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


Healthcare Public Relations: In The Driver's Seat?

Pharmaceutical Executive

"Product managers-who, unfortunately, tend to be greener than they used to be-see those activities as sales promotions and not part of what we do. If we just call ourselves the PR group and don't start breaking that up for them, we might be missing the boat. We can show that we don't just do things as a series of one-offs. We form connections among the many audiences we touch through our varied activities to generate repeat hits for clients, so the value of our work increases geometrically as the word of mouth that we spread improves."

Gauging Impact One of PR's top challenges has been to prove its relative value in boosting sales, compared with advertising and detailing, which are easier to measure. But maybe, the roundtable participants suggest, sales aren't the only thing companies should be concerned about. Maybe long-term goals should supercede the short-term obsession with sales.

Nancy Turett leads that argument by asking the rest of the group to acknowledge that, even though their companies may have efforts underway to develop standardized measurement tools, PR's value is somewhat defined by its intangibility.

"I'm concerned that we might back ourselves into a corner, saying we'll use a more sophisticated version of impressions and message analysis. Those are important things, and we should expect to have our feet held to the fire on those. But what we do is so much more. PR is about creating a web of interaction; it's about multiple stakeholders and information pinging from one to the other. If we go in the measurement direction, we need to build in some way of recognizing that, in some cases, the easier it is to measure something, the less credible and valuable it may be. I won't say that we're just like advertising, because we're not."

One thing that PR and advertising have in common is a perpetual quest for the ultimate pharmaceutical brand. That quest transcends the limits of agency identities and individual talents. Regardless of agencies' different strategic roles and responsibilities in clients' marketing plans, brand success is the constant that brings everyone together. That, the participants agree, should be the ultimate goal, no matter what type of agency is concerned. That means that sales aren't necessarily the top priority and that a more holistic measurement process would better capture PR's impact, not only on delivering messages but on developing them and getting them to the right audiences with the right vehicles.

Confirming the broader scope of today's pharma marketing, Koberstein describes companies' focus as "shifting away from just selling the product to making sure the product gets properly used. So issues of compliance and patient behavior become more important in that context. Pfizer just put $32 million on the line for disease management in Florida. That has nothing to do with marketing its products-they're essentially trying to convince people to live healthier."

Koberstein also touches on patient education, in which PR has been involved for decades, as part of a broader approach to managing a brand and its key audiences throughout the product's lifecycle. That approach, many experts say, brings to bear a company's best strategies and tactics in clinical trial protocol development, patient recruitment, publication planning, regulatory navigation, and professional and consumer education and outreach.

"We have to think of branding as more than just awareness," says Stephanie Marchesi, co-director of Manning, Selvage and Lee's US healthcare practice. "Look at the primary pillars of branding-relevance, esteem, and differentiation. PR is the discipline with the greatest opportunity to make the case for a product's relevance to a person's life or to elevate a brand's esteem in the public mind. Maybe, if you're lucky, when you launch a product, branding's about differentiation. More often, it's about finding a way to give that brand some meaning and value in the user's life. That's not limited to advertising by any stretch."

Levins echoes Weinstein's argument about dismantling the "PR umbrella" in her comments about the practice's role in reaching traditional marketing's key professional audience, healthcare providers. "Next to detailing, opinion leader development is the second most important factor in a successful drug launch," she says. "And we can do so much more. Companies spend $200 million on medical education and opinion leader development, and PR gets practically no funding, except some for advocacy relations and medical outreach."

Richard Chamberlain
Richard Chamberlain, president of Chamberlain Communications Group, addresses the patient audience when he says, "What we really bring to the party is an intimate understanding of what consumers feel. Some people have asked, 'Why is anthrax such a big deal? How come that's so inflammatory? Not that many people died.' That's true, but people are scared, and we need to be sensitive to that.

"Our job as PR professionals is to bridge the gap between what's real and what's irrational. And the media's not always rational. There are issues they grab onto and play out, but our job is to bridge the gap and help companies understand that their reputation is everything; that's what they're about. That level of trust that we've all touched on-how will we build that if we don't reach consumers where they are, rather than where they should be? In other words, if consumers don't get what we're saying, then we're not doing it right."

Koberstein challenges the panel to look at public relations as a two-way street. "For many years, industry has said, 'We have a great story. If we could just tell it to the public.' But to tell your story-and someone's perception of you is not usually enough-you have to listen to them and establish a dialogue."

Taking the Wheel At the end of the day, Koberstein offers some conclusions and insights: "When PE first started to explore DTC-which people thought was quite ahead of the curve back in '92 or '93-I interviewed the head of a CRO who said, 'DTC begins in clinical research, the first time someone has to sign a patient consent form. At that point, we start integrating their expectations and what they understand against our scientific goals. And we have to teach them how to use the product, or we won't get good results.'

"He said if the company started learning about patients, it would make a lot of other things clear, down the line, in product development and marketing. I assume that's also true here, so PR has a tremendous potential, starting at the research level."

Summarizing the day's discussion about establishing trust, Koberstein notes that, although the pharma industry needs to engage the public in a two-way dialogue, it is unlikely that the public would understand, or care about, the finer points of patent law or regulatory submissions. He says, "Companies can have a dialogue with people and say honestly, 'We believe we're special, just like you do. We believe we have special obligations to you. But we are a business, and we have to also satisfy that part.' But they can't say that until a relationship is established, or it sounds merely self-serving."

Koberstein agrees with participants that healthcare public relations is poised to get behind the wheel "quickly and on demand." He compares agencies' opportunity for visibility to pharma companies' sudden "outing" in the public arena: "You've been in a secondary role for a long time, but that's changing, and I have a feeling it won't change gradually. It's going to flip anytime now, and you will be driving a lot of the corporate brand mix." z


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