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The One Challenge Facing Japan’s Pharma Recruiters

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Over the past 10 years, there has been one constant challenge for recruiting in Japan’s pharmaceutical industry: the increase in demand from multinational companies (MNCs) to hire top marketing managers and directors. There are five main drivers:

  1. Increased pressure from headquarters (HQ) to have successful product launches in Japan

The drug lag in Japan means that the expectation of success has time to gather momentum at HQ. However, expectations are not always met. One executive told Morunda, “Look at what has happened at Novartis over the past couple of years; HQ is looking to take a more hands-on approach all the time.” Pressure is mounting on marketing departments to get the “right” marketing message to the salespeople, one that is based on scientific evidence. The emphasis is now on the quality, not just the quantity, of details given to the physicians. Therefore, as more companies move toward specialized medicine, it’s important for a sophisticated marketing message to be paramount.

A marketing director from Janssen explained that marketing has to be more sophisticated: “There are more specialized products and doctors who request more specialized evidence at higher quality.” An ex-GSK marketing director agrees that the demands from doctors have changed: “Physicians’ attitudes toward pharmaceutical companies have also changed. The doctors are too busy to spend their time in conversation with reps. Push marketing, such as a power game of share of voice (SOV), does not work, and marketing is closer to medical marketing.” A product manager from Novartis agrees as well:

It’s true! Global HQ needs to gain profits from the early stages of product launch. The phase that takes sufficient time for setting the right marketing strategy has shifted to the pre-product launch phase. We need to set a well-prepared strategy for product advancement by conducting relevant marketing research. The talent to conduct these activities may be limited.

  1. Greater demand for talent than supply

There is simply a limited supply of marketing talent. This is probably true of many markets around the world; however, when conversational English is mandatory, this requirement decreases the pool in Japan significantly.

Another factor on the supply side is that some MNCs will only hire from other MNCs. The general thought is that the marketing departments in domestic Japanese companies are not strategic. They’re focused on creating marketing communication materials for medical representatives (MRs).

With regard to English communication, a marketing manager from Novartis says, “The ability to talk and communicate via e-mail in English is mandatory. The latest marketing scheme is expressed in the United States, and excellent marketing trials are conducted every day all over the world, so English is just a tool for daily work.”

  1. Slower generic erosion in Japan than in other countries

Therefore, keeping top marketing talent is a top priority for companies, while, at the same time, those individuals who have successfully launched may be looking for greener pastures. This push-pull dynamic is yet another factor in the supply and demand equation.

  1. Time pressure

Although the drug lag in Japan still exists, it has decreased from seven years to around three years, which means that marketing teams can no longer piggyback on the strategies of other markets. The Japanese strategy is being developed in tandem with the global strategy. Therefore, the demand for global-minded managers and directors to create and execute marketing plans is paramount for a successful launch.

  1. Changes in compliance rules for medical representatives

This has led to increased pressure for marketing strategies to be grounded in science.

An ex-GSK oncology marketing manager adds this:

The rules to promote, including just to talk, through only on-label indication(s) has been getting more strict, including promotion in the oncology area. In the oncology area, however, clinical trials that pursue new indications [new usage of the drug] are always ongoing, and it was important for product managers to be able to discuss the future direction of the drug and key opinion leaders (KOLs).

Morunda will continue to crawl over hot coals to meet Japan’s top marketing talent.

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