January 4, 2024

How to choose your life sciences marketing agency

There’s a short answer and a long answer to this one. Let’s start with the quick one:

  • Can they do the job?
  • Will they do the job?
  • Will they fit in?

 

And now for the longer one…

I have recently enrolled on the government backed ‘Help to Grow’ management training course run by Leicester University (which, incidentally, I can highly recommend!). One of my cohort who makes widgets for the nuclear power industry was acknowledging the fact that he needs to find a marketing agency to help him develop – and implement – an effective digital marketing strategy. But how was he ever going to find a marketing agency that could even begin to understand the ins and outs of nuclear physics, let alone negotiate how his company fits into this highly technical and heavily regulated world.

At this point, I was literally having to exercise every bit of self-control I have not to say the obvious – I run a global scientific marketing agency! We’ve got full digital marketing capabilities and we even have a PhD physicist on the team here!

One of our fellow students usefully said ‘Google it’ which he did straight away; scientific marketing agency was duly plugged into the world wide web and – by a stroke of Google algorithmic luck (or rather our unrivalled digital marketing expertise!) – up popped kdm communications! Now this question isn’t always going to be asked in a room where I happen to be present but, for anyone looking to engage a scientific marketing agency, you are almost certainly going to start the process with a Google search or by asking colleagues who they might recommend.

This should give you a shortlist of, say, half a dozen or so, but how do you whittle them down further? It’s your time and theirs on the line, and you don’t want to spend hours of your precious time briefing a number of agencies in preparation for a pitch situation, only to then sit through the same number of presentations before you can reach a decision. So, let’s break this down into a few phases with some key pointers for each one.

 

Start by writing a super brief

  • This is where you need to do some work! Write a brief. Be very clear about what you are looking for from an agency so that you can, in conversation, talk through what you want, and follow that up with a summary of your objectives, your budget, timelines, people involved in the process and timings.
  • Don’t ask for the earth, moon and stars. Just the earth. i.e. don’t expect the agencies to answer every aspect of every question that you might have in the next 12 months. You don’t need this level of information from them in order to make a decision. And it will take them ages. So be respectful of their time in this process, especially if you are not offering to pay for them to take part in the pitch.

 

Create a shortlist of scientific marketing agencies

More work for you, I’m afraid…

  • Ask! A recommendation from someone who has previously worked with a good agency is a great starting point.
  • Look at who your company has worked with before. It might have been a one-off project,or a long campaign, but that agency will already be up to speed with your products and services, and may still know some of your colleagues. It could help them hit the ground running. And, given another opportunity, they will be sure to pull out the stops to impress.
  • Google search – scientific marketing agencies with a decent digital capability should themselves appear fairly high up organically in Google. They will almost certainly also pay for a few Google ads that will start popping up with relative frequency! This is good. It’s reassuring. If they are on top of their own digital marketing game, they’re likely to a) know what they’re doing, and b) do a good job for you.
  • Take a look at their websites. What do their capabilities look like? Do they have a track record of relevant industry experience? Are there any client testimonials (written or video) on the website to look at? Are you looking for creative input? Do you like their creative? How large is the team? Do they have excellent in-house capabilities? Is that clear on the website? What digital marketing services do they provide? Can you see a current client list? Are there any glaring competitors in their client portfolio (this won’t necessarily discount them, but you need to discuss this)? Do they operate globally or regionally in the areas where you want to focus? Do they have deep scientific understanding within the team? How do you know this? Are there some team biographies to review? Do they have multilingual capabilities? Do they look like a stable company? How long have they been around? Do their values align with yours? Have they won any awards for their work? etc.
  • If you like the look of them, shortlist four to six and reach out for a quick intro call. If they do all the talking, forget it. You want an agency that is curious and eager to hear about you!

 

Share your brief

  • Share your brief with no more than three agencies, and arrange a call with each to talk it through with them. If there are key colleagues who will be part of this project, they should be invited to the calls/meetings at this stage. The right agency needs to be a good fit for everyone.
  • If it’s not you, try to involve your key decision maker at this stage too.
  • You will probably need them to all sign NDAs with you before sharing the brief and discussing it further.
  • Following the call, give them no more than three weeks to respond to the brief. If an agency can’t respond to a brief in a maximum of three weeks, they probably don’t have the capacity to take on the work and do a good job.
  • Ensure the agencies have access to the procurement portal if you have a digitised process.
  • Ask for client references as part of the pitch process.

 

Wait!

  • Over to the agencies.
  • Be open to receiving more questions if your RFP process allows for it and look forward to some great presentations.

 

Pitch time

  • Have your evaluation criteria planned in advance of any pitch meetings.
  • Involve colleagues who will be part of the project including the key decision maker(s).
  • Ensure the pitch playing field is even in terms of the time given to each agency.

 

Evaluation

  • Did the marketing agency listen and respond to the brief in question – or did they get fixated on a red herring?
  • Will they add value?
  • Do you have faith that they will deliver? This could be creatively, strategically or within a given time frame.
  • How will they measure the success of the campaign?
  • Did you meet (and like!) the wider team? You’re going to be working with them, so make sure you’re going to gel.
  • Did the agency understand your business – they may say that they understand the world of life sciences, or healthcare, but do they really?
  • Are their costs clear and realistic for you?
  • Do they have full-service capabilities in house (or are they relying on third parties to help deliver projects. If so, are you comfortable with this?)
  • Were the agencies open and transparent in their answers?

 

Please take the time to give feedback

  • Enjoy appointing the scientific marketing agency that you do want to work with, I’m sure they’ll do a great job.
  • But do please give feedback to the agencies you choose NOT to work with. They will have put a huge amount of effort into the pitch process and will want to learn from the experience, even if they don’t get the work.

 

As a scientific marketing agency, we’ve had the pleasure of working with many of our clients for a very large number of years – well over a decade in many cases – and it’s not just because we carry out consistently good work for them. We get on well, we understand their worlds and we remain highly motivated to do a great job. The best client-agency relationships are often not those that are just a flash in a pan based on one project, but the ones that evolve into a mutually beneficial partnership that stands the test of time.

 

 

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