Surekha Ragavan
Jul 14, 2022

How a pharma company created an in-house creative team from scratch

Unlike many brands that take a hybrid approach, this company is committed to a 100% in-housing model. The GM of marketing tells us how it’s done.

How a pharma company created an in-house creative team from scratch

Marketers are being more aggressive in building out in-house teams, with 53% of brands already embedding in-house capabilities that operate independently from any external agency support. According to R3 co-founder Shufen Goh, marketers are still very much using a hybrid model and she observed that she hasn’t known of a single client that has completely pivoted to in-housing.

Meet PharmaCare, an Australian pharmaceutical company that is committed to 100% in-house marketing capabilities, except for media buying. The in-house creative team—known as The Hive—works closely with the company’s core brand marketing teams to deliver creative for nearly 20 PharmaCare-owned brands across healthcare and wellness for products such as vitamins, deodorants, and health snacks. These brands include Nature’s Way, Rosken, Skin Doctors, and Sambucol; and some of PharmaCare’s biggest customers include distributors such as Coles, Woolworths, and Chemist Warehouse.  

The company has been in-housing creative for some time now, but what changed the game was the proliferation of digital during the pandemic that drove ecommerce demand. Internally, the company recast its team to align to consumers’ path to purchase by utilising existing talent and resources.

The Hive, or what the company refers to as an in-house ‘healthcare mini-agency’, operates as the creative arm of PharmaCare’s marketing team. It consists of 23 creatives including strategists, designers, digital marketers, branding experts, and insights and analysts professionals. 

Alix Russell, general manager of marketing media, digital, communication and active wellness at PharmaCare, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that The Hive’s capabilities are versatile as they are high-quality.

Alix Russell

“[The Hive] can execute any concept or idea that goes on any medium—whether it be TV, print, OOH, website, or Facebook,” says Russell. “We do all our own shooting for advertising, as well as all asset creation, dispatch, and packaging. So we've got quite a broad team in terms of skillset, we can deliver a hell of a lot.”

So how did Russell and the team of PharmaCare marketers create a fully in-house team? Well, phase one of this process consisted of building out a team with a strong foundation. As the team matured, Russell had space to think about accelerating capabilities and automating certain areas to make workflow more efficient. The relationship between marketing teams and The Hive is close-knit one, Russell says, as everyone sits in the same building and meets on a regular basis.

“The team knows the brands and where the brands are trying to take the business. So we really see ourselves as an extension of the team,” says Russell. "It’s very collaborative, we’re making sure that all the team members are supporting each other within their defined roles and responsibilities. We see ourselves as a big puzzle; we need each team to fulfil their role to assist the next team in terms of taking on the next chapter of work.”

On top of that, values and culture are key to PharmaCare, which is a family-owned business. Russell explains that it’s important for the team to feel like an extension of the family, and the benefit of in-housing is that the entire team aspiring towards a goal of being a singular unit with common values.

The Hive has two creative co-leads who have been in the business for a long time and are therefore knowledgeable about the brand and business. The packaging team, which was initially part of PharmaCare’s marketing team, now sits within The Hive. Adding to that, select team members have been through an upskilling process.

Russell adds that the digital marketing team within The Hive is completely new as specific technical expertise increased in demand. In less than 12 months, The Hive has hired five new digital roles, with a core focus on strengthening its own channels and content offering. This is in line with the company’s 2022 focus on digital marketing and ecommerce.

Advantages of going completely in-house, according to Russell, is speed to market and brand knowledge.

“Instead of usually sending out a brief externally, our lead times within The Hive is a lot shorter,” she says. “And we are very close to the brand team. So I would say our knowledge in supporting the brand teams in bringing strategy to life much better than in an agency that you may or may not see a couple times a year.”

However, going in-house doesn’t negate the fact that PharmaCare, like most companies, faced a common industry challenge of hunting the right talent. Russell says that it wasn’t easy looking for creative talent to embody PharmaCare values, and in some respects, it took her even longer to recruit the right team. Present day, Russell says the team is at full capacity—made up of former agency and in-house experts—and The Hive hasn’t experienced ‘The Great Resignation’.

“This is a testament of what we're trying to do as a team, really seeing how their work can have an impact day-to-day. Sometimes as an agency, you're a little bit further removed from [the impact] because you might work on so many different clients,” says Russell.

One issue that marketers often face when in-housing is getting talent up to speed with innovations, tech, and industry shifts. At PharmaCare, Russell says that this is done by upskilling talent in terms of latest best practice. “As we get a bit more sophisticated, we would potentially look in-house or externally for training courses to upskill the team. Because the digital space is moving at pace; what we know today will change tomorrow,” she adds.

On the subject of cost, Russell doesn’t see in-housing as being a cost equation, but rather a value-add for the aforementioned advantages.

Campaign Asia

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