The pharma industry is always interesting when it comes to understanding how reputations are built. It is an industry that has certainly had its ups and downs and an easy target to blame for this and that. A global survey that was recently completed among 800 patient groups in 43 countries provides interesting insights into how the industry is perceived. The survey is funded by PatientView and looks at the individual reputations of 33 companies and the industry as a whole.
Overall, the reputation for multinational pharma companies places 7th among healthcare industries examined, lower than biotech companies, generic drug manufacturers, non-for-profit health insurers, the private healthcare sector, medical-device companies, and retail pharmacists. Somewhat more than one-third -- 35% -- of patient group respondents give the industry an excellent or good rating on its reputation which fares at parity with results from 2012 although decidedly lower than positive reputation ratings seen in 2011 (41%). Work is still needed.
The report indicates that there are five key drivers of reputation in the multinational pharma industry. They are (and I quote):
- A good portfolio of products that brings hope to people suffering from the medical conditions familiar to the patient group.
- Media coverage about the company (allied to comments received on the ‘grapevine’ from peer patient groups about the behavior of a company).
- A sense among the patient group that a company is truly putting patients at the heart of its business approach. The company needs to demonstrate this fact, not simply articulate a desire to be patient-centric.
- A perception among the patient group of a year-on-year positive change in the company’s investment stance across the patient arena—whether it is support for specific patient organisations, for big campaigns, or for patient-centered research.
- A feeling among the patient group that a company’s relationship with it (and with peer patient groups) can be relied upon to be long, rather than short-term.
Trust in a company and its intentions over the long-term to do right by patients seem to be at the bottom of what drives a positive reputation in the pharma industry. That makes perfect sense. I was surprised, however, to see media coverage as prominent as it was. Years ago, pharma companies did not want to voice all the good things they were doing because it was believed to be implicitly understood. Today with all the access to news and information and the ability to connect with other patients in a matter of seconds, it is clear that pharma companies have to own their own conversations and make sure that misinformation is not being spread virally. This again makes the case for social media which reaches the media and which is used by journalists to confirm or deny what is being chatted about. Tangentially, we surveyed corporate communications heads in pharma companies around the globe about their use of social media and surprisingly learned that the reluctance on their part to proactively use social media to communicate has less to do with regulations but with internal silos and lack of what we called social confidence. Getting one's story out in all its positives and negatives is how reputations are being shaped today.