How Pharma Marketers Find and Select Digital Marketing Agencies

Executive Summary

More than half of pharma marketers don’t or can’t leverage in-house capabilities to produce digital campaign materials and instead turn to external agencies. The digital agency landscape is crowded with specialist firms, large full-service organizations, and traditional consultancies moving into the creative space, making it difficult for marketing managers to identify which of the many players are the true pros. To find a good agency, pharma marketers rely on their colleagues, mainly in procurement. Once they have assembled a short list, marketers make their final selection by looking for the agency that best understands their business needs and exhibits creativity and strategic thinking. These characteristics matter more than an agency’s reputation, previous collaboration, or client references.
Companies surveyed for this report: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, Leo Pharma, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Shire, UCB Pharma.

Pharma Marketers Use a Mix of Tools to Find and Select Digital Agencies

We surveyed forty-one marketing managers to understand how they found and selected a marketing agency to produce their latest digital campaign material (see Figure 1). Identifying the true pros in a crowded field of agencies is difficult for most marketing teams, but it’s very important given the agency’s vital role in the overall campaign. Our survey found that most marketing managers:

  • Short-list based on recommendations from procurement and colleagues. On average, marketers use three sources of information to find digital marketing agencies to put on their short list (see Figure 2). Seventy-three percent of marketing managers pick agencies from their procurement department’s preferred supplier list; two-thirds ask their colleagues for a recommendation. Agencies that the company has previously used, or is currently using, to deliver a digital marketing campaign also stand a good chance of being selected. On the other end of the spectrum, marketing managers report that cold-calling, white papers, trade magazine promotions, and social media campaigns have very little influence on their decision to short-list an agency.
  • Choose the agency with the best strategic thinking and needs assessment. On average, marketing managers use four criteria to evaluate the offerings of short- listed digital marketing agencies (see Figure 3). When examining agency proposals and pitch documents, brand managers primarily look at whether the agency displays strong strategic and creative thinking. Forty-nine percent of marketing managers think that it’s very important that the agency understands their business needs. Other factors that play a key role are the cost-effectiveness of the proposed solution and the agency’s technical skills and capacity for innovation. Conversely, neither previous collaboration with an agency nor an agency’s list of client references and case studies are of much importance.
  • Face obstacles with on-time, within-budget delivery. About one-quarter to one- third of marketing managers see the agency they selected struggle to keep to deadlines and budgets once the project is underway (see Figure 4). Another strong roadblock is agencies’ lack of attention to detail in the final campaign deliverables. When marketers selected an agency primarily due to its strong strategic and creative thinking and skill in interpreting the business need, they generally found that they chose well—those factors did not prove to be agency-side obstacles to getting the job done.
  • Don’t see outstanding digital agency performance. Marketing managers have to overcome multiple obstacles before actually getting their campaign material in hand. When we asked them to rate the digital agency they selected and applied the Net Promoter Score® methodology, the consequences of this struggle became clear: with an overall NPS of –31, very few marketers would actively recommend the agency they used to colleagues asking for suggestions (see Figure 5). However, nearly half of our respondents gave their agencies a 7 or 8, which represents a reasonable level of customer satisfaction.


DT Associates fielded its survey to forty-one marketing managers in pharmaceutical organizations using an online survey tool plus a personal invitation by email. We fielded the survey from October 2014 to December 2014. Respondent incentives included a copy of this report and a donation to a charity.

Our sample is not guaranteed to be representative of the population. Unless otherwise noted, data is intended for descriptive purposes.


Tim van Tongeren crc

Tim van Tongeren

Managing Partner

Tim has worked for more than fifteen years with commercial leaders to navigate their strategic and organizational transformations required to thrive on digital technology change. In his current role as Managing Partner, he leads DT’s Solutions and Consulting offerings to advise the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms on how to best achieve customer experience success through digital transformation.

Dennis van Rooij

Managing Partner

Dennis is a recognized expert on how pharmaceutical executives can take full advantage of new digital technologies to bolster their business objectives. He brings a strategic yet pragmatic perspective on digital transformation for the pharmaceutical industry…
Dennis van Rooij crc

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