a lot of “shiny objects” in marketing that distract from good planning and execution. So you want to have an eye for the future and what’s in the moment, while keeping your feet firmly planted on the fundamentals and how to pull an audience through a journey you design for them. 

“Thirdly, be curious! You have to ask yourself questions, ask your team questions — never stop inquiring.

“And lastly, with the attention of audiences more fragmented than ever across channels and screens, work and personal lives, etc., you need to be able to connect the dots for both brands and target audiences. There’s never enough money in a marketing budget to do everything you want to do, so the challenge is finding real meaning in the data you have. Marketing activities generate mounds of data today, and Big Pharma got obsessed with Big Data very quickly. But then it realized it didn’t know what to do with it and struggled using it to drive decision making, so you have to be able to find a credible narrative from disparate information sources to help businesses choose what to do next.”

Many believe we’re in the midst of a revolution in healthcare marketing. How has digital marketing changed over the last couple of years and where is it headed? 

“One of the revolutions in marketing is really getting back to marketing. The industry has felt distracted by procurement / off-shoring exercises, CIA agreements and COVID lock-downs. The appetite for boldness and directness declined — but as the market changed, you now have so few resources to put in the market, and you have to be more courageous than ever before. It’s ok to be a bit more rebellious and out there than what we’ve become accustomed to in the past. 

“I’ve lived the journey of brand marketing —both on the client-side having worked at Novartis for over a decade and also with a few agencies. This has given me the opportunity to truly understand how marketing plans are crafted, executed, and measured.  I know ‘organizational/cultural hesitation’ in trying a new approach or pushing a team out of their comfort zone, but with today’s connectivity and shift to decentralized care models, there’s a need to embrace the change and be bold.”

Throughout your experiences working for global teams, what are your keys to success? How do you keep people connected and motivated  / client relationships strong? 

Keeping employees connected and engaged is a priority a lot of companies are investing in thanks to new remote and hybrid work models. But some of the most efficient ways to do it successfully have much less to do with fancy tech or cool perks you give people, and a lot more to do with how you treat them. Henry knows that better than anyone.

“You have to create a culture of collaboration that’s special — one without hierarchy of control and no egos in the work you do. It’s more about having trust in your relationships to challenge what you do and shape a solution together. You want a Teams or Slack that’s filled with chatter and knowledge sharing, so people feel genuinely interested in helping one another and bringing perspective to the table. 

“And you have to have some fun too. Focus on the little things that make a great agency/client relationship. That means really owning the problem they have and taking it on as your own — and finding the humor in it. Make it a point to ensure your clients enjoy their work and let some of your passion rub off on them. Maybe it’s randomly throwing stuff their way that isn’t in the scope — like a cool new report or release that could help a certain objective. The more you can connect with your clients on a deeper level and offer value to their work or lives, the stronger the relationship will be.”

Closing words…

“There’s really never been a more fun time to do marketing and talk about how much the industry is helping humanity. At the end of the day, the challenges of our industry are really stimulating and the payoff is patients living up to the potential of their lives. As Big Pharma, it may be easy to put a target on our backs, but our industry truly is a tremendous value to society, and I’m grateful for the medicines available to me and my family. I’m part of a bigger purpose, and it makes the successes I share with clients that much more rewarding.”