What do you think of when you think of the pharmaceutical industry?
If you’re not involved in pharma, you probably think of it as reputationally challenged.
But if you are involved, you probably think of bringing innovative products to market and improving the lives of patients.
So why the disconnect? Why is big pharma still labelled a bad egg?
The industry has always had its critics: there have been corporate blunders, not helped by unscrupulous entrepreneurs such as ‘price gouging’ Martin Shkreli.
The industry has always struggled to defend itself, perhaps because it’s operating in a tight regulatory environment and in a space between investors and activists.
In the UK, we do love an underdog, and big corporations are seen as fair game.
Yet how is it that a company like GSK, headquartered in the UK, employer of thousands and thought to pay more corporation tax than the NHS spends on its medicines, can be seen in a negative light?
Agencies that specialise in pharma are always in the middle when it comes to the sector’s reputation.
Sitting between clients, the public and the press, they work hard to showcase the positive messages and success stories.
If consumer and – most importantly for pharma – professional audiences are ever going to relate to the industry, they need to increase their efforts to build trust, inspire and inform.
This is, if ever there was one, a job for communications. Things are improving, but we need to do more.
In-house departments, agencies and third party groups need to work together, energetically and consistently, to restore some faith.
Beyond the business pages, very few people and personalities are representing pharma.
Professionalism does not need to be sacrificed to achieve this, they simply need to be a little more courageous, a little braver, and show how the ‘patient centricity’ mantra is lived out every day.
Pharma’s consumers – patients, payers, healthcare professionals – are all of us; people who, in any other guise, use social media all day, every day. But so many companies are yet to see the benefit in connecting with their audiences through social.
Yes, the regulatory environment needs navigating but, as many front-runners are demonstrating, this is not an insurmountable challenge.
By embracing new channels and new approaches, there is a way to rewrite pharma’s story.
As we know, allowing the vacuum to be filled by detractor noise is a dangerous strategy.
Siân Boisseau is executive director, healthcare, at Golin