Last month, Yuliya Fontanetti, Senior Director, and Sophie Bone, Research Manager, attended an event run by the PM Society: “Agile Marketing: How to Innovate Faster, Better and Cheaper”.  The day featured a variety of talks from pharma companies, agencies and NHS representatives. The sessions spoke to both compliance and marketing considerations, aligning perfectly with Yuliya and Sophie’s respective areas of interests! The event really strengthened our belief that agile research is such a fantastic opportunity to (in the words of one of the speakers) “make magical things happen”. Below is a summary of their highlights from the day.

Research View: By Sophie Bone

Certainly, agile is a hot topic in pharma — it was fascinating to hear first-hand how pharma companies are experimenting with agile approaches, and embedding these principles into their organisations, both at a practical level in conducting research and rolling out marketing programs, and also at a more fundamental level- in an effort to change mindsets about ways of working.

There were two sessions which focused on agile marketing. The first – from a creative agency – recounted experiences with agile campaigns and publicity for two pharmaceutical clients. Both examples highlighted a theme key to agile working – using an iterative approach to the campaigns. In the first example, a bank of Tweets was pre-approved before a conference and in reaction to the themes of the day, only the most relevant messages were tweeted and at the time that was most appropriate. In another example, many iterations of materials for an HCP campaign were approved, but those which did not resonate were quickly culled during the campaign. This session underscored the ethos of agile research: “agile is not about doing things faster,” further elaborating with a driving analogy – a car that is driving fast, however aimlessly, is far more likely to have an accident. Instead, agile allows companies to understand how a customer responds to something in real time, and, as a result, adjust their strategy to ensure the experience is optimised, in real time. Ultimately, the data for the effectiveness of these campaigns spoke for itself to prove the worth of this type of agile approach.

Ollie Roberts and Theodora Montsenigou shared their experiences of implementing agile principles in Novartis. It is undeniable that an agile approach comes with its own challenges, so it was fascinating to hear that the learnings from a pharma company’s perspective align so closely with our own experiences due to the different nature of our companies. Some of the key take-aways to bring into practice from this session were: continuously responding to change, collecting dynamic customer insights, and gaining senior stakeholder buy-in – each demonstrating that agile means so much more than just doing research quickly.

To sum up our learnings from the more marketing-focused session: “We can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and expect to continue to succeed”, which well reflects our excitement about using agile research to drive innovation

Compliance View: By Yuliya Fontanetti

It is not surprising that compliance is a topic that most choose to avoid at the best of times. Whilst the value of compliance is understood, it is usually one of the last considerations, so it tends to catch people out.

However, in particular with agile projects, a lack of proper consideration can be detrimental.  Based on my professional compliance journey, unless compliance is built into each aspect and at every stage of a project, it will always be a surprise that will negatively impact project flow.

Ultimately, ethics and compliance are there to stop us from doing things we are not supposed to do, and, in turn, protect our professional credibility with our customers, whoever they might be. Unfortunately, however, compliance is often the scapegoat of inaction: “Well, compliance will say “No” anyway.”

This, amongst other myths, was explored during a session moderated by Dr Nick Broughton, who presented his take on the necessity, and the resulting paradox, of ethics and compliance.

Agile is not a way to overlook compliance, but rather an opportunity to build it into the process at the start, avoiding headaches down the road. While this sounds like an easy solution, it rarely happens in practice and becomes one of those hurdles that “stop things from happening”. From the words of the compliance man himself, the solution is to “involve your approvers from the start, make them talk and make them talk early” so there are no unwelcome surprises further down the line. One of my favourite quotes from Dr Broughton was not actually related to agile specifically, but rather a general compliance mantra relating to the mindset of compliance as an inhibitor of action: “If you have done nothing, than you have not done any GOOD and that is unethical.”

Another fantastic demonstration of compliance in action was a presentation from Rina Newton and Debbie Young, sharing AstraZeneca’s experience with agile compliance. Following a content complaint on AZ’s websites, Debbie’s cross-functional team – including compliance, digital, marketing, medical and IT – worked tirelessly to make sure all online content was relevant, acting on feedback and iterating as they went along to ensure they got it right. Further, the digital team also embraced some of the approval responsibilities, creating a culture of compliance accountability. In turn, this sharing of responsibility supported the compliance teams, giving them confidence that externally-facing content was already proofed. All in all, it was this close partnership and feedback-generated iteration that led to much more transparent and valuable content.

Perhaps what struck me most was that whilst our individual examples may differ, our journey into agile discovery largely resonates.

For those who have experienced both the high of the first initial excitement of the theory, and the intimidating reality (often a necessary evil of innovation!) brought on by the pace of and required dedication to agile projects (often making your non-agile projects feel infinite) – we offer the reassurance that the sheer joy when you have achieved, together, the success is that much more personal and meaningful. All you need is the resilience to persevere. In the wise words of Hazel Jones, “We did not fail, we just did not get there yet.”

To find out more, contact us


By Sophie Bone and Yuliya Fontanetti


Apply Now!

Get in touch:

    I would like to receive news and information from HRW
    I agree to the HRW privacy policy

      Sign up to our newsletter

      If you wish to hear about our latest blogs, podcasts, webinars, and team news, simply enter your email to sign up to our monthly newsletter.


      We use cookies to give you the best possible experience. We can also use it to analyze the behavior of users in order to continuously improve the website for you. Data Policy

      analytical Essential