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The Promise of Sustainable Automation

David Nicholson

Key takeaways

  • Rise of automation, AI, and metaverse redefine pharma marketing
  • Optimal efficiency stems from harmonizing AI and human insights
  • Programmatic solutions are vital for reducing marketing's carbon footprint
  • Elevate procurement for profound impact on brand growth

David Nicholson: What are the key digital innovations in marketing from your perspective?

Katherine Freeley: Marketing has to be digitally enabled to create success. In the pharma sector where I work, we’re moving towards marketing automation, so the innovations I would pay attention to are how we incorporate Chat GPT and the metaverse into our work. These are both very interesting concepts with applications, but very few companies have so far invested into that world. There are great capabilities, such as shopping platforms and dashboards to enhance audience media plans.

DN: What place do you see for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marketing?

KF: Probably in time, AI will have an important role in marketing. Just now, it’s a new shiny object, just as two years ago the metaverse was the shiny object. Today it’s applications like Chat GPT. It’s a question of how best to connect it with business concerns. I think in the coming years, automation will be a progressive trend, but we still mustn’t forget the human aspect – the two worlds need to co-exist. 

Media buying is going to become highly automated, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more efficient. You need the human component to find what drives conversions, to understand the ability for consumers to receive a message. 

DN: What role does sustainability play in your marketing strategy?

KF: I’m a big proponent of sustainability, because media creates more carbon emissions than the aviation industry. I think one part of the solution is programmatic marketing – where you use software to automate digital ad buying. This is going to become progressively more important. We think that before long, 70 per cent of media buying will be done in a programmatic way. 

Advertisers are concerned that they’re over-paying, with only a small percentage of their customers seeing their content. This means it’s a double issue, because they’re using more carbon to create content than they should be. So it’s about cleaning up the system, using programmatic marketing to improve transparency and reduce carbon footprints. 

I’ve noticed that European corporations have stronger sustainability plans and missions than their counterparts in the US. Some are committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, so they’re advertising this and trying to sign up vendors to become carbon neutral too. On the other hand, in the pharma sector there’s a recognition that some vendors are great polluters. We have situations where products need to be transported in nuclear containers to reach patients within 48 hours. They have very complex operations.

I worked with a global media agency which was a major polluter, with a $1 billion media spend. I used to go to meetings with the sustainability officer and try to work out why. I think as an industry, marketing needs to move to the second stage of sustainability. Not just holding hands and discussing the problem, but getting to the bottom of it. How do we achieve a cleaner supply chain? Getting to carbon neutral in seven years will not be easy.

DN: So how do you propose that we get there?

KF: There needs to be more transparency and less wastefulness. There needs to be a deep dive into programmatic digital marketing. It’s about how businesses work with agencies, about priorities, about setting targets and investing in them, revisiting them to make sure they’re achieved.

I’ve discussed this issue with Adlook’s head of US sales Patrick Roman Gut, about balancing efficiency and sustainability. We agree that you can still deliver on both sides.

DN: How do you think that marketing procurement professionals can help businesses to achieve brand goals?

KF: I think that procurement professionals need to be more educated about brand goals, because I think that often they operate within their own roles and responsibilities and don’t see what drives brand growth. They spend too much time on numbers and processes.

At Novartis, I’ve been looking to elevate the procurement role as an engine for growth, with media partners. I have a strong agency background, so this made sense for me.

DN: You’re about to take up a major marketing role with a global pharma company. Tell me about your plans.

KF: I’ve been blessed in my work: I’ve had experience with all channels in the marketing ecosystem. With agencies, in procurement, as an inhouse marketing executive, in global media. I think too many agencies see the world only through a media lens. It’s not the only component to build a brand. 

In the pharma sector, the most successful companies will be those who are at the top of the supply chain. For example, delivering gene therapies for transfusions. This is a highly science-driven area, it’s a more advanced than chemo- or radiotherapy. In this case, driving growth for the brand is not just about media and marketing but about the big opportunities to improve public health, how the brand can add value.

DN: Thank you very much for your time Katherine and good luck in your new role.

Katherine Freeley was born in Poland, where she observed the fall of communism. Katherine embraced the opportunities of capitalism, earned an MBA at New York Tech and worked at major media agencies before becoming Global Marketing Director at Colgate-Palmolive and Global Head of Media and Digital Operations and Novartis. Most recently Freeley was appointed Head of Media Center of Excellence at Boehringer Ingelheim.

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