Public Relations: A State of Drugs and Trust

New study shows that pharma trust is gaining ground in United States
Jun 01, 2007

Who's Earned the Trust?
Whom do you trust? If you answered "pharmaceutical companies," then you are no longer in the minority. Sixty percent of those polled for the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of more than 3,100 educated, media-informed influencers, said they trust the pharma industry globally. This is good news for an industry that was plagued with bad press these last few years.

Pharm Exec spoke with Edelman's Nancy Turett and Laurence Evans to learn more about the Edelman Trust Barometer and to find out how pharma companies can continue to earn consumers' trust.

What is the current level of consumer trust in the pharma industry?

Laurence Evans: The level of trust in pharmaceuticals in the United States this year was 66 percent, up from 56 percent last year.

What do you think helped contribute to the increase?

Nancy Turett: There are a number of hypotheses, one being that the year before, the trust barometer was fielded within a couple of months of some of the most front-page, difficult coverage about pharmaceutical companies and product withdrawals.

Another reason is that pharmaceutical companies are releasing more communications in the United States about what they do and about their patient-support programs, their access programs, and their corporate responsibility. And I think that those things are collectively improving the trust level of the pharmaceutical companies.

More than 30 percent of people still don't trust industry. What can be done to help gain that trust?

Turett: We found that familiarity breeds trust. Our trust study showed that there was a very marked, direct correlation between how well known a company was and how trusted it was. That would argue for more proactive communications about the good things that companies are doing and pioneering new channels of communication.

Could you give me an example?

Choosing the Right Spokesperson
Turett: A company may have a brilliant speech written by its CEO or one of its medical leaders at a conference, communicating to a top-tier media audience. But that same speech is going to be even more valuable to the company if some of the narrative is communicated and made available on its Web site, to its sales force, in its employee-orientation programs, and in its annual reports. This creates an echo chamber of information about what the company is doing that people are hearing from multiple places.

Evans: Another factor is that people who are inherently skeptical of business are people who are likely to be skeptical of pharmaceuticals. They're looking for a company that's not only a good brand but a good corporate citizen, a company that walks the talk as well as produces great products. It's particularly important to those who are skeptical to see pharma doing something beyond just selling its wares.

What was the least credible source of trust?

Turett: Advertising was the least credible source of information. That doesn't mean that advertising shouldn't be done, but it means that it can't be the primary way of communicating. Companies that participate publicly and visibly at the local community level, but in organized settings, will do well.

Evans: Communications issued by a company are just as credible, if not more credible, than some of the advertising. Companies shouldn't neglect investing in their own communications, so that people can get the information they need easily.

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