Ongoing battle against cancer

WHAT does a day in the life of a brand manager entail?

As a brand manager for oncology my job is to create awareness among oncologists of AstraZeneca's treatment options for breast, prostrate and lung cancer.

Part of this is providing support in terms of marketing material and news about developments in cancer treatments to sales representatives who visit these doctors.

I also make the advertising decisions on placing advertising in medical publications, setting up medical conferences for oncologists and compiling the brand plan for the year ahead.

Why did you decide on this career?

I'm essentially a people's person. I studied at the University of Pretoria and obtained my BCom Honours degree in human resources.

After studying I began working at the university in various departments. I ended up working for the Institute of Pathology at the University of Pretoria, managing the department from human resources and finance to logistical issues.

How did you get into this career?

Working at the university gave me a glimpse of the medical world - a background that later came in handy as a medical sales representative.

I joined AstraZeneca first as a member of the sales team and then became a brand manager in 2006.

What's challenging about the job?

This is a very competitive industry and all the pharmaceutical companies vie for the attention of the medical specialists we deal with.

These people are pressed for time and have high stress levels - so we have to navigate around their schedules and communicate with them in ways that add value to their practices.

What do you love most about your career?

As soon as I walk through the door and get greeted by the receptionist I'm alive and awake and feel fortunate and happy to be at work. I know that, indirectly, I'm helping patients through the work I do at AstraZeneca.

The company is working on more targeted treatments for cancer, especially lung cancer, which could potentially improve the quality of life for patients - it's wonderful to play a small part in this.

What type of person would make a success of this position?

A person must be creative and strategic. Creative, since they have to come up with innovative ideas and concepts around the products they're promoting. They also need a strategic, analytical mind to allocate budgets and plan months ahead.

What subjects do you need to pass in high school to be able to study towards this career?

One doesn't need to choose a specific set of subjects, but since you'll be working with budgets a good grasp of maths will be useful.

If you're interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry an interest in and good knowledge of science and biology is a plus.

What does one study at tertiary level to get into this career?

As you can see from my personal career path, I didn't go the traditional route to get into brand management, but a BCom Marketing degree would be advisable.