Shire surprises staff with switch

Shire Pharmaceuticals' attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) franchise has been led by flagship drug Adderall XR.

Shire Pharmaceuticals' attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) franchise has been led by flagship drug Adderall XR.

Vyvanse, Shire's next-generation ADHD treatment, received Food and Drug Administration approval in late February. With Adderall XR facing generic competition in spring 2009, Shire wanted to generate internal support for Vyvanse's launch and transition allegiance of its 594 employees to the new drug.

"We don't want Shire to be so reliant on any one medicine," says Matt Cabrey, senior manager of corporate communications for Shire Pharmaceuticals North America. "We're changing the mindset internally as we begin to change it externally."

Strategy

"It's a very important medicine for Shire and the future of Shire," Cabrey adds. "[We wanted to help employees] connect with the ADHD business unit and appreciate [that] it's a significant step forward for Shire."

Shire holds "Take a Break" sessions for employees on various topics, which usually include talks by a patient, opinion leader, or Shire executive. For this effort, the team decided to bring in ADHD patient and Shire spokesman Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition fame.

"We heard that employees are big fans of Ty," says Sherry Goldberg, VP of healthcare for Porter Novelli. "We thought we could get everyone's attention if we could get him on-site."

Tactics

Pennington's celebrity appeal was pitched to local media. His show is on ABC, so his visit to Shire was filmed by local affiliate WPVI-TV and aired that night.

Pennington's visit was kept secret until he began walking the halls and announcing the event with a branded megaphone.

Offices were covered in purple and green, Vyvanse colors. Employees who handed over an old Adderall XR item qualified for a raffle for a hardware store gift certificate. Pennington also did office and cubical makeovers with Vyvanse themes.

"Symbolically, we were trying to get it across without being obnoxious," Cabrey says.

At the meeting, Pennington, Shire CEO Matt Emmens, and SVP and ADHD business unit leader Craig Lewis congratulated employees on the FDA approval and thanked them for their work. Pennington shared his personal ADHD story, signed autographs, and posed for photos.

"[Because Pennington] greets people and engages them in conversation, this event was successful in taking [staff participation] to the next level," Cabrey says.

Results

With a nearly 80% employee attendance rate, this was the most successful event of its kind to date at Shire. Pennington also talked about the visit on Philadelphia's NBC morning show. And he prerecorded an eight-minute segment for the NBC affiliate's evening newscast.

The event garnered more than 453,000 impressions on local TV. Placement in the Daily Local News reached more than 60,000 people and included key company and brand messages.

Cabrey was surprised by the NBC coverage. He says Shire was thrilled with Pennington's delivery of key messages - both to the media and employees - and with the degree to which he engaged employees and helped them feel proud of their work.

Future

PN will continue to work with Shire's ADHD franchise as it expands. Efforts will include internal awareness and might involve future "Take a Break" sessions.

Shire Pharmaceuticals

PR team: Shire Pharmaceuticals (Philadelphia) and Porter Novelli (New York)

Campaign: Take a Break with Ty Pennington

Duration: March 5, 2007

Budget: $15,000

PRWeek's view

Shire is very wise to recognize the importance of keeping its employees informed and supportive. The ADHD franchise is clearly important to the company, and its flagship drug will lose significant traction as it goes generic in 2009. It was smart to start early in gathering internal momentum and support for the new drug.

Pennington was a brilliant use of existing resources. That his appeal drew attention from the media made this a truly unusual internal communications effort.

Shire is also lucky that Pennington is a good speaker and was able to weave personal, product, and company messaging together for both internal and external audiences.

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