A Spoonful of E-Medicine

Extranet helps drug company digest ad material.

Preparing the launch of a product can cause even the best marketers heartburn, what with the steady stream of stress from deadlines and from trying to coordinate advertising agencies.

Before even beginning to feel that pain at Johnson & Johnson-Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals Co., though, marketers sought prevention. As they were gearing up for the January launch of the joint ventures brand-new heartburn medication, Pepcid Complete, they decided to build an extranet to improve collaboration among marketing and advertising partners.

The site started in October as a secure spot on the Internet where the partners could share a wide range of creative collateral, from print ads to video spots. But with time and money savings and the electric jolt it gave to creativity, the extranet Rx proved far too good to stop there; indeed, the extranet quickly expanded to become the central meeting place for 12 collaborating organizations inside and outside the company, said Jim Gabriele, Pepcid product manager at Johnson & Johnson-Merck, in Fort Washington, Pa., a joint venture of pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co.

So far, Gabriele estimates that the extranet has saved the company $200,000 in travel expenses, not to mention time.

For example, timelines for processes such as developing a coupon promotion, which can take three weeks, were cut by one-third. And heres proof that extranet technology can be just what the return-on-investment doctor ordered: It cost less than $10,000.

An added side effect was that the extranet transformed what would normally have been a jousting match for agency fees into a team of creative talent. "It became a place where ideas began to flow among our agency partners," Gabriele said. "Thats really unusual in a world where most of the time, theyre trying to eat each others lunch from a fees perspective."

Collaboration, after all, is one of e-businesss biggest buzzwords. The Internet is supposed to help companies work more closely with partners on everything from designing products to coordinating the supply chain, and, as Johnson & Johnson-Merck learned, the planning and execution of an advertising and marketing campaign is no different.

Today, however, collaborating online on marketing campaigns is largely informal at most companies, where groups of employees may occasionally turn to a desktop application such as Microsoft Corp.s NetMeeting or a Web service to collaborate, said Daniel Rasmus, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. Most corporations, instead, focus formal Web-based collaboration efforts on supply chains and product design. But with all the benefits that online collaboration can bring to areas such as marketing, Rasmus advises companies to start finding ways to more broadly incorporate the technology—whether through a private extranet, hosted Web applications or e-marketplaces.

Marketers said they were feeling queasy about the release of Pepcid Complete because such new products are the underpinnings of Johnson & Johnson-Merck. The joint venture was formed in 1989 to mass-market prescription drugs from Merck that gained approval for sale to consumers over the counter.

To get the product out the door, the venture put together a team that included an internal group of about five marketers and 20 more people from outside agencies. Early on, the Pepcid Complete team knew it needed a new way to pull everyone together. In October, marketing managers Rosalinda Markels and Lisa Berry suggested the extranet. Within two weeks, it was custom-developed by one of the agency partners, Thomas J. Paul, of Philadelphia. Gabriele declined to name the company that hosts the site, which the partners can access through any standard Web browser using a secure user name and a password.

Of course, the heart of any campaign is the slogan and images that promote it. Where agencies would normally propose their own slogans and visuals for the brand independently, the extranet opened the door for them to work together. Pepcid Completes main message—that it "works in seconds and lasts for hours"—and the visuals to support it, were the result of such collaboration.

But the benefits of collaboration havent stopped there. Chris Heye, Johnson & Johnson-Mercks director of e-business, has begun to investigate ways to expand the Pepcid Complete extranet model throughout the company. The marketing teams for at least three brands have developed or are planning extranets with marketing partners, Heye said.

Even after the products launch, the site is alive and well. Weekly conference calls continue, and the extranet serves as a common work space where an agency can present, for example, a 30-second TV spot to the group online. "Its become a true business communications tool," Gabriele said.

And in the frenetic world of marketing, the bottom line is this: If something avoids miscommunication, pour your enterprise a spoonful, because its also going to prevent ulcers.