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Left to right: Hameed Hirani, Melanie Chuen, Emily Todd, Ankita Baxi and Terri Petmezas

By Ankita Baxi

“It’s here!”

Our team captain excitedly included that message while forwarding us the case for Kellogg’s Annual Healthcare and Biotech Case Competition. As we all read the topic, we started to share a flurry of ideas, opinions and observations over email.

The topic of the case was whether direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing is bad for society and whether it should be banned. DTC marketing has many shades of gray and impacts multiple stakeholders. It spurs a debate about the need for patients to be better informed, the position health care providers should play in prescribing decisions and how pharmaceutical marketing budgets impact drug prices.

This was a fairly complex problem to tackle. In the week we had to put together our point of view and presentation, many aspects of our team experience and approach became key drivers for success in the competition:

An openness to allow for an evolution of ideas

Early on in the process, we agreed on a collective point of view and divided up our research to ensure our point of view would be well supported. However, midway through the week, an interview with an industry expert required us to re-work our solution. It was one of our favorite meetings during the case competition – everyone was energized to find the right solution rather than fight for their individual opinion. In this conversation we iterated on our opinion and discussed a variety of approaches. Often, we would have a “devil’s advocate” to consider the issue from the perspective of all key stakeholders, including the judges, who were executives from a pharmaceutical company. This holistic process enabled us to be fully confident in the solution we were putting forward.

Excitement to debate a complex topic

The case competition has been one of my favorite team experiences at Kellogg. As I reflected on why, I realized that it was because we were a group that came together and truly enjoyed debating and discussing these complex issues. Our group was one with diverse background in the healthcare space that allowed for rich and deep conversations. The issues we debated are not necessarily ones that we would discuss in regular conversation and this presented an opportunity to learn about my team’s opinions and their experiences (both personal and professional) and how that impacted their perspective on the issue. A second piece of this was that our topic was incredibly salient in the current healthcare landscape and as such, inspired in us an excitement to be part of a relevant national conversation.

Giving and receiving feedback within our team

Each team member did an amazing job of giving and receiving feedback. I noticed that the feedback was delivered in a way to maximize team performance rather than to put another person on the team down. Those who received feedback were eager to learn and improve for the benefit of the team. Feedback is critical for a team to function well – in many instances feedback isn’t given. When it is given, it isn’t positioned in a thoughtful way that supports growth. This team experience demonstrated to me the power of positive, constructive feedback.

Our recommendation acknowledged that while DTC marketing has many benefits, its drawbacks are more widespread, impacting multiple stakeholders. It also took into account that patients consume information from different mediums.

We proposed that for DTC television marketing for any given drug, two-thirds of the marketing must be about disease awareness, while only one-third of the marketing could be branded. This enables patients to learn more about their disease state rather than jumping directly to a branded pharmaceutical product.

For online mediums, we proposed that marketing can be branded, but it must be better targeted (e.g. advertising can show up when patients search for their disease or symptoms but not on for example).

On the day of the competition, we were all huddled together in a room practicing our presentation. We agreed that we were very happy with our experience and our output, regardless of the outcome. It was icing on the cake that we won (though one of our judges did say he would violently oppose our proposal if it were enacted as legislation)!

We are all grateful for this amazing opportunity to tackle such a complex problem and the opportunity to meet and learn from students from other schools. The day of the competition, we met a variety of impressive students ranging from MD/MBAs to PhD candidates from schools across the world. It was a unique opportunity to expand our horizons and learn from one another.

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Ankita Baxi is a One-Year MBA student at Kellogg. Her prior experience includes consulting, specifically focused in consumer insights and marketing strategy in a variety of industries. After graduation she will be joining Bain’s Chicago office.