PhRMA Gets Its Own PR

Nov 01, 2002

Seeking to improve its image both inside and outside of the pharma industry, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) created a strategic communications and public affairs division and tapped market veteran Mark Merritt to head the venture.

In recent years, the advocacy association has occasionally found itself at odds with the members it represents, which has led to a rocky romance with the industry, a sentiment that PhRMA president Alan Holmer sought to change when he took over nearly six years ago. In a prepared statement, Holmer said the new division was created to better communicate the association's message about pharma companies' contributions to the public.

Repeated attempts to reach Merritt, who started his new job a week before presstime were unsuccessful. He will carry the title of senior vice-president.

"The pharma industry desperately needs a voice and PhRMA is that voice," says John Deats, senior vice-president of the New York public relations company PR21, which recently launched a healthcare division. Through no fault of its own, it seems that whenever people think of PhRMA, they think of lawsuits and loopholes."

Deats says the new division should "get ahead of issues instead of falling behind them," which has happened, he adds, because PhRMA wears many hats to please different industry segments.

"Sometimes it seems you never hear people say that something PhRMA did was 'great,' Deats remarks. "Instead, you hear that something's OK, or that it's terrible. But in a lot of ways, it's unrealistic to expect much more from such a group. So, this [creation of the new division] is clearly a step in the right direction."