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Making Marketing Matter: Partnering with R&D at Bristol-Myers Squibb

by Roy Young  |  
December 16, 2003

It's not just a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University in England that wins Wendy Dixon immediate credibility with research and development staff at Bristol-Myers Squibb. It's also 20 years in pharmaceutical marketing and a passion for working with scientists to develop and bring to market new medicines that meet customer needs around the world.

It's hard to imagine how the CEO could have made a better choice for a Chief Marketing Officer to spearhead an organizational transformation to marketing excellence. I talked to her about how she leads the marketing team's work with scientists to make sure new products are developed with an understanding of the marketplace and customer needs.

Young: How is marketing structured at Bristol-Myers Squibb?

Dixon: We have a marketing function which in recent years has been established as a much stronger entity within the company. We have a global marketing function which is responsible for working very closely with the scientists to set up overall product strategy and understand the marketplace and customer needs, particularly for future new products. It is responsible to set up the overall global strategy for new products and for providing that input into the scientists as they work their way through the development process. The global marketing group works hand-in-hand with, and transitions work through, the regional marketing teams in the different countries as they launch new products or they launch an extension or some kind of additional aspect of an existing product into the marketplace.

Young: How is marketing in the pharmaceutical industry different from other industries?

Dixon: Pharmaceutical marketing is very complex because we're dealing with science. We're trying to market to a whole range of different customers—physicians, payers, consumers, governments. It is a highly regulated industry, as I'm sure you know. There are very strict—appropriately strict—regulations around how you can represent scientific data and how you can promote it and it has to be consistent with the results of clinical trials, etc. So, it's an extraordinarily complex business, but very rewarding, because, obviously, we're in the job of commercializing and bringing new products to patients who need them.

Young: You mentioned that in the last few years, marketing has become more central to the overall strategy of the company. How did that come to be?

Dixon: Our CEO is very focused on pharmaceuticals and related healthcare business, but, in past years, there were a number of other companies within the Bristol-Myers Squibb family that were more consumer driven companies, such as Clairol, which is a hair care company. He's been involved in the pharmaceutical industry for a number of years, [but] actually started his career in the consumer side of the world. And so he has a strong heritage in traditional consumer packaged goods marketing. His vision was for us to differentiate ourselves as a company by applying, where possible and where appropriate, the principles and insights and methodologies that are used in consumer marketing to the pharmaceutical commercialization process. He put in place this heightened sense of importance of marketing and market partnerships—so that, on the one hand, the scientists and the marketers worked closely to understand and respect each other's needs and challenges, and, on the other hand, create a culture of marketing excellence in the organization.

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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact. For more information about the book, go to or order at Amazon.

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