Sixth Annual Press Audit

Mar 01, 2010

A hot topic in c-suite management is the relevance of a new metric of corporate performance: return on reputation. The depth, quality and tone of media coverage is a key determinant of the strength of a company's reputation, which is in turn shaped by broader trends affecting how journalists regard the industry overall. To put weight behind this new metric, Pharm Exec presents its sixth annual audit of media coverage of the biopharmaceuticals industry. Conducted by the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, the audit identifies issues that prompted the most media attention over the past year, pinpoints trends in perceptions of the industry, and singles out companies and products with the most citations—good and bad—in the news. This year's evaluation also includes a special focus on how the industry was depicted in the debate on US healthcare reform.
—William Looney

The 2009 audit is a mixed bag of findings. There is evidence of progression in a few areas toward a more favorable image of the industry and individual companies, coupled with a decline in interest and thus coverage of the industry overall. The implication is that corporate efforts around return on reputation require (1) more emphasis on targeted image-enhancing initiatives that address key areas of vulnerability; and (2) a stronger, sustained effort to build positive messaging at the trade association level, because individual company images remain tightly bound to perceptions about the industry overall—one bad apple can easily ruin the batch.

Top of the mark conclusions include:

» Coverage of biopharmaceutical issues fell to a five-year low, with citations in the top five circulating dailies down 18 percent from 2008

» FDA policies and the regulation of risk top the list of hot-button issues, with drug safety falling to number two on the list after ranking first for the previous four years

» Drug pricing demonstrated its staying power as a prominent issue, even with the rise of new topics of interest such as flu vaccines and M&A consolidation

» Industry promotion, marketing, and sales practices carry a very negative slant and interest in this issue is picking up steam

» Tone of coverage in 2009 was less negative toward big pharma, though on balance it is still more negative than positive

» Four of the five large circulation daily newspapers included in the Audit were generally favorable toward the goal of achieving comprehensive health reform, while coverage of Big Pharma's role in reform was primarily—and surprisingly—neutral.

How the Audit Was Conducted

The Audit is a concentrated effort, incorporating data derived over the period from October 1, 2008, to September 30, 2009, from the top five US newspapers, as defined by circulation: USA Today, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. The purpose of the audit was to shed light on the following questions:

» What ethical and legal controversies face the industry—and what kinds of coverage do they attract?

» Do the articles and headlines support or oppose the positions taken by the industry's lead spokesman, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers' of America (PhRMA)?

» How often do reporters include the industry perspective in their stories?

» What biopharmaceutical companies and product brand names are identified and discussed in the articles?

» What are the implications of these findings for the industry?

Each article was reviewed on the basis of three assessment criteria:

» Relevance, to the priority issues defined by PhRMA in its strategic plan for the year

» Tone, in terms of being positive, negative, or neutral toward the biopharmaceutical industry. For example, any article that called for restrictions or a prohibition on DTC advertising—a position that the industry currently opposes—was deemed negative. In contrast, an article that referenced evidence that DTC advertising results in more informed patients was designated as positive

» Balance, determined by whether stories covered an opposing point of view. When an explicit statement about an opposing view was included in the article—even if the two sides did not receive equal coverage—we concluded that the article covered both sides. When no mention of the opposing view was presented, the article was labeled as one-sided.

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