Product Managers: CEO for a Brand

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Elisabeth Pena

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By Elisabeth Pena Product Managers CEO for A Brand With responsibilities ranging from marketing, branding, manufacturing, clinical affairs, regulatory issues, and life-cycle management, the product manager now needs to be involved in all the stages of the drug’s evolution. Brand Product managers need to support their ideas based on analysis of available market research data and ensure that their initiatives are focused on supporting the profitability of the company. As resources are stretched and the competitive marketplace grows increasingly more crowded, the role of the product manager is evolving to transcend all company divisions. An Expanding Role While product managers are traditionally the people who think about the strategic and promotional elements involving the brand, as the industry has evolved, so has the role and responsibilities of the position. Although the responsibilities generally associated with the position of product manager are marketing related, the current role of a product manager spans all facets of the development and marketing of a product. “The industry has become more competitive over the past 10 years, and because of the increased competitive pressures, companies need strong product managers to help guide each product,” says Jeffrey Aronin, founder and president of Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc. “Also, product managers must understand how to work in an environment where regulatory guidelines have been tightened.” Matthew P. Simonian, senior product manager, CNS, at UCB Pharma Inc., says because of the changes in the pharmaceutical industry, the basic marketing approach of years ago is no longer applicable in today’s environment. “With more and more brands having a consumer component, including DTC promotion, things have changed dramatically,” he says. In addition, with budgets being tightened across all industries and greater public scutiny over the cost of medicines, the product manager’s role is evolving to encompass more business-oriented goals. “Product managers need to focus on maximizing the value of a product and not leave anything on the table, which means they have to look at all areas to determine how they can increase the value of their products,” Mr. Aronin says. “We ask our product managers to spend 95% of their time on strategic issues. They now need to have a longer-term perspective of the product’s life cycle, from preclinical through product maturity. And they must account for multiple stakeholders, including third-party payers, advocacy groups, and the patients they serve.” As audiences have become more segmented and consumers are playing a larger role in their health decisions, the marketing aspect of the product manager’s job has become more complex. Previously, their chief concern was getting messages to physicians about a product’s key benefits and differentiating features. Now they have multiple stakeholders whose concerns must be addressed. “The idea of segmenting the audience has taken promotions and marketing to a new level,” Mr. Simonian says. “The competitive landscape is so cluttered that to carve a piece of the market pie a product manager needs to be much more strategic and creative than before. There are many more classes and new disease states that people didn’t really know about five years ago. Product managers now are charged with creating new markets where there weren’t any before.” Product Managers: The Front line Lance Colwell, associate director at Purdue Pharma L.P., oversees a team of product managers responsible for supporting the company’s $2 billion pain franchise. “Purdue Pharma is a midsize company and as a result has a pretty lean group,” he says. Purdue Pharma’s product managers are in charge of supporting currently marketed products, including promotional initiatives, tactical programs, data analysis, and making recommendations for activities that impact the brand, such as Phase IV clinical studies and publication planning. These managers also sit on the development teams for the company’s pipeline drugs and give commercial input into those products as well as help prepare for product launch. Investigating licensing opportunities and copromotion agreements also is a part of the job description of a product manager at Purdue Pharma. Managers provide input on these opportunities from a commercial perspective. “Our product managers do quite a lot,” Mr. Colwell says. “They don’t just support one brand; our people do a lot of different things.” At UCB Pharma, Mr. Simonian’s responsibilities include the short-term and long-term strategic development and life-cycle development of his brands, as well as managing agency interactions. As the scope of the product manager’s job has expanded to include much more than marketing, the advertising agency has become a valuable partner. “So many product managers often come into marketing right out of the field with not a lot of marketing experience, and they believe that 100% of their time is going to be spent developing promotional and marketing materials for their product,” says Rich Levy, president of HealthSTAR Advertising Inc. “But, in reality every day they have to deal with everything from manufacturing, regulatory, medical affairs, and forecasting issues; only a small part of their day is spent on true advertising and promotional efforts for their products.” And because of the increasing amount of peripheral areas product managers have become responsible for, finding time to develop the brand’s marketing efforts has become harder to accomplish. This can impact the agency relationship. “The way an advertising agency can show maximum effectiveness is spending a fair amount of time with a product manager so that individual looks at the agency as being a member of his or her marketing team,” Mr. Levy says. The demand on a product manager’s time makes prioritization one of the key skills required for the position. “Product managers have a variety of responsibilities – supporting currently marketed products, providing commercial evaluations of possible products to be in-licensed, and managing drugs in development,” Mr. Colwell says. “Product managers constantly need to prioritize and reprioritize their responsibilities on a daily and weekly basis.” Accountability for the bottom line With responsibilities spanning all areas of a product’s development comes accountability. Mr. Levy has observed that product managers increasingly are being held accountable for the profit-and-loss line. “Product managers have become more like business unit managers for each particular product because they truly are responsible for P&L and everything that goes along with it,” he says. “They are making what often amount to major level decisions as mid-level managers. In a lot of other industries, product managers wouldn’t have this level of authority.” Because the product managers’ focus is wide, they are the ultimate source of product knowledge within a company. Mr. Aronin depends on his product managers to be accountable for all things relating to a product. “Our expectations are high; we see the product manager position as one of the most critical roles in the organization,” he says. “Product managers are responsible for not only maximizing the value of the product or brand today, but they also are responsible for the longer-term market position. They need to make sure that the things we are doing today are going to help us maximize our products for many years out. That is one of the lynchpins of the business.” Mr. Simonian agrees that as a senior product manager, he must be ready to respond to all inquiries relating to his products. “We have to be the key advocates for our brands,” he says. “We have to know the brand inside and out; that is our responsibility as product managers. We need to know not only our brand, but what is going on in the competitive environment so senior management can come to us and ask us questions and have confidence that we will have the answers.” Even the title product manager connotes more accountability than the interchangeable title of brand manager, according to Mr. Aronin. “We prefer the product manager title,” he says. “Product managers are more accountable for specific products and we think this focused accountability is important.” One area where product managers’ responsibilities have been reduced, however, is in medical education. With the release of the recent OIG guidelines, companies are beginning to shift budgets and responsibilities for medical education surrounding a product away from the product managers. “In many companies, product managers were responsible for medical education and the related budgets, but now companies are shifting this reponsibility and putting up a firewall,” Mr. Levy says. “This makes the product manager’s job more of a challenge because product managers must now make sure they are kept in the loop if this responsibility is shifted. Product managers need to be well prepared for what future support might be coming for their product.” Another accountability challenge stems from turnover rate within the product management field. “It seems as soon as a product manager gets settled in and starts working on the product, a company shifts the team around,” Mr. Levy says. “It is not uncommon for a product manager who we are working with on next year’s plan not to be around the following year to implement it. The fairly consistent movement of product managers is a challenge.” Strategic Thinkers Because product managers need to be involved in so many different areas at once, they need to think strategically. Today’s product manager needs to be able to look at a product in clinical trials and plan for all stages of the product’s movement to market, including labeling, manufacturing, and regulatory. Although product managers are not in the lab testing products, they need to be involved in the clinical trials and regulatory process from a business perspective. The PhRMA and OIG guidelines are factors that have led product managers to focus more attention on this area. “Managers want to develop their brands to their fullest potential and maximize life-cycle management; to do this they need to have more interaction with clinical and regulatory affairs and make sure everyone is in the communications loop and understands the long-term vision and direction of where the brand can go,” Mr. Simonian says. Even before the product reaches the market the product manager must be prepared to project the product’s success and return on investment. “We have become more strategic compared with five years ago,” Mr. Colwell says. “We make a lot more data-driven decisions and are much more focused on measurable objectives and tactics and calculating the success and ROI of those tactics.” Mr. Aronin also has observed that strong analytic and strategic skills have become an essential skill for product managers. “Product managers must be better analysts now because of the availability of more data, which creates good information, such as market data, research data, sales forecasting, and other financial aspects of the business,” he says. F PharmaVoice welcomes comments about this article. E-mail us at The product manager position transcends every single division. Product managers need to think strategically several years out and that means they are involved with the life-cycle group, the clinical development group, and the regulatory group. PRODUCT managers Product managers are experiencing more unique challenges than ever before because there are a lot more external forces we have to be aware of. It is a challenge to market products in a very crowded, very noisy, very scrutinized industry. Jeffrey Aronin. Founder and President, Ovation Pharmaceuticals Inc., Deerfield, Ill.; Ovation is a specialty pharmaceutical company that acquires and markets underpromoted branded pharmaceutical products and promising late-stage development products. For more information, visit Lance ColwelL. Associate Director, Marketing Department, Purdue Pharma L.P., Stamford, Conn.; Purdue Pharma and its independent U.S. associated companies are known for their pioneering research on a principal cause of human suffering: persistent pain. For more information, visit Rich LevY. President, HealthSTAR Advertising Inc., Woodbridge, N.J.; HealthStar is a healthcare marketing network. For more information, visit Matthew P. Simonian. Senior Product Manager, CNS, UCB Pharma Inc., Smyrna, Ga.; UCB Pharma is the North American subsidiary of the global research-based pharmaceutical sector of UCB SA located in Brussels,Belgium, and is dedicated to the development and commercialization of innovative pharmaceutical products for the treatment of neurological diseases and allergy-asthma. For more information, visit Experts on this topic

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