How The Gig Economy Is Impacting The Life Sciences Industry

Originally published on It’s true that much has been written about the Gig Economy. From discussing whether it’s better for boomers than millennials to how it’s a a step up for workers in emerging markets to even what presidential candidates are saying about it. It’s also a truism that pharma often catches up later than other industries, like retail, to new trends in technology, marketing and other areas. Gregg Fisher is working to reverse that trend in the area of healthcare marketing and customer engagement, as life sciences firms navigate the change befalling their industry due to an explosion of digital technologies, declining access to physicians and empowered health consumers. Fisher’s company, The Stem, not only propels its clients forward in analyzing, strategizing and operationalizing better approaches, but it does it in a way that efficiently harnesses the best minds available. Traditional consulting companies staff projects by drawing on pools of internal resources and rely on a pyramid-shaped staffing model with a seasoned partner overseeing more junior staff. The Stem does it the other way around. Fisher’s “staff” is made up of a networked community of seasoned independent experts who are matched specifically to the needs of the project. They have an average experience level of 15+ years. The advantage is hands-on senior talent and a high degree of efficiency and flexibility in deploying that talent. Fisher explains, “One of the largest issues facing life sciences companies today is the lack of practical knowledge and experience to implement effective customer engagement strategies in a rapidly changing environment. As a result, only about 15% are satisfied with their digital programs. Our model offers clients access to a flexible, “on-demand” talent network that can immediately address this pain point. And we do it more efficiently than traditional firms.” As an example, The Stem recently deployed its “networked consulting” model to support a global pharmaceutical marketing team in the digital launch of a new psoriasis medicine. They assisted with strategy, media planning, analytics and management support. Says Marina Tarasova, former marketing leader at Celgene Corporation, “It’s helpful to have a strategic consulting partner who understands your business, can pull together a team with expertise on a given project that can scale up or down, and provide management support when many partners are involved. It’s like having expertise on demand ‒ traditional consulting or agency models don’t have the same types of structure or incentives set up. Fisher explains, “When you have an important customer engagement challenge, you often need more than a consultancy who can only sell you “in-house” capabilities. We work on a different model, selecting from a diverse network of professionals to integrate the specialized health customer engagement expertise demanded by each particular project – strategists, analysts, researchers, program managers, social media experts, big-data specialists, channel planners, among others.” The Stem is taking advantage of the growing number of independent consultants in the area of strategic consulting and marketing, members of the so-called growing “gig economy” in professional services, typically mid-career professionals who have opted for an independent life-style to scratch an entrepreneurial itch, to find better work-life balance or to apply their ample expertise following a layoff. According to a study by Katz and Kruger, freelancers grew from 10% of all U.S. employment in 2005 to 15.8% in 2016. In Europe, freelance numbers have increased by 45% from just under 6.2 million to 8.9 million in 2013, making them the fastest growing group in the EU labor market. The Stem offers successful independent consultants the possibility of applying their talent while securing a steady stream of innovative assignments and finding a more flexible approach to work than what is offered by traditional consultancies. Says Eric Harkrader, a U.S. digital project management expert who consults for one of The Stem’s Boston-based clients, “The Stem model allows me to excel in a challenging and interesting marketing role, but also allows me to balance that with the needs and wants of my personal life in a way that was never possible in an agency environment.” Hans Fredrik Gustaffson, a Paris-based member of The Stem network adds, “The Stem model has provided me a steady flow of interesting work, which has smoothed the variability in my income stream I used to experience as a freelancer.”

Stem consultants have tackled numerous customer engagement challenges for life sciences firms enabling more compelling patient and healthcare provider experiences. Examples include devising strategies for digitizing patient support programs, developing global digital strategies, guiding the development of omni-channel capabilities and managing complex pilots and campaigns. Typically, The Stem works as an extension of brand teams or digital centers of excellence helping to successfully strategize, plan and integrate activity across a diverse array of implementation partners. Says John Otero, former Medical Education lead at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson: “I know The Stem as both a client and a consultant. While at J&J, we retained them to complete a study on the future of digital medical education and I also consulted on an assignment for a major medical device company. Through both experiences, I witnessed the power of the networked model to assemble “A” team members to deliver results efficiently.” Across the spectrum, health and life sciences is an industry that is adapting to the new world of customer engagement in a number of ways. The ability to smoothly integrate relevant know-how and expertise is one of the biggest challenges holding the industry back. What Fisher is preaching is an effective and efficient means of doing just that by tapping into a valuable resource: the growing global community of independent consultants.

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