Public Relations: A State of Drugs and Trust - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Public Relations: A State of Drugs and Trust
New study shows that pharma trust is gaining ground in United States


Pharmaceutical Executive


Where do spokespeople fit into this trust study?

Turett: Employing spokespeople with a number of roles within the company is important and valuable, especially executives in the company that have medical or public-health credentials.

In addition, building strong, trusting relationships with other influential individuals and organizations is important. For example, a pharmaceutical company should build positive relationships with health-advocacy organizations, medical-professional organizations, and consumer-advocacy organizations because those people will talk about the company to others.

So who is the best spokesperson for a company?

Turett: In the democratized communication environment that we're in, everybody has the opportunity to "be the media," or communicate and reach thousands of people with the push of the keyboard key. Every company employee is a potential spokesperson, whether they're trained to be so or not.

Pharma companies must ensure that all employees understand what the company stands for, what the company's mission is, and what's distinctive about the positioning and capabilities of the company.

What makes a good spokesperson?

Turett: For a spokesperson to be most credible, he or she needs to be familiar with and share a company's values. So a spokesperson in advertising—for example, an employee who has a family member with the condition that he's doing the work on. He will more likely be a more credible spokesperson than the CEO of that same company.

Evans: This can also be someone who has special expertise–someone I can empathize with, who understands me. Or someone I respect because he brings a certain level of experience or specialization.

What happens when a spokesperson fails?

Turett: There have been instances where somebody speaking on behalf of a company has not communicated accurately or in the way that they've intended to. The good news is that opinions are less and less formed by one instance of communication. So when a company is communicating its narrative in multiple ways, a consumer will have other ways to learn.

There isn't an expectation on the part of the public that companies will be perfect and never make mistakes. The expectation or the desire is for transparency. So if something is said that was off base or inaccurate, then one step the company can take is to step out and say, "Sorry we said that. Let us talk to you further." For pharma, transparency is key, and they should try to manage the message rather than control it.

Evans: I think the other lesson this year is that the CEO is no longer sufficient as a sole spokesperson. So if that's your only strategy, then I think it's a dangerous one because CEOs do fail at times in some of the things they say. You need multiple spokespeople, each for a purpose. If you have a broad base of communications, it's much stronger.

How important are peer-to-peer conversations in terms of trust?

Turett: The trust barometer shows that peer-to-peer communications were extraordinarily important, particularly for the segment of individuals who were seen to be social connectors or public activists. Two-thirds of the opinion elite in the United States whom we surveyed are participating in online discussion as well as communicating offline actively about corporate brands and their points of view about them to their peers.


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