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‘Progress is happening’: Bayer’s CMO is flying the flag for more creative pharma marketing

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By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

January 25, 2023 | 8 min read

Patricia Corsi has been nominated for The Drum and the World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global Marketer of the Year award. We catch up with her to find out she’s injecting bold creativity into a historically safe sector.

Patricia Corsi

Patricia Corsi, Bayer

Having cut her marketing teeth at the likes of Kraft, Unilever (where she spent a decade) and, most recently, Heineken Mexico (where she was chief marketing officer), Patricia Corsi made the move in 2019 into what is arguably advertising’s most challenging space, pharmaceutical marketing, when she signed up to lead Bayer’s marketing and digital strategy.

Unlike the FMCG and beverage giants she came from, the world of healthcare marketing is notoriously less interested in bold creative ideas and more in ensuring that outputs meet legal and regulatory requirements. In her time at the company so far, however, she has consistently aimed to shake up the sector and has issued a call to action for brands and agencies to raise the bar on creativity.

Since setting up the ‘Creative Council’ within Bayer to “push” boundaries, she has launched work such as the Vagina Academy to break taboos on women’s intimate healthcare.

Why, historically, has the consumer healthcare space lacked the creativity of others?

Historically, the health-related categories have been extremely cautious, driven by regulatory requirements and the risk of misinformation in this industry. There is also a consistent focus on different skills and capabilities for the brand teams versus the consumer good marketers. In health, there was more focus on communicating science and product benefits to professionals (doctors/pharmacists) versus using creativity and consumer-centric language to help educate and guide consumer understanding of their own health – especially on preventable conditions.

And finally, there were few agencies that saw beauty in the constraints and looked at the challenges with eyes of opportunity. I am glad to see that the progress has been happening and with all the learnings from a global pandemic we have the opportunity to accelerate and move from small accretive steps to a remarkable transformation.

Can you share some specifics on how you’re trying to change this within your organization?

We have had a consistent focus on building strong foundations on marketing – the good old 4Ps – and a consumer and customer-centric approach to our innovation and solution developments. We also have de-average training and enable precision and personalized learning, allowing each individual to start from different levels of understanding and needs. On the digital front, we brought our key leaders to have a shared language and understanding of digital transformation, which allowed for accelerated adoption of our top projects.

With our strategic partners, it was not different. We increased the proximity and shared business understanding – with more actionable feedback and clear views on what success looks like. We have launched our creative council where we join strategic partners, key regional representatives and external CMOs to drive the transformation agenda.

When it comes to your sustainability-led brand initiatives, are you changing the metrics by which you measure success?

We look at sustainability using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This allows us to have a holistic impact with our brands – environmentally, socially and economically. The way we engage our internal audience is an important metric and with our program Brands for Change (B4C). We have driven outstanding participation from our marketing, R&D and medical talent, whose results were also recognized by the Unstereotype Alliance as its first UN mobilizing partner. In addition to our company-wide commitments, we are also partnering with other industry leaders and our key partners on D&I and sustainability metrics one example of this is our Media for Good platform.

What are the biggest challenges facing pharma marketing leaders today?

Some challenges are similar to other industries, like the increased complexity of our consumer needs, channels and shopper journeys can be overwhelming for some less experienced talents, and working on prioritizing and simplifying a strong and well-structured strategic agenda is important. Specifically in the health-related segments, due to the long lead times nature of product launches and innovation, the biggest new challenge is to develop the agility to adapt and change course when context changes dramatically – this is something completely new for many professionals.

In the face of a challenging economic outlook for 2023, how are Bayer’s marketing priorities changing? What does your marketing mix look like for the year ahead?

We continue to be focused on progressing our strategic agenda topics and mission to be the best consumer health business globally. To deliver against that, we must continue to evolve our organization and ways of working to deliver the future of marketing and sales to our consumers and customers benefiting from technology as a critical accelerator of growth.

How are you working more effectively with agency partners in 2023?

We continue to communicate openly and push for tension that helps to build better outcomes. A strong policy of nurturing feedback means that by choosing not to share it, you are consciously not contributing to propel us forward. We also continue to recognize internally and externally great work and work collaborative towards important topics for the industry and society – some examples are our Creative Unleash program, our white paper to transform creative in consumer health and us being a founding member of the GroupM Media Decarbonization coalition.

Ultimately, we aim to be the best partners to our agencies so they have us top of mind and so the best talent wants to work in our brands – it is a worthy challenge to have.

What’s exciting you most about the year ahead?

It might sound a bit masochist, but I believe marketers are at their best when they have constraints and 2023 will surely bring those in spades, so I am excited to be amazed with the solutions that will come from this combination.

You can vote for Patricia Corsi to be named Global Marketer of the Year. Voting closes January 31.

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