Interview – Katherin Awad, Head of Marketing (consultant), iSTAR Medical

Katherin Awad Headshot BWKatherin is an international executive in the Medical Device industry with 13 years of experience in International Marketing based in Belgium, France and now in the Gold Coast, Australia, for various-sized companies from start-up to billion-dollar market leaders. Katherin’s functional skills include up and down-stream marketing, strategy, brand management, communications, sales, and cross-functional areas such as medical marketing, training and reimbursement in the fields of ophthalmology, interventional cardiology, orthopaedics, and vascular surgery. Katherin began her career in information technology in which she worked in Sydney for 6 years, having graduated with High Distinction from the prestigious Co-op scholarship program, Business IT, at the UNSW. Katherin continued her studies obtaining an MBA with Distinction from world-renowned INSEAD (France & Singapore), and subsequently changed her career to apply her digital and management skills to a marketing healthcare environment, based in Brussels (Belgium) followed by Paris (France).


Q: As a marketing professional, what do you enjoy most about your role in the industry?

A: Marketing in the healthcare industry, particularly in the specialised Medical Device sector, attracts me because of the need to build relationships with intelligent medical doctors and specialists in order to promote a product. We continually work with customers (physicians) who provide feedback and work with us to develop the best product possible for patients, in order to change and save lives. In this sector, we may start with a marketing “story”, but evidence is soon required to back it up, and so marketing works closely with the clinical team in order to create a message that is true to the product and that we know works. In this sector, the customer works closely with marketing and clinical to research the product and then promote it as a treatment for patients – it’s nice to have the customer as a partner in promoting your own product!


Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face or have faced as a marketing leader?

A: In this sector, geography plays a large role in determining marketing strategy and even the possibility of business development within a market. Often it is necessary, particularly between Europe and the US, to have a different marketing strategy and approach to each market. Regulatory issues and reimbursement also constrain what can be said and sold in various markets, and it is very important for the marketing team to work closely with the regulatory team when determining strategy and messaging.

In addition, training with limited people resources is always a challenge with a medical device, very different from a pharmaceutical pill. Creativity in determining training plans, access to physicians in different geographies, and creation of resources to support physician training and measuring the success of that training has always been challenging, particularly with new and innovative products that don’t work the same as products currently on the market.


Q: Since being in the industry what notable changes have you encountered (positive or negative)?

A: Social media has become a strong channel for communicating company and product news, and for creating visibility and awareness to not only customers, but also patients, investors, future employees and other stakeholders. The medical industry may have been slower to uptake this channel, but there has been a pull from the customer-side to learn more about products, results, and clinical cases in different ways. The growth of YouTube and similar sites as a medium for training and education has been very valuable, and the power of comments made on Twitter from world-renowned physicians and surgeons is far more accessible, valuable, and cannot be ignored.


Q: How do you maintain success and company growth with the rapid changes in customer expectations and new technologies?

A: In the medical industry, continuous innovation is compulsory. The next few iterations of a product must always be planned and worked on, even while the first iteration is being launched. Mergers and acquisitions and the rise (and fall) of products have greatly shaped the industry, and can bring a market-leader to its knees or boost an unknown player into market-leader status. Being in touch with customer needs, comments, and suggestions is paramount to applying relevant evolutions to products, and if ignored could cost the company a product’s success. Effective training within this sector is also critical, because misuse of a product could cause adverse events which could produce so much bad publicity that it could kill the sales of the product, or even worse, cause it to be recalled/withdrawn from the market, as has been recently seen with a competitive product in the current space I am working in.