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."