Avoid the many packaging hurdles facing pharma companies by streamlining labeling and artwork production. By Stephen Marshman, Business Development Director, SGK.

While packaging and labeling errors account for more than half of product recalls; the bar for pharmaceutical packaging is set much higher than other market sectors — and for good reason. When errors could potentially cost a life, the pressure for accuracy in the life sciences category is a priority. 

To avoid the many packaging hurdles facing pharma companies today and to streamline labeling and artwork production, follow the 5 steps below:

1. Find the right partner. Make sure you partner with a company who has done this before.

Using a third party provider to create your packaging artwork is not a particularly new concept. Lots of pharmaceutical companies, big and small, are already doing it and some have been doing it for years. That said, comparing the pharmaceutical industry with other industry sectors, the outsource market is still relatively immature and the number of specialist agencies providing this service isn’t large. 

The specific industry requirements for pharma does mean that the bar is set higher and there are even fewer artwork suppliers who have proved their capability by providing this service for multiple pharma companies. It's a big change and comes with risks. You don’t want to be working with an agency that is doing this for the first time!

2. Know your options. Look for cost savings beyond the obvious.

Pharma companies usually go about the process of looking at outsourcing as part of a procurement-led cost-reduction strategy. This makes perfect sense and while the internal head-count reductions are understandably front-of-mind, to not look beyond this can be a blinkered, somewhat limited approach. Often, if sourcing teams across the organisation can be more joined up, there are significant opportunities to be found by looking into adjacent areas such as print. Here there can be big savings made by eliminating duplication on the part of printers who are often performing (and charging for) their own pre-press activities. 

Over and above this, there are the bigger picture savings that can be gained by switching to a centralised, harmonised way of working with one or two external suppliers. This shift in model can drive huge efficiencies across the business in areas ranging from process simplification to streamlining materials and component formats. Sometimes harder to quantify, it’s these hidden costs that often yield the biggest savings of all.

3. Look to internal stakeholders. Recognise the importance of doing good internal communication can't be underestimated.

Due to the way sourcing projects work, especially those with sensitivities around areas such as redundancy, there is often a very small number of people in your organisation involved in the process until you have chosen your partner and announced the intention to outsource. This is a pivotal moment in the success of the project. Artwork touches multiple functions in an organisation and is likely to impact hundreds, if not thousands of your employees. 

When the switch is flicked and the project shifts from something a handful of people were aware of, to one that affects a large number of your people, getting the messaging right and making sure people can understand what you are doing and why, is critical. Clear, timely and appropriately targeted communication and good project management are as vital as any other factors of getting an implementation right.

4. Make the transition. Be realistic about the pace of change.

No one should think getting this right is easy. Companies actually get it wrong in very different ways. This is a major transformation of an essential business process. Trying to do it too quickly, to meet an arbitrary deadline or because it feels like the right amount of time, could be a disaster. No two organisations are alike but there will be factors around scale, complexity and organisational culture that will help you plan how to optimise your critical path and decide how you will phase an implementation. There may be business-critical factors that impact your timeline too. Just as potentially dangerous as moving too fast is making the transition overly drawn out. 

Being naturally risk averse – and there is certainly nothing wrong with that – some pharma companies will plan for a transition to be phased over many months or even years. This can also cause problems. The period of transition, or that time when you are effectively running two processes side by side, is one of uncertainty and sometimes a degree of duplication or even confusion. The optimal rate of change will be one that moves you to the desired future state as efficiently as possible, with all stakeholders aligned with the plan and without any compromise on risks.

5. Commit to success. Ensure the organisation is ready for the change to ensure success.

Outsourcing artwork should never be a box-ticking exercise. Your company shouldn’t do this because it helps meet a target that a senior executive set without them really understanding what making that change would entail. It can be a highly effective tool in helping unlock value, not just in the artwork process but across the end-to-end packaging supply chain. It can also be a powerful enabler that helps companies achieve a lot more than simply having their artwork created by a third party, rather than an in-house team. 

However, if key functions across the business don’t fully appreciate this larger opportunity and what it will take to deliver it, and deliver it well, it is highly likely that the project will either fail, or at the very least, create noise in your business throughout a protracted and disruptive transition. Getting this right can bring many business benefits to the organisation. Making sure that the company understands what these benefits are, and that the organisation is ready to commit the time and the resource to make it work, is critical to your success.

From brand artwork, to package inserts, to serialized codes, a pharma product that can’t fail demands processes that help you get everything right the first time. 

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