Medical Device Marcomms With A European Clinician Bias

Have some consideration for European medical professionals. After all, they represent a third of the world’s market

If you’re a practicing medical professional in Europe, you’re underserved with information compared with your North American counterpart, at least when it comes to what you can find on the internet which is relevant to you. For a few years now our news site, medlatest has been generating doing our own mix of aggregated medtech news from around the world, interpreting its content for what it means to European clinicians and adding our own opinions when we get suitably excitable about a particular topic. And what do we conclude after all this time and so many news articles? That Europe, despite representing roughly a third of the world’s medical devices market, is largely forgotten by many companies, used a stepping stone by others and under-exploited(if that’s the right word) by almost all.

Press releases: Necessary evil with anodyne content or an opportunity to talk to your market? 

Take your average press release from a US medtech giant: “Bigco is pleased to announce that it has gained FDA approval for its implantable Gizmofix. The product is designed to do such and such, addressing a US market opportunity of twenty zillion dollars and has been approved by FDA on the basis of a study which has apparently established that it is safe and effective. For the company, President and CEO Hunter Getinthehole commented; “We engaged with specialist physicians to address their needs and it’s a tribute to them and our design team that we came up with this incredible new technology which will make zillions for our shareholders.”

US launch plans

Forward looking statement

About what Bigco’s talking about

About Bigco

Ends

OK so it’s only cost a couple of grand to issue such a press release, but why, if it’s going to a global audience, do companies so often forget to mention the implications for “overseas” medical professionals and indeed basic information about the product’s status in other countries. Most often the thing has been available in Europe for two years already, so what better opportunity to reinforce it than to add a paragraph to the release as follows: Gizmofix is CE marked and was launched in Europe in 2010 through Bigco’s network of distributors. Or even… “Clinicians experienced in using the product in Europe have been finding it very useful, as stated by Dr Ivan Goldfisch of Smarterberg University Hospital: “In our own practice Gizmofix has provided a superb alternative to older technologies, especially because it….. blah blah blah…” you get the picture.

Why wouldn’t Bigco do that? (or even Smallco for that matter?) Because they’re all wrapped up in their newly FDA cleared product, dreaming of US launch plans and making sure they get it out to all those US “KOLs”.

Big companies have to make it work stateside

Many, if not most product managers in Bigco-type companies are ex-US reps and, much as they love to travel, the daily demands from their US team dictate that’s where the time goes.

Further up the chain, managers rightly have to deal with the needs of investors, again most of whom will be Americans. So corporate press releases come over all US-oriented with just the odd one creeping out about Japanese approval (I can remember one in the last twelve months) and a few more about CE marking.

What happens next?

“We have to get more revenue from Europe” comes the cry when US sales start to look a bit sick.

“Well, we’ve got distributors, call them up and get them to order more, raise their quotas, give them better terms. Tell you what…why don’t we pay them a visit?”

So the product manager hops on a plane and spends up to two weeks shooting around ten countries in Europe and goes home happy that he or she has done a great job…having spoken with precisely twenty medical professionals. Again, huge expense and hugely disappointing “bang for buck”.

And when sales don’t pick up? Is it all down to the quality of the distributor or European direct sales team? Well, yes, in the absence of any other form of marcomms activity I suppose it must be. I mean, the website doesn’t tell the European clinician anything at all…whether Gizmofix is available, who to buy it from, clinical studies, nothing… so it must be the fault of the sales team.

Tell you what, we’ve tried direct sales, lets try distributors… at least they don’t cost anything. Or the reverse; Tell you what, we’ve tried distributors and we just can’t get enough of their time… at least direct reps would be under our control.

Dead wrong?

I can hear the screaming now… “You’re dead wrong! We continue to give Europe our best shot. We go to all the congresses we can, we have European KOLs, we run distributor sales meetings, we have a multicentre clinical study ongoing.”

Great stuff. I agree. Sounds good. If that’s all happening to your satisfaction, congratulations. Of course if Bigco’s truly a household name, it’s a simpler proposition because everybody knows and scrutinises your every move, although that’s not always a good thing. The Europeans see you at the big meetings wherever they are, the bigger fish enjoy the resources that come with big studies and the brand recognition gives even the worst distributor an undoubted leg up. I still think you could do better though… simple stuff like updating your website to include European product news, telling people what the CE status of your products is, just remembering that when you launch a product in USA, people in Europe will see the news and wonder what it means for them. If they see nothing, they’ll assume nothing.

No, I’m really talking about the huge raft of companies that comprise the majority, the “ankle biters” if you like. From so many US “SME’s” I get the sense that they are either terrified, clueless or actually a bit arrogant in their attitude to how to handle European marketing. And it’s too big a fish to fry to give it lip service or do the job half-heartedly. If you rely on a “word-of-mouth” recommended distributor team, even if you have a sales manager in place, if you visit infrequently and undercommunicate other than to ask for orders once a quarter, you’ll be lucky if your message reaches the clinical community. There’s also the issue of compliance and control. If you improve your marcomms platform you will at least avoid the finger of blame because your Italian rep told someone to do something that turned out to be off label and didn’t go well… at all.

I hope I haven’t aggravated too many people so far. I’m really not trying to, but sometimes the medicine doesn’t taste too good. Read through the invective and I hope you’ll have to agree with at least a bit of the above.

And even if you don’t, marcomms these days can be so cheap you’d be crazy not to exploit the opportunity to develop and communicate a controlled distribution of your messages.

Medlatest communicates with Europeans… we live there (here) for a start

So you’re awaiting the sales pitch? Well, here’s the thing. There really isn’t one. The seeds of medlatest lie in a combination of a life spent in medical devices and a passionate belief that technology is often the answer when it comes to getting the job done as well as it can be done for patients. The second string to our bow is that we’ve seen things done in such a variable and often bad way in the operating theatres of the world that we concluded that better communication of the product and technique options, the more dialogue, the more transparency, the more… well, everything really, the better the likely outcome. So we’re here on a mission to use internet communication techniques to make sure that the very latest developments in medical device technology are out there, understood and set in the context of the twenty first century.

And how are we planning to do it?

It’s carts and horses or chickens and eggs time. If we publish content that is interesting and informative to a European clinical audience we believe the audience will grow and indeed have evidence to that effect as traffic to our site is ramping nicely. Why will medical professionals be interested in this stuff? Because the European medical professional community has never been more closely watched, had so many choices, so few excuses for using yesterday’s technology and so many incentives for using tomorrow’s, especially if it has patient benefits and and economic efficiency component.

If we simply trot out US centric corporate speak with more relevance to a fund manager in New York than an Orthopod in “Old” York, eventually we’ll not consider we’ve achieved much. So here’s the plea to medtech companies reading our pages right now.

  • Please send us your news releases and make them at least nod in the direction of the third-of-the-world market (not third world!) that is Europe.
  • Don’t expect us to cover everything. We’ll cover US news where it’s relevant, but we’re unlikely to cover every company’s improvement (or otherwise) in earnings per share forecast.
  • If you have sub-press release news we’re very very happy to receive it. If it passes our editorial filter of being relevant and interesting it will be turned around quickly, mostly same day. Nancy sitting in a bath of beans for charity might not get through, but a surgeon getting great results using Gizmofix for its indicated purpose, might well.

Jack-of-all-Trades?

So, by covering everything from Regulatory Affairs to Healthcare infrastructure, to Legal, Financial, Commercial, and so forth, could we be accused of being something of a Medtech Jack-of-all-Trades? Absolutely. Distilling the important factoids from the news-heavy world around us doesn’t require us to be accountants or regulators or surgeons for that matter. But years of industry qualify us to know what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s fluff and what’s worth sharing. Hopefully.

Nick Woods, Editor

Correspondence and editorial to: editor@medlatest.com

Bigco, Smallco, Gizmofix and any of the other daft names are used for purposes of illustration and any resemblance, however unlikely to real persons, companies or products is coincidental.