HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year - Pharmaceutical Executive

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HBA's 2003 Woman of the Year
Catherine Sohn Guides GSK's Consumer Powerhouse


Pharmaceutical Executive


Sharing Expertise Before acquiring the dermatology products, Sohn conferred with its "internal consultants," GSK's pharma-side R&D and marketing experts in that therapeutic category. In return, CH share best practices in DTC marketing and advertising. There is no shortage of need, with IMS Health pegging GSK as the top DTC spender in the 12 months ending September 2002.

"The core heritage of consumer healthcare is 50 years of experience and excellence in advertising the benefits of the product directly to consumers," says Sohn CH works closely with pharmaceuticals to share its knowledge and capabilities, especially since DTC became an available vehicle."

The Advair (fluticasone and salmeterol) product team, for example, uses branding, packaging, and events to create a "consumerized" Rx therapy. That formula must be successful because, after less than two years, the product is the US market leader, generating $1.32 billion in sales in 2002. Its bright purple packaging is a plastic device with the brand name Diskus that increases convenience by eliminating complicated dosing. After patients activate the device, they inhale two medications simultaneously through the mouthpiece. The company also recently launched an asthma screening initiative, "Racing Against Asthma," to raise awareness of the disease and the product. The company sends a 75-foot double-expandable truck to 25 NASCAR races around the United States to educate motor sports fans about the disease and to test them for it.

CH's consumer targeted communication hinges on the philosophy of science-driven healthcare. Current ads tout Nicoderm CQ as clinically proven to relieve smokers' morning cravings, Commit Lozenges as increasing consumers' chances of quitting smoking, Aquafresh toothpaste as able to fight cavities, whiten teeth, and freshen breath, and Tums to help prevent osteoporosis.

"Each year, we conduct studies to support new claims for next year's communication," says Sohn. "Consumers always want to know what's new, or if someone else is coming out with a product, they want to know, 'How does yours compare?' We have the obligation to demonstrate the value of our products-overall and from a health point of view."

Sohn has delivered on that obligation in one way or another since joining GSK 20 years ago. An Rx-to-OTC switch herself, Sohn was either ahead of her time or just dedicated to making healthcare more accessible to consumers. Regardless, companies have followed suit. But given the ease with which Sohn leverages her two experiences, she may prove to the industry and its observers that pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare aren't so separate after all.


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