The Power of Public Relations - Pharmaceutical Executive


The Power of Public Relations

PE Product Management

In the increasingly competitive global pharmaceutical marketplace, building successful brands is still the objective, but the rules have changed. Today, relationships and interactivity make all the difference, whether you are building a corporate brand, a divisional brand, or a product or service brand. Effective brand building now focuses on a brand’s credibility, advocacy, relationships, and experiences. Public relations, above all other marketing disciplines, has the versatility to influence each element and effectively care for a brand in a demanding marketplace.

Caring for a brand means reaching both the minds and the hearts of its stakeholders—investors, the media, consumers, and health professionals. The brand’s rational and emotional benefits combine to create its personality, which PR is ideally suited to define, communicate, and set apart from the competition. PR has unlimited possibilities available and the flexibility to turn on a dime.

The Rules Have Changed

Today, when companies send messages to their stakeholders, the stakeholders–– armed with cell phones, PDAs, and laptops––can reply back immediately. They also have continuing dialogue with the media, as evident in the proliferation of television call-in shows. Even traditional media, including the most venerable newspapers, have gone interactive. The result is an unprecedented media convergence of news, entertainment, and interaction in which all stakeholders have a voice.

The communications revolution has also crumbled the classic "pyramid of influence," replacing it with a dynamic sphere of cross influences. Under the old paradigm, companies tailored messages for experts, who then passed the information to other stakeholders. Within the sphere, however, messages zip instantaneously from stakeholder to stakeholder, often without expert interpretation or credibility. Because stakeholders influence each other and are all equally important, PMs must ensure they receive consistent messages.

Rethinking Relationships

As a result of instant communication, stakeholders demand a prompt response from the pharmaceutical companies that touch their lives. Marketing is no longer a monologue. As PMs create new brand relationships on the Internet, they must consider:

  • the fit between the brand and customer demographics and psychographics
  • the anticipated brand benefits—trust, involvement, engagement, and loyalty
  • how long the company has had a brand relationship with the particular customer group.

Relevant cause-related programs that appeal to users and encourage their participation build relationships. Brand users want to be personally involved with pharma companies, to emotionally bond with their products or services, and to interact with brand representatives. PMs can help make that happen through hotlines, exclusive-use Internet-based information, and archives. Surveys, e-mail, and focus groups can even turn them into de facto advisors. The most successful brands nurture budding relationships with frequent interaction, ensuring that users never feel taken for granted and that they tell their friends. The buzz created by word of mouth is a brand’s best endorsement.

Diversity of input and interaction with colleagues across multiple markets is any successful global PR program’s cornerstone. Everyone on the global marketing team must help develop the strategy, and traveling to see colleagues is money and time well invested. That face-to-face time bridges cultural differences, creates understanding, builds trust, and secures program buy-in.

The Internet also can engage users and deliver customized, current information. That interactivity is raising the bar for all other brand interactions: consumers, health professionals, and business partners now demand interactive communications with pharmaceutical companies.

Those heightened expectations present tremendous opportunities for brand builders. All pharmaceutical brands—corporate, divisional, product, and service—are intertwined and influence relationships with stakeholders.

Traditionally, many pharma companies promoted their product or service brands while keeping corporate and divisional brands in the shadows. Successful marketers now realize that corporate and divisional brands should be in the spotlight, building on one another and conveying consistent messages and positioning to multiple stakeholders. If they follow that path, sales will skyrocket.

The Core of Brand-Building PR

Building awareness and credibility for product or service brands is the backbone of most pharmaceutical PR programs. To accomplish that, education and advocacy are essential.

Consumer health education is direct-to-consumer public relations. Everyone knows advertising can build awareness, but true consumer education takes much more than a 30-second spot or a single magazine ad. PR can move stakeholders beyond simple awareness to a thorough understanding of health topics and can communicate even complex health issues effectively and credibly.

Public relations creates brand credibility by involving advocacy groups, the media, and health professionals. PR messages educate consumers about the product, service, or health issue and avoid overt advertising promotion. Brands are best served by realistic promises of product performance and by respect for consumers’ intelligence and desire for knowledge.

Educating consumers directly encourages dialogue between patients and their doctors. Address that interdependent relationship by sharing educational program details with health professionals.

Teachable moments—opportunities to educate when consumers are especially receptive—occur throughout the year. Holidays, special days or weeks, breaking health-related news, and health milestone anniversaries are all educational opportunities. If one doesn’t exist, create it. Some very effective educational programs have been built around newly designated days or weeks. The best PR programs prepare for teachable moments but stay nimble enough to "seize the day."

Advocacy Development

Strong, long-term alliances with advocacy groups make the difference between just another medication on the pharmacist’s shelf and a blockbuster product that changes the way people view and manage their health. Brand goals often overlap with consumer, government, and professional goals, creating the potential for mutually beneficial relationships. Those alliances can lend the brand a credible scientific voice, establish consistent messages, provide additional legitimacy, build brand or disease awareness, and even help defuse crisis situations.

The first step in building strong health alliances is to identify potential stakeholders and search for common goals. Consider stakeholder interests first, explore opportunities for collaboration, and work together, quid pro quo. When a partnership is well established, network partners among each other. In the end, you’ll surround yourself with a web of interaction that benefits all parties and positions your brand at the center.

Issue and Disease Awareness

PR gives meaning to health issues and disease states by interpreting scientific jargon for the media and consumers, packaging it to educate and motivate. Medical research is delivering astounding new treatments for previously untreatable conditions, and PR ensures that those medical miracles enter a receptive market by publicizing disease education months or years before product launch. PR can blaze trails to select communities or worldwide audiences.

Approval, Launch, and Beyond

Regulatory approval and product launches are opportunities to tell stakeholders about a brand’s benefits, but building a powerhouse brand requires a comprehensive PR program that begins long before a product’s approval and continues throughout its life cycle. Along the way, two tactics are particularly effective: medical conferences and advisory boards.

Major medical conferences bring together important audiences—top media, influential physicians, and experts. Make the most of medical conference opportunities.

  • Identify leading speakers and booking venues compatible with Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education guidelines well in advance.
  • Gather compelling brand information that will attract participant attention.
  • Differentiate your brand events’ content and approach.
  • Establish strong communication with conference organizers and the media before and during the conference.
  • Listen to and learn from stakeholders.

An advisory board is much more than a list of impressive names on your letterhead. It adds credibility to your brand and identifies and helps you prepare for important issues. Board members serve as brand spokespeople and ensure the information you distribute is accurate. Advisors can be your most ardent advocates.

Revitalizing Products

Today’s competitive marketplace and prolific pipelines ensure that even a successful brand cannot rest on its laurels. Keeping your brand competitive and relevant requires energy, creativity, time, and resources—the same investments you make for a product launch. The first step is to assess what, if anything, has changed about a brand’s image or positioning, the competitive environment, and stakeholder attitudes and interests. With that assessment in hand, consider the following PR ideas to showcase the brand from a new perspective:

  • Be a trendsetter. Capitalize on people’s fascination with the new by linking an established brand to a current trend in sports, celebrities, or art.
  • Showcase the brand. Celebrate an anniversary or tie it to a societal, cultural, or business milestone.
  • What’s new makes news. Spotlight something new about your brand, whether it’s a clinical study, a cause-related program, or a consumer-education campaign.
  • Don’t limit your thinking. Look outside the health arena for inspiration. Good ideas can appear where you least expect them.

The Ultimate Health Education Platform

The most recent addition to the PR health-education arsenal is the Internet, and it’s a versatile weapon—as precise as a rifle or as broad as a shotgun. Internet health sites that personalize education and build sustainable relationships with stakeholders are just one element of a complete online PR strategy. Permission marketing, reciprocal links, microsites, sponsored content, viral marketing, and e-publicity are other tools to make your site a real brand builder.

The best brand sites are always open for business. A strategic year-round editorial calendar ensures that the site provides something for everyone at every visit. What stakeholders want and how they want it determines the health site’s content, which, in turn, dictates the design. A well managed, user-oriented site is an inviting, dynamic resource for your brand’s most important audience.

The Corporate PR Tool Kit

Some health companies focus almost exclusively on their product or service brands and fail to develop a corporate brand identity. Corporate PR creates a nurturing environment in which product marketing can thrive. The product brand and the corporate brand are interdependent. Use the following PR tools to help maximize that interdependence:

Corporate affairs and corporate brand management. Every stakeholder is a consumer and a potential voice for—or against—your brand. Branding, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If you do not define your corporate brand, your competition will.

Mergers and acquisitions. When healthcare companies join forces, communication is critical. Identify key constituencies and keep them in the company information loop. Consider past feedback and address client or employee grievances. Bumps in the road are inevitable; anticipate and prepare for likely crises. Establish a new structure quickly, adopt a new corporate identity, and communicate with stakeholders, the media, and the public as soon as possible.

Investor and business communications. Current and potential investors and stockholders warrant special attention. If they understand a company’s actions and see regular, effective corporate marketing, they will better interpret quarterly and annual reports. Business media are interested not only in a brand’s promotion but also in its overall image, how that image has changed, and how that change will affect profitability. Use PR to position your corporation and communicate consistent, targeted messages.

Advertorials. Paid communications can examine important health issues and communicate the company’s point of view without interference. PR professionals can develop copy to address even the most sensitive issues in a straightforward, compelling, and objective way.

R&D communications. Pharma companies must continually communicate their R&D departments’ scientific advances to maintain the interest and support of investors and business and medical experts. PR crafts and delivers those key R&D messages and promotes your product pipeline.

Issue preparedness and crisis management. Thanks to the Internet, nonstop news coverage, and instantaneous worldwide communication, PMs no longer have a grace period for deciding how to manage a crisis—they must respond immediately after, if not before, a crisis breaks. Using the latest communications technology, public relations keeps crisis response ahead of the curve and delivers your side of the story to internal and external audiences, including reporters and analysts.

Real-time Web sites, password-protected intranet dark sites for critical stakeholders, and corporate news channels work for you in a crisis.

Public affairs. Empowered consumers expect government to keep pace with their concerns and demands. Although many companies view the government as a regulatory quagmire, it offers an opportunity to advance pharma marketing goals. Putting a therapeutic advance and a policy imperative together creates a captive audience. The government plays a key role throughout each product’s life cycle.

Consequently, public affairs is important during product development and pre-approval trials, when application has been made, during regulatory review, as reimbursement is being considered, at product approval and launch, during subsequent marketing phases, and when a patent is threatened. Policy makers are people, too. As public affairs programs develop, consider the individual members of the government rather than the government as a whole. Just like the constituents they serve, every member of the government, every regulator, and every policy influencer is a health care consumer. Your messages to them should resonate with their personal experiences in the healthcare system.

Employee relations. Employees should be advocates for their company. They are an important audience for your corporate messages. Employees represent the company to friends, family, and business contacts. The messages they deliver must echo those of your corporation. Harness that often overlooked army of advocates and put them to work to promote your corporation and its brands.

PR and the Health Professional

The medical profession is influenced by the same communications convergence that affects their patients. Professionals receive messages from all directions, and PR is playing an increasingly important role in ensuring those messages are accurate and consistent.

Medical education (ME) and PR share a dependence on credible content, so it makes sense for the two disciplines to work together. ME is involved at the early stages of a product’s development, and PR supports clinical trial recruitment, communicates data to the investment community, and educates consumers about medical conditions.

Difficulty recruiting patients for clinical trials frequently delays product development. PR accelerates enrollment by spreading the news about groundbreaking clinical trials to patients who can benefit from improved treatments. PR uses traditional methods and the Internet to describe the importance of clinical trials and to accurately portray participation benefits and risks. That kind of communication has resulted in patient self-referral and much larger clinical trial populations.

Although worldwide regulatory bodies carefully regulate premarketing communications, scientific exchange about medication use is allowed among health professionals. Clinical studies that have been published or presented at medical meetings are one valuable vehicle. Carefully written news releases and other communications present unbiased information about studies, noting adverse events and risks in addition to your product’s efficacy. They can communicate appropriately positioned scientific advances as you convey news of your compound to professional audiences.

Measuring Up

New ways are needed to measure PR’s effectiveness in building pharmaceutical brands. Old ad equivalency methods don’t take into account such important aspects as an article’s favorability, the importance of the source, or the key messages communicated.

New customizable media-analysis tools, such as Strategy One’s E-Map and X-Map, overcome those shortcomings by setting measurable, client-directed objectives. Baseline measurements established before the campaign examine article length and favorability, messaging position, and use of company spokespeople. Baseline results are compared with the postcampaign analysis. Using those valuable new tools to examine a set number of articles within a specified time frame, you can determine whether PR made a difference.

New Ground

Public relations is the communications tool of choice. PR professionals are uniquely positioned as the navigators in an information-driven economy and as the central links in a network of stakeholder relationships. In a world where credible content and interactivity are essential, PR is poised to be both an information arbiter and a dialogue facilitator. Ultimately, it can help you find the new ground of modified advocacy lying between overzealous spin and stark objectivity. That is the ground on which all future health brands will be built.


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