Commercializing a pharmaceutical asset in one country is hard enough. Doing it on a global scale, with multiple country differences, is exponentially more difficult.

In addition to the myriad activities that need to be considered, managed, and implemented with the launch of any drug, a global launch adds the complexity of coordinating efforts and balancing consistency across markets while also considering local environmental factors, regulations, expertise, and the need for some degree of customization. Add in time zone, language, and cultural differences from location to location, and it’s easy to understand why global launches can be daunting. Still, they are very much achievable with forethought and planning.

Operationally, one of the biggest challenges our global clients face is coordinating efforts among global, regional (e.g., pan-European), and local levels of the organization. Everyone strives for collaboration, but there is often a “push and pull” across the various elements.

Countries often lament that “Global” — an overarching moniker that encompasses the team, strategy, and location — does not understand the nuances specific to their market. Meanwhile, Global becomes frustrated that the countries do not accept their support, guidance, and frameworks and instead choose to “go rogue.” If there is a regional layer in place, they are often caught in the middle.

Global Consistency vs. Local Customization

While Global strives to create consistency across the various markets to amplify the impact and build an international brand, the countries want to ensure that the product they are launching or strategy they are implementing is fully tailored to the needs of their market. All players strive to do the right thing, but the difference in perspective and focus can cause tension, inefficiencies, and redundancy.

In anticipation of this dynamic, we advise our clients to begin by assessing and clearly articulating how the various roles and responsibilities will be shared across the geographies. This allows for better collaboration, faster decision-making, and the efficient use of resources. There is no one-size-fits-all answer here; the level of Global vs. local control is subject to organizational culture and will vary across companies.

For example, in a highly centralized company, the global organization controls most of the content development and decision-making, and the countries are mainly responsible for implementation, acting almost in a distributor model. Conversely, in a highly decentralized organization, there may be limited global guidance, with countries operating nearly autonomously in the launch and commercialization of a product. Clarifying which type of leadership structure exists early in the process is a great start.

Regardless of where a company falls along the centralization continuum (most land somewhere in the middle), alignment is critical so clear expectations and roles can be established, people and groups can be aware of their respective scope, and all can collaborate effectively.

In the example of a new product launch, a critical part of the process is to outline which activities will be led at the global level (e.g., proprietary and non-proprietary naming, global pricing strategy, global positioning, TPP, forecast), which activities will be shared (e.g., brand plan, value proposition, strategic imperatives), and which activities will be owned by the countries (e.g., customer segmentation, go-to-market planning, collateral customization, and launch plan implementation).

Each Initiative Is Different

Once the overall corporate approach to global and local coordination is determined, it is important to have more specific discussions as they relate to each initiative, especially if that initiative is a full-scale launch.

At the start of brand or launch planning for a new product or program, we recommend holding a cross-functional, cross-geographic planning workshop in which roles and responsibilities are specified (using a RACI model — Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed — or similar).

This framework should be very tactical and detailed, covering the gamut of commercialization activities. Upfront alignment on these and related topics will not only maximize efficiency and use of resources but will also remove the need for future one-off decisions at multiple points along the commercialization pathway.

Communication Is Paramount

Of course, the human element is what makes all this work (or not); its value can’t be overstated. Having the most robust RACI in the world is not a replacement for people actually talking to one another.

So, it’s essential that the channels of communication (and tools in support of them) are well-established, remain open between global and local, and that the spirit of collaboration pervades the entire effort.

We strongly recommend frequent joint meetings and informal phone calls and Zooms to double-check on global data or research that can be leveraged; to confirm assumptions about local market conditions; or simply to cut through the organizational barriers and connect on a personal level. Assigning one person to be an ambassador for cross-team communication can help navigate the geographic friction that often exists. In addition, more formal quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with the countries enable Global to understand the local experience and performance and provide direction based on observations in other markets.

Another best practice is for markets (countries) to connect directly to share insights and approaches with one another. Global can facilitate these interactions so that earlier launch markets can guide those countries that are commercializing later based on their experiences. This is especially valuable for countries that were not part of the global planning process.

Strong communication goes a long way in maintaining momentum and minimizing misunderstanding as the pressure invariably increases on the road to launch and successful commercialization.

Challenging but Rewarding

We must change the mindset of viewing global commercialization as frustrating and difficult to instead focus on the enormous opportunity it offers for learning and collaboration and, most importantly, the benefit it provides to a broad set of patients who gain access to important treatments.

The reward of partnering with colleagues from around the world to orchestrate a synchronized product launch is immense. With solid planning, guidance, and communication, excellent global commercialization is a very realizable goal.