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Beyond Great Media Coverage


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-09-02-2002

The pharma industry has traditionally defined effective public relations by the number of positive press clips a campaign generates.

The pharma industry has traditionally defined effective public relations by the number of positive press clips a campaign generates.

In some cases, several big placements in top media outlets have justified a PR campaign's budget. But not anymore. Clients and their PR counsel must adopt a new definition of high-value partnership. Although pharma company marketing staffs have been downsized, expectations for public relations initiatives have not. Consequently, PR agencies have the opportunity to help pharma marketers deliver on, and exceed, their management's expectations-with a higher return on investment. That is why PR professionals must do more than simply generate great media coverage and provide additional business value. This article offers five ways the new breed of PR counselor goes beyond getting "good ink" to become a true marketing and business partner.

Get Products to Market Faster

Trained PR professionals can establish early mo-mentum for a compound by maximizing communications opportunities during the period of clinical trial patient recruitment.

A delayed clinical trial carries more than just a price tag of $680,000 or more per day. The cost of lost opportunities-market exclusivity, leadership positioning, and thought leader loyalty-are immeasurable. Often, success correlates significantly with how efficiently the pharma company moves a candidate toward marketing approval.

Clinical trial recruitment/PR strategies are useful in recruiting volunteers into clinical studies and creating a climate of anticipation for a promising new therapy.

CTR/PR played an important role in advocating the potential value of Taxotere (docetaxel) as a cancer treatment. When Aventis (then Rhone Poulenc Rorer) initiated Phase III studies, Bristol-Myers Squibb had already launched the first drug in the category, Taxol (pacilitaxel), and had built impressive support from the Department of Health and Human Services, thought leaders, and physicians. At that time, Taxotere was perceived as a me-too drug, making it the target of competitive bashing.

Yet, based on their own experience, investigators called Taxotere the most effective single agent since the introduction of Adriamycin (doxorubicin), the gold standard of the time. As local television, radio, and newspaper reporters developed stories about enrollment opportunities, they interviewed the clinical team to better understand the trial and drug under study. Through PR efforts, investigators shared hands-on scientific knowledge about Taxotere with the medical community and advocacy groups-enhancing understanding of the product's potential. Taxotere's value was ultimately recognized and today is a billion-dollar blockbuster.

CTR/PR intervention also saves time. A patient recruitment effort for a central nervous system treatment study recently cut an estimated 96 weeks from the enrollment process. The campaign combined the impact of an emotionally compelling, call-to-action radio ad about the study with on-site investigator support-local market publicity, advocacy relations, and direct mail descriptions of the trial targeted to referring physicians. Tactics recommended by the PR agency generated 68 percent of trial participants compared with 32 percent at sites without such an initiative.

R&D project leaders, marketing managers, and PR practitioners should share the responsibility for efficiently moving a product from clinical trials to market. In terms of both clinical and marketing goals, the payoff can be huge.

Build Patient Databases

According to research conducted by Forrester, 60 percent of the pharma industry now uses consumer relationship marketing (CRM) technologies to enhance marketing and sales efforts. PR professionals can support that trend by implementing news-worthy e-marketing programs that create brand buzz and build proprietary databases.

By facilitating a partnership between the manufacturer of a leading antide-pressant and AmericanGreetings.com, PR used a national health education day to launch a brand-name consumer e-mail marketing campaign. The initiative was designed to reach the 420,500 women between the ages of 25 and 54 who had signed up for a weekly health e-newsletter from AmericanGreetings.com.

The targeted women received a brief e-mail message from the sponsoring company alerting them to National Depression Screening Day-the news vehicle that created the message's sense of urgency. Consumers then linked to a separate mini-site that hosted a branded interactive self-assessment quiz that let viewers determine if they might be suffering from depression. At the end of the quiz, they received an offer for a free subscription to the Harvard Health Newsletter, along with the opportunity to receive more information about the brand.

That case represents another example of how PR professionals can go beyond traditional media relations to support pharma goals. More than 8,000 people who identified themselves as depressed had significant interaction with the brand by simply scrolling through the quiz. Nearly 6,000 names were captured for the client's patient database at a cost of $3.95 per name, compared with about $87.50 per acquisition for off-line direct mail. Further increasing the return on investment was the aggressive media outreach to top-tier general news and health websites. As a result of persistent pitching, the URL for the branded depression quiz ran free of charge on at least a dozen websites known to be visited by the company's target audience.

Marketers should always consider working with PR to capitalize on their e-marketing expertise, particularly in light of this statistic provided by Vividence: 72 percent of consumers that visit a brand-name website request the medication. One PR e-marketing tactic for Imitrex (sumatriptan), GlaxoSmithKline's migraine medicine, generated more than 140,000 website visits in less than three weeks using several clever messages sent during the holidays, such as "Sending warm wishes for a headache-free holiday" and "Tis the season for . . . migraines!!?"

Get More Face Time With Physicians

The new guidelines of the PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals state that interactions with physicians must be ethical and contribute to the treatment of patients and enhance the practice of medicine. What can pharma companies do to get more face time with physicians without violating the code? One strategy employed by PR professionals is to leverage grassroots community outreach programs that build patient referrals and maximize community networking opportunities for a physician's practice. Those programs, which represent a true public service, can also become branded extensions of a company's DTC program. In competition to build their practices, doctors recognize the benefit of participating in educational and screening events that feature their services.

Two opportunities for patient outreach lead to physician bonding-bringing the event to the doctor or the doctor to the event. An example of the former is the effort executed by Wyeth in partnership with Impact Health, a clinical marketing organization located in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Equipped with a turnkey grassroots education program, reps invited select practices to participate in bone mineral density screenings that positioned physicians as expert community resources. That program offered a public health benefit that addressed the fact that 30 million women in the United States are at risk for low bone mass or osteoporosis, which is directly responsible for more than 72,000 deaths and $17 billion in medical costs annually.

Inviting physicians to appear at already established health awareness events gives sales reps another reason to increase their face time with physicians. PR professionals can work with companies to stage educational events at employer sites, retail stores, senior communities, and HealthExpo, the high-touch marketing channel which partners with state fairs. Physicians enjoy speaking at screenings and assessments implemented at those venues-often in collaboration with third-party disease groups with high credibility. Those events contribute to the treatment of patients and en-hance the practice of medicine. The new marketing guidelines mandate that a legitimate third party organization or community group set up such activities. Furthermore, they must not be disguised entertainment nor are physicians allowed to receive anything of personal benefit to them or their families.

Change Behavior to Increase Sales

PR practitioners can help pharma companies increase sales by applying social marketing principles to product market research. Social marketing defines a target audience's fundamental barriers to, and motivations for, behavioral change. If marketers can change behavior, sales will increase. For in-stance, a company provides cigarette smokers with a motivational program that helps them overcome barriers to quitting, and it will sell more nicotine patches.

To capitalize on social marketing's effectiveness, PR professionals should get involved in the research process early so they can determine several key factors:

  • What will motivate the target audience to change behavior?

  • What barriers prevent people from taking a beneficial action?

  • How can a PR program address those motivations or barriers?

  • How will PR support the consumer's decision?

  • Where on the "change continuum" is the target: pre-contemplative, contemplative, or relapse? What communication tools must be used?

  • Will the communication reach the target with the right message at the appropriate stage in the continuum?

Answers to those questions help PR professionals design more effective programs. Although not-for-profit and government organizations have used that approach for years, few pharma companies design programs using social marketing research to motivate patients to act. One published example of its effective use is Schering-Plough's campaign for hepatitis C. The company's research found that posters placed on public transportation reached target consumers who needed screening for possible infection. The American Liver Foundation was flooded with calls from people wanting to know more about risk factors and what drug to take to prevent transmission of the disease.

Promote Strategic Social Investments

Today PR professionals must counsel their clients against a backdrop of polarizing issues. Every public pharma company faces increased government scrutiny as stakeholders measure management's credibility and integrity. It is critical, in the wake of the recent business scandals, that companies act quickly to protect their hard-earned reputations, which took years and billions of dollars to build. Experienced PR professionals can help clients identify and manage corporate governance issues using comprehensive diagnostic tools and processes.

Government relations will also grow in importance, because matters involving R&D, DTC, and access to affordable prescription drugs remain top issues in Congress. Hearings and congressional debate aired by free media will have a significant impact on public sentiment. The PR challenge is compounded by state attorneys general who have initiated legal challenges to reduce prescription drug costs.

They are using the courts because there is a growing perception that legal action is the most expeditious way to effect change. What this portends from a communications and PR standpoint is that juries, judges, and public sentiment may have as much influence as Congress in regulating the cost of pharma treatments. So, although government relations will continue to be a priority, perhaps the best strategy to affect regulatory activity is to improve the overall industry image and public perception among those who may someday serve on a jury.

Foundation PR represents a viable strategy for accomplishing that. For years, pharma companies have worked effectively to make strategic social investments that address the needs of the disadvantaged, increase access to medicines, and apply industry's tangible assets and intellectual capital to some of the most pressing social issues. And yet, their best efforts and most significant philanthropy programs are often misunderstood or unrecognized.

PR professionals can help ensure that the social investments of pharma companies are well known thereby establishing the industry as an engine of innovation that can extend and improve human lives. Great media coverage about the pharma industry's philanthropic efforts and other innovations go a long way toward enhancing the industry's image.

But the new breed of public relations professionals will do more than generate positive press clips for their clients. To affect a company's bottom line and its corporate reputation, they will also have a diverse counseling repertoire that makes them valued business partners.

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