Many consumers have yet to recognize pharma's greatest gift: its ability to improve and save lives. That's because the public
doesn't hear about pharma's strengths and achievements—instead, it hears about skyrocketing drug prices, drug scandals, and
concerns over limited access to medications—all of which contribute to pharma's declining reputation. Despite the growing
consumer distrust and dislike for the industry, pharma has done little to communicate breakthrough treatments and other innovations
that may position the industry in a more favorable light.
Now pharma faces an uphill battle to repair its image. It must strive to change public perception as it did during the Clinton
the industry came under attack. As a result of the administration's effort to overhaul federal healthcare delivery, pharma
became a frequent and easy political target. But, pharma did not passively accept the criticism—companies actively came together
en masse to defend the industry's deep, rich history of innovation in both paid and free media campaigns. Pharma highlighted
the positive aspects of the industry and revealed how large research efforts led to a polio cure, how it was addressing a
rampant AIDS epidemic, and how drug prices supported research. These efforts worked. Throughout the '90s, many consumers began
to see pharma as a powerful force, capable of addressing, and even overcoming, the seemingly intransigent medical issues of
the day, such as AIDS, cancer, and chronic diseases.
Time to Collaborate
Pharma had earned a reprieve. Fast forward to present day, and the same concerns about drug access, safety, and affordability
are back with a vengeance. Even Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of PhRMA, agreed that companies need to take a more collaborative
approach to bettering their image. Earlier this year, he told Pharm Exec (March, 2005), "It's complicated, but if I can summarize it for you, it's to do what I can in collaboration with our member
companies to rescue and restore the reputation of what I consider national treasures—companies that produce the medicines
that keep us all alive."
Plenty of recent consumer research shows that consumers currently do not trust the industry to deliver unbiased health messages.
Their most visible concerns include:
• Safety problems for high-profile drugs
• Market questions about blockbuster drugs in the pipeline
• Pricing for drugs that slow the onset of AIDS
• Questions as to whether physicians are adequately educated before DTC advertising campaigns are launched
• Insurance and Medicare reimbursement for very expensive drugs.
Pharma needs to address these concerns as an industry. Big Pharma has proven that it can deliver state-of-the-art communications
initiatives behind dozens of specific, branded products coming to market. But, it must do more to support broader communications
initiatives that cut across all diseases and the industry as a whole. Because of economic reasons, many companies simply don't
have the marketing dollars to support both kinds of initiatives. Further, with so much riding on how physicians perceive branded
products, there is little money left over to explain pharmaceutical innovations and the marketing process to the ultimate
end user, the patient.
Address Patients' Concerns
Pharma must realize that patients can also influence prescribing behavior and serve as spokespeople for brands. But first,
pharma must help patients to look beyond high drug prices, sensationalized DTC advertising, and drug scandals. Pharma can
start to rebuild credibility by developing a thorough, well-organized campaign that cuts across the entire industry—and then
deliver it via paid and free media to the consumer.