Healthcare Public Relations: In The Driver's Seat? - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Healthcare Public Relations: In The Driver's Seat?


Pharmaceutical Executive



Laura Schoen
"One reason why marketing people get advertising," says Laura Schoen, president of global healthcare for Weber Shandwick Worldwide, "is because advertising has been much more effective in influencing business schools and trade groups, making sure that people understand their function. PR societies have failed us, but we haven't done our homework, either. Pharma company employees don't understand where we afunction in the marketing mix."

Consequently, agencies and their leaders must constantly justify their work and defend the value of their profession. Nevertheless, says Kathryn Metcalfe, its value has been there all along:


Vanity Searches
"We not only need to do a better public relations job for ourselves, but we also need to do a better job of educating customers. We have to consider the changing demands on today's product managers. They must be part of an integrated team. They're using lots of different tools and being bombarded with ideas and concepts. They are cycling in and out of marketing teams faster than anything. We in PR have longer tenure than two-thirds of the product managers we work with."

Teri Cox, managing partner of Cox Communications Partners, suggests that listing PR's many functions would help companies understand what the profession brings to their business. "For many years," she says, "PR was publicity, and that's all it was seen as. Now it's advocacy, crisis management-so many different things. We're marketing corporate image and products. There are generalists, but we're also segmenting and specializing more as a profession."


Bayer Responds
As clients' needs for cross-company and cross-department integration mount, PR agencies' must tap internal resources to meet the demand. That means agencies have the opportunity to show off what they know in their colleagues' specialty areas, such as investor relations (IR), medical education, consumer marketing, and crisis management. Many of the agencies represented at the roundtable offer services in those and other areas, including formal clinical trial patient recruitment, which helps them compete with CROs.

"We can demonstrate that, when you insert PR at point A in a clinical trial, you actually increase patient enrollment at point B," says Ilyssa Levins, chairman and worldwide director for GCI Group. "PR needs to sit at the table with clients at the time of clinical trial recruitment to help accelerate the drug development process."


Ilyssa Levins
"One of marketing's most critical tools is the clinical trial package," adds Wadler. "More companies are receptive to the idea of not just designing the trial for approval but also designing it in a way that will help with marketing. That's where PR can be very helpful, not only in terms of what trials will be important in answering the questions raised, but also in terms of how to shape those trials so they're most effective at postlaunch, when you need them."

"There are two kinds of drug companies-those that do science for science's sake and those that do science for marketing's sake," says Kym White, managing director of healthcare for Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. "But when there is an overlap and you have the data to work with after launch to keep the market alive, that's smart."


Kym White
But PR's value to integrating marketing into early stage pharma R&D isn't a given. Pesanello says, "There's a growing recognition that what clients value in performance is more complex than increased scrips. We're seeing a movement toward measuring value, whether it is translated to stock price, plus market share, plus reputation, plus ability to launch well. Measurement of what PR contributes is being defined."

The group also acknowledges the growing importance of investor relations and its rapid convergence with traditional PR. An example of that is the recent merger of Noonan/Russo, an IR agency, and PResence Euro RSCG, a PR agency. The new company, Noonan/Russo PResence Euro RSCG (NRP), reflects the integration of two fields that until recently, viewed themselves as serving separate audiences.


Susan Noonan
"In smaller companies-biotechs and those specializing in emerging technology-you see greater integration and rejection of the corporate myth that PR and IR are separate because the marketing and the corporate messages are totally blended," says Susan Noonan, NRP's president. "All the other constituencies are important, but if clients don't have investors behind them, it will be awfully hard for them to get money for joint ventures or anything else. Investor relations helps bring our credibility into the corporate suite."

Nancy Rueth, executive vice-president and general manager for NRP, brings the conversation full circle. She says, "Classically, what public relations has done is hit pressure points throughout the marketing mix from very early to when a product goes generic. During prelaunch, we do science communications on the one hand and disease or treatment education on the other-speaking to professionals, thought leaders, and consumers. People always think about the launch, but it's almost a given what you do then. What's important is a total pattern of activity in which timing and judgment make the difference."

Kathy Bloomgarden, who some say is the driving force behind Novartis' communications, brings up PR's facile use of the internet and other media tools in reaching audiences influential in research, regulatory, and marketing processes. Few pharma brands or companies exemplify the internet's power to influence those processes better than Gleevec (imatinib), Novartis' oncology breakthrough.

Bloomgarden says, "For brands with a short time to establish themselves, we can really deliver-get strong launches going, help with regulatory problems, and gain acceptance and support from patient groups. Public relations gives a great deal of support to the brand. That illustrates our business function."

"The internet enables us to gather data that we, in the PR community, have never been able to before," says Hope Krakoff, director of digital strategy consulting company eMaven. "And to target areas and see a reach and frequency that you couldn't see in the marketplace-such as the number of people going to an unbranded site for a generally unrecognized disease-and release that to the media is exceptional."

Josh Weinstein, president of jwEinstein Strategic Messaging, broaches the subject of meetings, recommending that PR pros remind clients that they offer services that may deliver more relevant results than their advertising or CME counterparts. He suggests, "It may be that we must disassemble some of what we intuitively put under the PR umbrella. We do excellent meetings with more punch because they involve not only thought leaders but also the media. Our use of events and our ability to do creative public education are not usually associated with PR because the industry tends to see us as focusing solely on media relations.


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