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A picture paints a thousand words. The year was 1986.  An idea flourished in the mind of Daryl Erickson, a sales representative covering Eastern Ontario. Fast forward 30 years ahead: Ashfield's Physicians Online service is now a staple in the pharmaceutical industry and the most reputable resource for brand marketing in Canada.

At the root of it all was a simple yet innovative question: What if physicians could order their samples over the phone? Mr Erickson, regularly making his sample drop visits to local practices, clearly saw the measurable waste generated by autoships and the growing gap between physician needs and samples accumulating in their offices. This concept needed to be reinvented and turned upside down: Physicians should be able to tell us when and what they needed, and the industry should service their key clients accordingly. With this, Physicians Hotline was born.

In its inception, the idea was so ground-breaking that it was laughed out of boardrooms. It was viewed with resistance, mostly as a direct competition to field teams, instead of a complementary marketing service optimizing sample usage by servicing white space physicians and increasing ROI. Driven by a vision and entrepreneurial spirit, Mr Erickson pursued his concept by presenting to key decision makers in the pharma industry. Through no small effort, he eventually onboarded enough early adopters to launch the first 1986 publication: A one-sided handout, with no pictures. Following this proof of concept, the program truly took off in the latter half of 1986, proposing 12 items, primarily oral contraceptives and dermatology products. Physicians caught on quickly and loved the process. By 1990, Physicians Hotline was being offered to 12K high prescribing physicians across Canada.

Soon enough, the team of the family-owned business grew to 5 employees, trailblazing the industry out of their first office located in Old Montreal. Mr Erickson’s two sons, Jason and Joel, also joined the movement in 1998, as part of the leadership team.  Gradually becoming part of the industry lexicon, the program continued to expand and evolve as the go-to solution for strategic brand marketing and compliant sample distribution. For brand managers, marketing innovators and senior decision makers alike, the program quickly distinguished itself as more than a simple sampling service. Rather, it was recognized as a partner unmatched in leveraging brand messaging and copy to convey a message, thereby building active client relationships through various trusted communication channels. Covering nearly all therapeutic areas, it matured from 3 to 160 listings and from 1 to 115 pages, which included RX and OTC products, medical devices, cosmetics, literature and patient assistance cards for over 80 companies. In 2012, Physicians Hotline modernized itself to become Physicians Online, although many still continue to call it by its original name today.

In 2017, ingenuity and vision continue to be major drivers behind the program’s reputation, energy and success.  Adjusting to the shape of the market, advancing technology and tighter regulatory compliance requirements, Physicians Online has since launched its web version (1998), a mobile version (2015) and speciality-driven targeting. It has also recently partnered with industry-leading distribution service providers to introduce ambient shipping solutions within its unique service offering. Remaining a true market leader, many have attempted to replicate the concept, but the added value of its best profiled industry database and targeting expertise continues to be unmatched. After all, imitation is in fact, the best form of flattery. As a partner of choice within the pharmaceutical industry, the team prides itself in its impactful sample management solutions and meaningful market intelligence, thereby supporting clients in their strategic decision making and goal achievement.

Celebrating a 30-year path, evolving from revolutionary idea to industry pillar, Physicians Online proudly continues to serve brands and healthcare practitioners alike, as the #1 strategic marketing vehicle in Canada.


Author: Jessica Gohier

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