Conversation with Silvio Dionisi, Head of Strategic Marketing at IBSA Group08 July 2021
Ethics, enthusiasm and scientific communication sum up IBSA’s Strategic Marketing approach to work, which begins with the promotion of prescription drugs in over 80 markets worldwide and does not end until they are prescribed to patients by doctors in every corner of the globe. Directing it all, in a position that encompasses both medicine and business, is Silvio Dionisi, Head of Strategic Marketing at IBSA Group.
“In pharma companies, strategic marketing is a department that steers them towards the market, but IBSA takes an entirely different approach. Over 30 years ago, IBSA was born to produce pharmaceuticals and up until a few years ago, it only entered markets through distributors. Its approach changed in 2017 and 2018 with the development of the pharmaceutical market and the company’s growth in size. This gave rise to a strategic need for the company to enter new markets on its own and expand its network of subsidiaries. Strategic Marketing was charged with expanding IBSA through subsidiaries, bringing all products to all markets, where IBSA would be “responsible” for them. 70% of our work is currently focused on this mission. We devote the rest of our time and resources to working on actual products in Fertility and Endocrinology.”
How does Strategic Marketing support IBSA’s entry on a given market?
“IBSA opens subsidiaries on new markets when the contracts with distributors end. This is when we choose, or rather, when we decide whether it’s time to enter a certain market directly or continue working with the distributor. This choice is mainly economic, based on costs or savings along the chain. The second factor behind our choice has to do with the company’s image. Our direct presence in a region highlights our sense of responsibility to the local health system and, lastly, with doctors and patients. After the decision is made, a subsidiary is opened and it is a fairly straightforward process. We establish a local business unit and then go through the official, regulatory and administrative steps in the country. Once this process is complete, we begin the real work, but on the basis of everything that was done before, usually with the distributor.”
That covers entering new markets. What about Strategic Marketing’s work on products?
"We mainly handle product communication. You always need to start with the fact that IBSA produces and sells prescription drugs, so they cannot – and must not – be presented directly to patients. They are presented to doctors. This is why our product communication is exclusively objective and scientific; there is no “point of view”. In this respect as well, our transformation into an ecosystem consisting of the headquarters and subsidiaries has been very effective. Since we have direct oversight of the entire distribution chain, we monitor product communication centrally and can therefore ensure consistent communication across the globe. For example, in today’s globalised world, scientific communication prepared in Spain must be absolutely identical to that drafted in Russia, since the Russian doctor talks to the Spanish doctor and what they have in common is the company’s name. Communication should be consistent and you can only achieve this with complete control over everything."
How do you exert this control and, especially, how do you foster collaboration with the subsidiaries?
“At headquarters, we promote our products through scientific communication, while local marketing, which primarily consists of direct communication with doctors, is left to the subsidiaries. This means that the central office handles all the necessary product promotion, putting together the official product communication, which must be confirmed by all the scientific papers published on the application of our drugs. Furthermore, headquarters writes the guidelines for the individual messages that will be used in the various countries. In addition, we ensure the uniformity of product packaging, with distinct colours and images, which are used identically in every single country. At IBSA, a product’s external image is developed here in Lugano and then sent out to each country, and no one may deviate from these guidelines. Each of our pharmaceuticals must be presented in a specific, distinct way and cannot be prescribed for any use other than that indicated by headquarters. This is the only way we can be certain of the proper scientific basis and necessary rigour in all our communications and relationships.”