Reputation management within the pharmaceutical industry: Prevention is better than cure

The relationship between awareness of a brand and the subsequent trust of said business is one that is inextricably linked. Yet, for businesses operating in the pharma industry due to them often not operating direct-to-consumer, they regularly score poorly when it comes to brand awareness. There were certain businesses throughout the pandemic at the forefront of vaccine development such as Pfizer and Moderna whose brand names penetrated directly into the public consciousness, yet this was largely due to necessity and the wall-to-wall media coverage around vaccine production. The awareness of these brands and the sentiment around them has largely been positive due to the focus on the health outcomes that they have helped deliver yet these are outliers within the broader pharma ecosystem.

For many pharma organisations awareness and consequently trust remains low. However, almost three years after the pandemic began, the benefits of a more outwardly facing approach still present reputational, favourability and awareness gains. Healthcare marketing and communications has long been focused around product differentiation whereas now organisations are beginning to see the value in communicating a wider corporate story and narrative as well as focusing specifically on disease awareness and the health outcomes they can deliver. There has been a marked behavioural shift here that can be built on by the wider industry.
That being said, there is naturally some hesitation from organisations to stick their heads above the parapet due to the historic (and more recent) reputational issues that have been observed by the industry. As well as issues faced by specific organisations there are broader stories such as the rising costs of medications, poor Government planning and related shortages. Against a backdrop of the broader NHS crisis, this can lead to negative perceptions of the industry at large.

With that in mind, before embarking on any healthcare communications strategies firms should consider the steps they can take to mitigate against any reputational damage or potentially challenging situations before they occur.

This is increasingly important due to the changes observed in recent decades within pharma’s evolving code of practice. Society’s expectations around behavior have also changed hugely. There are different expectations around transparency too. People rightly expect more of companies today and companies want to live up to those higher expectations.

With those higher expectations comes more scrutiny of the industry’s practices, both operationally and ethically. Scrutiny can come from different viewpoints in society whether that be key stakeholders including government, regulators, the media, or the general public. Any business should always have a ready-made crisis management plan in place to mitigate any issues and stay ahead of the curve. Not understanding the pressure points within your own organisation can have devastating knock-on effects for those within the company, staff and towards the bottom line.

Once the planning is completed, the phase of the organisation can begin. In this phase, the planned is implemented. The process flow is analysed and aligned with the specified goals. This is done by the process organisation. To ensure the process flow, new departments, areas and work centers are created within the organisational plan. Tasks, competencies and responsibilities are also assigned. The process flow is planned to determine how the individual units work together.

By being proactive and ahead of any subsequent questions, companies can stay in front of the conversation and help to set the agenda, rather than being caught on the back foot by journalists and editors. As soon as a newspaper article is published or coverage is generated that criticises an aspect of an organisation or their board members, the damage and fallout can be devastating and undo any good work that the company has done. The pharmaceutical industry is perfectly positioned to move from the shadows, and transition to operating in a more open and transparent way in order to build on this recent narrative and enhance their reputations among key stakeholders.

For those within the industry willing to put their heads above the parapet and speak openly about the positives and challenges they face, the benefits of being a thought leader and authority will follow as well. Being trained to face the media is a must have for those C-Suite leaders willing to speak out and get their key messages across. Knowing the rules of engagement with journalists and developing key relationships with those who are covering the pharma industry and can amplify your voice in certain publications and markets is becoming increasingly important. Relying on the fact that pharma has traditionally had a reputation for being an opaque industry no longer cuts the mustard in 2022 and establishing your own tone of voice has never been more pertinent.

Media training has become key for those within the business who are key spokespeople. Making sure that a full and comprehensive structure is put in place for those who will be engaging on behalf of a company with wider audiences is key and entering the debate equipped with the tools at your fingertips to debate regulation or other aspects of the pharmaceutical industry is important. Those who aren’t up to speed with the facts at their fingertips will fall foul of tougher questions.

Ensuring that your CEO can communicate effectively and openly to the public on behalf of the company is a currency that holds even greater weight in modern times and a fully developed plan that stems from that has never been more important.

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