In November, we were wowed by the keynote given by Ali Moghaddam, president of Phenix Pharma Group Inc., at the annual Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB) workshop. Moghaddam reminded us of the challenges presented by using global assets in the Canadian market — especially when complying with regulations contradicts global direction — and how collaborating with PAAB can get great results. Here’s what we learned.


Moghaddam told the story of launching one of Phenix’s largest brands in Canada. As the person responsible for the Canadian launch, he knew the marketing assets had to be compliant with the PAAB code. He also knew that Phenix was expecting to use the assets it had developed for the global market.

There were very high expectations for this brand in Canada and a strong herd mentality among team members who wanted to closely follow the global material. As the promotional development plans proceeded, however, Moghaddam’s discomfort grew. He knew that the pooled data, meta-analyses and weak head-to-head data used in the global assets meant they would not meet the criteria for PAAB acceptance. As he told the audience, it took courage to be the one to stand up, acknowledge the issue, and say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Moghaddam and his marketing agency built a solid plan of action, reset global expectations, and reached out to PAAB to find a solution that would help the brand stay compliant with Canadian regulations. Instead of having to toss the existing global materials, Phenix Pharma was able to adjust them to produce a high-impact brand message that was approved by PAAB in record time. Canada became the brand’s global centre of excellence for marketing approvals and promotional activities, and Canada achieved the highest market share amongst all regions.

We were inspired by Moghaddam’s story, and curious about the role Phenix’s agency partner had played in the process. That’s because we believe any agency worth working with will help its pharmaceutical partner negotiate the tricky terrain of approvals, support the dissenting voice when it’s right, and work to rescue what’s already been done.

This take on the agency role echoes an article by Deborah Budd published on member-only ad agency resource, Second Wind. Budd says that agency account people take on one of three roles. Some are simply “ferrymen,” taking the client’s instructions and delivering them to the creative department to execute. Others take on a guidance and advisory role. But a truly strategic partner takes on the role of “top questioner of client assumptions.” In the pharma marketing realm, an agency partner should help you set your strategy using a deep understanding of how to manage execution within the regulatory framework and the pharmaceutical company’s corporate culture.

Moghaddam didn’t seem to need an agency’s help seeing a problem with the “let’s use the global assets as-is” group-think operating at Phenix. But we like to think that he never truly felt alone because his agency was backing him up, sitting at the table with PAAB and working hard to salvage what it could of the existing creative. After all, anyone with the courage to be a lone wolf deserves to discover that he (or she) has a pack — an account rep and creative team that will support your well-reasoned decision to go it alone.

CORE Agency played a similar strategic role with Indivior when Suboxone lost exclusivity, protecting 60% of its market in the face of three generic competitors.