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The pharmaceutical industry must have crisis communications prepared now to anticipate unforeseen events—especially those that impact public trust.
Just 49% of US companies currently have a formal crisis communications plan at the ready for an unexpected event that could threaten their corporate reputation.1 For the pharmaceutical industry, which is unique in its clinical, regulatory compliance, and marketing challenges, the risk of a crisis is notable, making it critical to have a plan in hand—and practiced—for potentially negative situations. In this article, you will learn the essential steps to develop a formal crisis communications plan to prepare your company for its best response to anticipated as well as unforeseen events that could have an impact on your operations and public trust.
Any company, no matter how diligent, can find itself suddenly thrust into a crisis due to internal or external factors—from a product safety recall to a clinical trial death. At the same time, cyber threats, data privacy and security, quality issues, and marketplace economics cut across industry sectors. On any given day there may be immediate or pressing issues to handle, and some companies believe a crisis won’t happen to them—that is until it does happen, and then it’s more important than ever to be prepared and confident with a crisis communications plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic vaulted pharmaceutical companies, their products, scientists, and research into the public domain, resulting in greater visibility and an elevated reputation.2 While healthcare companies were less visible and less reputable for most Americans in the last year compared to earlier in the pandemic, according to the annual Axios Harris Poll 100, the public has a baseline expectation of character and trust that wasn’t previously accorded to the industry.3 This is an important factor when considering corporate actions during a crisis when overall visibility is up.
In fact, mishandling a crisis can exacerbate the issue at hand and shake public trust, potentially causing long-lasting harm. Stakeholders—whether customers, shareholders, healthcare providers, business partners, or employees—will want to know the facts of what happened, how it affects them, and what the company plans to do. Companies need to be prepared to address a crisis immediately before social media or someone else defines what it means for their stakeholders.
The solution is to plan messaging and procedures in advance of any potential situation. Here are a few steps to get started:
In addition to specific steps in building a formal crisis communications plan, it can be beneficial, as learned from communications during the pandemic era, to continue to strengthen corporate reputation and relationships with the media as foundations to rely on if (and when) the next crisis does occur. Credibility and confidence are particularly important during difficult times. Stakeholders need to hear directly from management that the company is on course and continues to convey a compelling corporate story.
Mark Corbae is a managing director for ICR Westwicke.