By Rob Darracott
Bayer’s new UK headquarters building on the outskirts of Reading shines brightly as the dusk settles on the industrial park close to the M4. Officially opened by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this year, it’s modern, open-plan, functional. The corporate mission ‘Science for a better life’ reaches out into the gloom, next to the familiar logo. As part of its commitment to science, the company’s Baylab suite on the ground floor hosts school classes daily. This free laboratory offers state of the art equipment, intriguing experiments, and the chance to use innovative ideas to solve tasks and develop solutions.
Oya Canbas, now one year into her role as Head of Bayer Consumer Health in the UK and Ireland, reflects on the company’s recent investment in another development commitment, this time for its community pharmacy customers: the Business Fit for the Future (BFFF) programme, which was launched at the Pharmacy Show.
“Pharmacy is a strategic pillar for Bayer Consumer Health. We have been looking at the need to establish a longer term platform to work with the pharmacist,” Ms Canbas says. The programme is the result of talking to pharmacists about what they felt they needed. “We’ve looked at ourselves and there is a lot of information we have that can help the industry. Obviously the pharmacist is clinically very equipped, so we are trying to give them more day-to-day skills for running their business. They are under pressure and need to operate with a more profitable mindset – that requires them to change.”
Oya describes BFFF as an umbrella. “It’s very new. We launched it only a few weeks ago but already we have received very positive feedback on how it meets pharmacists’ needs and how valuable the content is. It’s built on a lot of learning we’ve had in understanding pharmacy shoppers and what they are after. The critical shopper segmentation we came up with is very practical for the pharmacist to use,” she says.
“These insights are not something pharmacy teams have necessarily had before and it’s so applicable to their day-to-day environment. We are now looking at how we build on the feedback and expand the programme further.”
The initial research identified a lack of confidence in retail skills. “[Pharmacists] are very confident on the technical content when it comes to asking questions and coming up with a recommendation, but this tool is helping them to run their business. Lots of tips they can take into their day.” The programme is heavy with examples and illustrations. “You need to show how this can help them build their business,” Oya says. Pharmacists have such a great footfall, people come in every day with an objective. If they [pharmacists] can get what’s behind that, then they can not only recommend the right product, they can recommend a solution to a problem. We are trying to give them the confidence so that by asking a couple of questions they can really get a true understanding of the patient’s needs, and tailor their recommendations.”
It seems clear that, even at this early stage, the launch package will not be a one off. “We have a long term strategic plan, that’s why we call it a platform. There is going to be more content coming in 2019. It’s too early to say what specific topic we are going to cover next, but there will be a couple of new modules that we will be launching across next year.” Making better use of space, and linking an understanding of consumer segmentation to proving better solutions are under consideration.
Ms Canbas won’t put a figure on the investment the BFFF programme represents. “It is such a strategic part of our thinking, rather than give you a number I just want to say that it is significant for us. I believe in it. I come from a country where pharmacy was the only channel to build a business on. I know the importance of the healthcare professional, the pharmacist. Especially now in the UK their role is becoming even more important. That is why we thought it was the right time for us to make that investment, and we do see this as important for the future of our business and the future of self care in the UK.”
Oya suggests the programme needs to be seen in a wider context. “This is just one aspect of a wider pharmacy engagement programme,” she says. “Clearly, a lot of our brands rely on pharmacist recommendation. Brands like Canesten, Diprobase, Rennie. There is brand training and category training that we believe is critical, and then we are overarching it with BFFF which is giving the business acumen.”
What will represent success? “If the pharmacist feels confident when running their business in today’s challenging environment, and adapts their ways to reach their consumers and patients in ways more relevant to today’s world, then that for us the critical success factor. We’re measuring ourselves against the reach and the adoption of the training, it’s not just about how many people have finished the training, but how this has created an impact on their business. We would like to see that as the testimony of the programme. We want to quantify that, so we can roll it out further.”
The current moves by the NHS to push common conditions over to supported self care are an opportunity. “OTC overall is still a big opportunity for pharmacy, ” Oya says. There are consumers out there who should be benefitting from the more preventative products. “It’s very much a theme of the BFFF programme that if the pharmacist wants to keep a business profitable, a big part of it is understanding the needs of that consumer so that they can confidently recommend something that they haven’t been asked for. It’s not just ‘here I need this’, it’s asking a few more questions to recommend an array of products that a consumer will benefit from.”
Maintainance or prevention is a big opportunity, she says. “Whether it’s a new product, or an existing product that’s been out there for some time, it’s not just a prescription, but beyond that. If they understand consumers’ needs, they can come up with good solutions that makes the relationship between the pharmacist and the consumer. It drives loyalty. A more credible recommendation; it’s a win win.”
Oya Canbas was born in South Africa, but grew up in Turkey. She first moved to the UK with Gillette in 2002, but returned to Turkey after a spell in consumer marketing in Russia. She joined Bayer as Head of Consumer Health in Turkey in 2015 before switching to the UK last year. She says that although the job title is the same, the UK was a big step up. “It’s a very different responsibility, because the environment is so different. But I am a very passionate learner. I’ve moved around in my previous roles in different parts of the world, but coming and leading an organisation is a very different experience.”
She sets out the company’s strategy. “Our overall desire is to improve our consumers’ everyday health and the business strategy is centred around executional excellence. We have great products that are very much attuned to the needs of consumers, we just need to get them in their hands. Obviously, we are part of a global strategy which is very much in line with this; it’s about understanding the needs, the unmet needs and coming up with solutions, propositions, products, and communications that meets those needs. We talk sometimes about the physical availability and the mental availability of our products. That’s key to driving the different brands we have.”
Within the Bayer mission to drive “science for a better life”, the Consumer Health vision is much more about everyday health. “We have a specific mission for Bayer Consumer Health globally which is about empowering consumers to transform their everyday health,” Oya says. “Within that we look at what’s right for the UK and Ireland. The company believes in winning in different markets, and that requires you to have the right local solution.”
The UK is a very important market. Legacy Bayer brands that have been in the market for some time present a challenge. “To keep them fresh you need to innovate, to bring new solutions, whether it’s a new service, a new flavour, a new format.” At the same time, the UK’s mature market offers experience the rest of the world can use. “We have a really good insights team here. Digital transformation is happening fast in the UK, so we are a great learning ground for the company, whether it’s a consumer path to purchase, whether it’s some of the category understanding. We drive a lot of that as the UK,” Oya says.
There does not appear to be any resting on laurels. Oya says: “Our position in the UK market may not be in the top three, but we have the ambition to get there. We’re in that place globally.” Learning from elsewhere is part of the solution for the UK too. “The pharmacy engagement programme is a good example of that. We are the partner generally for the channel globally and there is a lot of knowledge we can get in forming the next wave of the programme.”
As a major market for the consumer medicines industry, the UK is important for Bayer, particularly as last year the Consumer Health Division’s performance was pulled down by reverses in China and the US. “Obviously we would like a healthier US business and China business but I think UK and Ireland are in a better place to attract more investment because our results have been quite robust here,” Oya says.
You cannot talk about Bayer without talking about Canesten. “It’s our flagship brand,” Oya says, “it’s that important.” She explains: “We are about empowering women to get comfortable with their own skin. That’s a big statement, and that’s why we’ve been looking for ways within intimate health to expand the brand into new solutions. Every day more and more women trust the brand. They may trust the brand for one particular area, so when they see us offering solutions in a broader spectrum of things, that trust is paying off.”
Empowerment clearly means providing information. “We have a great web portal for Canesten, where women can turn to us for information every day. I am very proud of that,” Oya says. She recognises that providing information in the pharmacy environment is not always easy. “It’s an intimate topic. A lot of our training into pharmacy is about how pharmacists can talk confidently to women.”
Bayer is currently investing heavily in information about bacterial vaginosis (BV). “A lot of women have that issue, but are not aware of it, so how do we talk about it and educate women about the condition because there are great solutions out there. They can self test, they can be directed to a solution. That is what Canesten offers, because it is trusted by women for years.” The UK is Canesten’s biggest world market; other countries in a different stage of the brand’s lifecycle are learning from the experiences here.
As for keeping the brand fresh? “There are ways. If we are talking about giving confidence to women to be comfortable with their skin, we need to reach younger women, to communicate with them in their own environment. We are finding that young women don’t know enough about their bodies; there’s a whole education piece there. Our job is to put that on their agenda, so when they do come into contact with a problem – one in two will have thrush, one in three will have BV – they know Canesten is a brand they can trust. That’s why our website is so important. It’s an absolute hub of information that covers everything from intimate hygiene to the menopause. We’ve got everything from 16-64 covered.”
The opportunity represented by self care in the current climate has not gone unnoticed. Ms Canbas says she is sensitive to the current challenges facing pharmacy. “While we recognise that the NHS needs to make savings, at the same time the key benefits from a patient point of view need to be ensured. We want a comprehensive self care strategy, rather than a reactive approach. We know it will help with the budget.”
Oya has recently been elected as one of two vice-presidents of the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), the trade body for the consumer medicines industry. A national self care strategy is a key policy aim for the association. Oya thinks politicians understand what self care is, but says: “It’s our job to bring it to life. We in PAGB have a great document to illustrate what self care can do, how it can help. But I do believe there is a need to put meat on the bone of what it can achieve in this context.”
As a company, Bayer used mid-November’s Self Care Week as a focus across the business, while its various corporate and brand social media feeds were pressed into service to support the national cause. The Consumer Health Division is firmly in the lead. “Because it’s such a part of what we do, we push it to the max,” Oya says. “We have a big role as ambassadors within the organisation. Bringing initiatives into Self Care Week is a great opportunity for us to do a bit more in the building with our employees. We have a close connection with the health and wellbeing team here so we mobilise them too. The awareness week gives us an opportunity to focus, even though for us it’s a 52-weeks a year initiative.”
The history books are being checked, but Oya Canbas is probably the first female vice-president in PAGB history. Unsurprisingly, she’s looking forward to being actively involved. “With my role in PAGB and as Bayer Consumer Health lead, I’ll make use of any opportunity I find and I am committed to taking things forward. It’s about more action rather than talking now.” The official opening of the new building was one such occasion. “It gave us a great opportunity to interact with the leading people in this country.”
She’s planning on taking national representation at PAGB very seriously. “I had a similar responsibility back in Turkey. As one of the leading companies in this industry, I do believe it’s part of our job, not just for the business but to help shape the industry. I believe in our purpose, and that can only come to life if we work with the industry to make it happen. The foundations are strong, and it’s a great forum for the industry; a lot of the senior leaders are heavily engaged. When the opportunity came I said I was happy to step up.”
She recognises the recent moves by the NHS to reduce prescribing support for common conditions, but says this decision needs to be part of a bigger plan. “We do support self care in any way we can, empowering consumers to buy their own product, yes, but at the same time it needs to be about how we get the pharmacist to have the confidence to recommend.” There’s a place too for formal minor ailments schemes. “Some of those vulnerable social groups need to be able to benefit, while educating the rest of consumers to get the right OTC products. It’s both,” Oya says.
She comes back to the thinking behind the BFFF programme when thinking about how pharmacists can grasp the opportunity. “I firmly believe pharmacists are aware they have a huge role to play,” she says. “It’s a matter now of how quickly they can take this opportunity and run with it. How ready are they? How can they train their staff in these areas to be more confident? People are in the pharmacy already; they are collecting prescriptions, or they’ve got a specific need when they walk in the door. People want to take better care of themselves, they are open to recommendation, they are looking for that information themselves. What better opportunity than now to act on it.”
I ask whether she has some specific advice for pharmacists about how to meet the challenge. “Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. We are all bombarded with information. Have belief in your advice and your ability to help consumers find solutions. Confidence to me will unlock business success.”
We’re talking in a seismic week for the country, as politicians from both sides of the Brexit argument start to consider the Prime Minister’s deal. Bayer does no manufacturing in the UK. “We’re a European-based global business,” Oya says. “We are very much about all this not having any impact on either side, business or the consumer. We have been preparing for a while now in terms of the worst case scenarios, how quickly we can bring things into the country and serve consumers. There is a lot of uncertainty about how big the impact could be, but we are prepared.”
Finally, we come back to her personal journey, one that has recently seen Oya recognised in Turkey with a ‘Women to Watch’ leadership award. “I was very proud of this recognition of how people go beyond borders now. It was a great motivation to me to get that award for something I was going to do anyway. I was very happy to move with my family to the UK for this opportunity with Bayer Consumer Health. My family is loving it, and I’m loving it. Obviously culturally we are really enjoying it, there is so much to learn. The company is the same, the role is the same, but the environment is different. It’s very exciting; it keeps me going, opening a new chapter, a new page in my life.”