Digital transformation of global pharma companies in India is critical, says Charles Houdoux

Charles Houdoux. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

New Delhi: After acquiring Indian health advertising agency Sorento in May, Havas Group has launched its decade-old global health agency Health & You as Havas Life Sorento in the country. Sorento handles pharma companies like Abbott, Johnson & Johnson, Alkem, Dr. Reddy’s and Glenmark, among others. Health and wellness is a big focus area for the French advertising conglomerate with Havas Health contributing 16% to the group’s overall revenue, which stood at €2,276 million in 2016.

The agency wants to grab a lion’s share in India’s growing health and wellness market, said Charles Houdoux, chief executive, Havas Health & You Asia Pacific (APAC), on his recent visit to India. As a Havas Group veteran with over 25 years of experience, Houdoux talked about Sorento’s growth and focus area, trends in Indian health and wellness space and how digital has disrupted the healthcare communication.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What does a health communication agency do?

A health communication agency speaks to both doctors as well as consumers through above the line (ATL), below the line (BTL), digital as well as content marketing. Health agencies also provide branding services like logo design to hospitals, create medical events and publication for doctors, apart from executing patient programmes through digital and print.

So while hospitals and over-the-counter (OTC) drug brands tend to leverage mainline advertising like television, pharma companies spend on in-clinic programmes through medical representatives. Therefore, a health agency creates a wide variety of communication leveraging different mediums.

How has digital medium impacted healthcare advertising?

Digital has revolutionised the entire business of healthcare communication. Patients, for instance, are becoming empowered because of the internet which helps them understand a disease and its probable treatment. Therefore, when they go to a doctor with so much of knowledge, the doctor needs to know a lot more. This is where healthcare communication agencies come into place which creates relevant content and campaigns for both patients as well as doctors.

Health agencies also help with disease management strategies helping companies to expand the market by providing communication strategy for new diseases. Not just pharma, even fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) firms like Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL) or Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) which own brands like Good Knight and PureIt, respectively, are also looking at healthcare communication experts to create communication pieces for them.

What made Havas acquire Sorento in India?

India is one of the key priority markets for Havas Health & You because it is witnessing a major growth in the consumer health and wellness space. According to a McKinsey report, the Indian pharmaceuticals market grew at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.46% during 2005-16, increasing from $6 billion in 2005 to $36.7 billion in 2016 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 15.92% to $55 billion by 2020.

We are the largest health network globally handling some of the leading clients and for them India is a growing market which needs better focus. Therefore, we decided to have a presence through Havas Life Sorento. India is a volume market which is critical for our global clients. The country is also witnessing growth in specialized health markets such as oncology, immunology and rare diseases where global pharma companies are looking to invest.

Apart from pharma, which areas are you targeting?

We plan to target hospitals as they will play a major role in the health and wellness market in the future. Consumer health is going to be another big focus area.

What are the key growth driving factors that Havas Life Sorento has identified?

Digital transformation of the global pharma companies in India is critical. This will lead to effective patient communication, online training of the medical field force and resource building for key opinion leaders and medical practitioners. Apart from digital, the specialized markets like oncology and rare diseases and the growing consumer health market will also be key growth drivers for us.

Any interesting healthcare communication trends that you can share with us?

I believe talking to consumers has become extremely important for health companies. With apps like doctor discovery and appointment booking platform Practo and Lybrate, which connect doctors, patients and pathology labs, the dialogue between patient and a doctor has become open and direct. The healthcare space is becoming consumer-centric.

Doctors are also becoming technologically savvy and pharma companies are looking at models beyond the medical representatives (MR) increasingly focusing on online communication. I think app-based communication will become big in the health space in the future. Digital is also making education much faster, affordable and accessible to everyone.

Pharma companies are moving from a manufacturing-based approach to a marketing one. They are looking at doctors as a strong influencer, while trying to empower patients with medical knowledge so that they can ask relevant questions. Pharma industry needs to create a credible source of information over the internet which is going to change the image of the industry in India.

What are the key challenges that the country’s health market faces?

India has a huge patient dropout rate and there is a need for integrated care system platform and services. From an agency standpoint, there is need for a collaborative approach between the agency and the client. Agencies can no longer be merely a service provider.