But from the vantage point of those attending Pharmaceutical Executive's roundtable in New York, healthcare PR may not only have laid the strategic groundwork for many of today's most familiar pharma marketing tactics, it may also soon be recognized as the key driver of pharma marketing.
Last December, PE brought together more than two dozen PR healthcare leaders, setting the stage for select agency executives to tackle the issues that have kept PR in the shadows of its more extroverted marketing cousins-DTC advertising and professional promotions. All participants have one thing in common: They agree that their time behind the scenes is over and that it is up to them to raise awareness of public relations' value to pharma-its impact on sales, corporate image, and the industry's reputation.When Wayne Koberstein, PE's editor-in-chief and roundtable moderator, introduces the day's theme-"Should public relations be the driver, navigator, or passenger of pharma marketing?"-Nancy Turett, president and global director of Edelman Health, asks, "Are those our only choices?"
The Future of Pharma As the pharma industry accelerates its integration of R&D and marketing functions, many employees find themselves forced to acquire the skills for both areas. According to the roundtable's keynote speaker, Patricia Pesanello, PwC Consulting's director of global pharmaceutical practice, PR professionals have multitasked all along and will continue to drive integration of those and other functions. Despite that prediction, she says companies still have a hard time grasping PR's value: "Public relations is starting to track and pinpoint what its contributions are, and they correlate with an indicator of success-usually some form of market share or sales." Pesanello cites research showing healthcare public relations' traditional functions and specialty areas that support pharma's overall marketing and sales goals. Those include:
"Those roles are complementary," she says. "In the last few years, as the industry has learned how to manage direct-to-consumer advertising and promotions, it has not only become more skilled, but it has also recognized the role of public relations."
She says, "In at least one company, when it was time to do DTC, they turned to their in-house public relations, asking, 'How do we reach out to the public and the patient-the consumer? You, within the company, have the greatest expertise for reaching that segment.' And what evolved was a centralized model." (See "Forces Shaping Pharma's Future.")
Although the decentralized model still dominates, Pesanello claims that pharma companies have begun to recognize the value of a center of excellence and that some of the skills involved in consumer outreach "require coordination or centralization across product teams. In 1998??1999, it really didn't matter what mode was used. What mattered was how well you could operate, how well you could bring perspectives together to build and execute the plans."
But the proliferation of e-business brought interactivity and thus a better understanding of the many audiences relevant to pharma. That made relationship marketing-two-way communications with those audiences and various market segments-more important. Pesanello cites the Hispanic community as a good example of a market segment that benefited from tactics that were more closely related to PR than traditional product marketing. She attributes that to the globalization of DTC advertising and product promotion.
Pesanello also notes that companies' sharpened focus on measurability and ROI is affecting the entire marketing mix, including DTC advertising, professional sales forces, and public relations-although PR's biggest problem has been to