by John Edwards
How would the corporate reputation of big pharma begin to change if it got recognized for housing 15,000 displaced families during Hurricane Florence and George? Or provided 50,000 cases of bottled water? Or set up animal shelters for pets who became separated from their owners?
The pharmaceutical industry consistently ranks towards the bottom when it comes to corporate reputation despite its role in preventing, treating, and curing essentially every health issue known to man. The tarnish is unavoidable since healthcare is a policy issue that creates headlines that healthcare is too expensive, big pharma is too greedy, and the public ends up footing the bill. And image campaigns only serve to reinforce what people already dislike about big pharma: they seem to be in it only for themselves.
The good news is we live in a time where reputation is positively influenced by good corporate citizenship and altruistic efforts. And there lies opportunity.
What Domino’s Understands About Corporate Reputation
Domino’s is now in the business of road repair, and it’s brilliant. By assuming a role in the community that goes well beyond delivering hot pizza, Domino’s connects with consumers on an important new metric: they give back. The program has been so well received it has been expanded to all 50 states. And while the measurable impact on improving America’s infrastructure will be negligible, Domino’s gets credit for doing its fair-share for the greater good. And that’s what matters.
What This Means for Big Pharma
Pharmaceutical companies need to fully embrace these new altruistic values and roles. It’s an opportunity for big pharma be seen in a brighter light, as being caring and unselfish. Worse, not taking a role impacts corporate reputation and provides another reason for people to perceive the industry as selfish and out of touch.
The primary mission of most pharmaceutical companies is essentially the same, improving quality of life. And there are many opportunities to deliver against that benefit which do not exclusively rely on research, discovery and medicine.
- Pharmaceutical companies need to identify causes they can enthusiastically get behind. This will create consistency of message, visibility, and most of all commitment. These causes need to become part of each company’s mission (in the right proportion) and be threaded throughout corporate communications.
- The cause needs to be managed much like a brand: positioning, awareness, defined objectives, accountability and budget. It also needs the right staffing to champion the brand, become expert in the field, and ensure that it plays a visible role relative to the organizations who are fully dedicated to that cause.
- The impact being made needs to be measured. 1) What are the specific efforts a company is doing to champion the cause they are committed to? 2) How have these efforts make a measurable difference? 3) What is the impact on the company’s overall reputation? No apology is needed for a company looking to improve itself.
Big Pharma needs to continue efforts to improve corporate reputation, but its tactics need to change. The first rule of marketing is to give consumers what they want, and consumers today want companies to give back and play a role that helps the greater good. How refreshing it would be if consumers became aware that Pfizer, or Amgen, or Novartis were doing their fair-share to improve overall quality of life by helping to clean the oceans, making education more affordable, or helping to advance wind energy?