Consolidation is the order of the day for pharmaceutical
The past few years have seen mergers and acquisitions galore and the
result is that pharmaceutical companies are looking at marketing and
selling their products on a global scale.
While they are growing, the world is getting smaller. The inexorable
rise of the internet means that medical communities are shrinking and
the need for consistency of communication is getting greater.
In addition, the increasing globalisation of communications has enabled
the consumer to gain greater access to information, opinion and comment
across all longitudes and latitudes.
These factors have created a greater need for a uniform identity and
this is why the requirement for pharmaceutical companies to talk to all
their audiences with a consistency of message has become of paramount
Pharmaceutical products were once considered rather esoteric. The
consumer is now, however, more savvy and it is therefore important for
drug companies to offer products that possess an ’identity’.
Medical ’brands’ are the future. The obvious, and high-profile, example
of Viagra illustrates this point. The consumer interest generated by
’word of mouth’ was unprecedented - the media, and consequently the
consumer, in the UK was talking about Viagra before it had even been
Carefully thought-out communications play a vital role in getting
companies’ messages across accurately and to a far more diverse audience
than in the past.
However, there are many difficulties involved. Different countries are
subject to different laws, regulations and cultures and the importance
of adapting the communications process to meet these criteria is
As Gary Hobbs, managing director of Medical Action Communications, says:
’Global brands are de rigueur for FMCG brands but pharmaceutical
companies, until recently, have not put the brand at the centre of their
communications strategy - they have concentrated on the product.’ MAC’s
clients include Pfizer, Glaxo Wellcome, and Johnson and Johnson.
Traditionally pharmaceutical companies have launched drugs in different
countries or regions under different names and by using different
The brand was not put at the centre of a communications strategy: the
pharmaceutical company instead concentrated on the type of product and
adapted this differently to suit different local markets. These products
were generally targeted at the medical community; the consumer was not
considered somebody to whom they were relevant.
There have been efforts to establish global pharmaceutical brands for
some time, but it was rare for a company to do so, and the approach was
usually oblivious to the differences between local markets. A company in
the US, for instance, might have used the same tools to communicate a
brand in other countries that it had used in its home market.
There was, and to a certain extent still is, a blissful ignorance of
different cultural climates. Press releases were often just translated
and sent out to other markets, with no attempt at adapting them to a
Before global consolidation took its grip on the pharmaceutical
industry, multinational drugs companies tended to be structured in a
such a way that they were nation-focused, comprising separately located
divisions that concentrated on particular areas. Pharmaceutical
companies would have separate budgets for different countries and
regions, and communications strategies behind a drug would be completely
different for different markets.
Because different tactics and different names were used for drugs there
was no sharing of knowledge and experience between local PR companies
across international barriers. One nation would launch a pharmaceutical
product under a completely different name from another and by using
completely different means.
One theory of why pharmaceuticals started to become brands which
required global marketing pivots on the spread of HIV in the 1980s. The
formation of the AIDS community was a catalyst for patients becoming
more involved in health issues.
The Western world suddenly became aware of this rapidly-spreading fatal
disease and therefore any developments in the treatment or prevention of
it garnered interest from those outside of the medical community.
Patient power has become an increasingly significant phenomenon and
consumers are now a lot more health-literate as a result (PRWeek,10
March). As they are playing an increasingly involved role in their own
healthcare, it is essential for pharmaceutical companies to respond to
this and market themselves to the consumer as well as to the health
The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly finding that it must think
of itself as a global or multinational organisation and not think in
terms of being UK- or US-based. Companies that have recently
consolidated or been taken over have set up more international marketing
teams at headquarter level. There are growing numbers of foreign CEOs
and senior managers based in central offices to help develop the
globalisation of business.
The bottom line is that pharmaceutical companies are selling many of
their products multinationally or globally, and to do this as cost
effectively as possible they need to create a central communications and
As David Gallagher, managing director of healthcare for Ketchum Europe,
explains: ’There is no such thing as a German or US pharmaceutical
company - they are all multinationals.’ Ketchum’s healthcare clients
include Janssen and Warner Lambert.
As a result there is now an increasing move towards multinational
brands, and PR companies are spearheading the pharmaceutical companies’
drive in this direction.
There are many difficulties in developing and constructing a globally
integrated communications drive. The global healthcare, communications
or branding agency must liaise with the pharmaceutical company and
conceive an identity and vocabulary that is adaptable, but that retains
the central brand values. As the entire process is about communication,
it is important to involve local agencies at as early a stage as
For most global PR programmes the primary target is the chain of local
or affiliate agencies. If all parties are to be actively involved in the
global promotion of a drug, then it is vital that their central
strategies are aligned. Gallagher says: ’A typical approach for a global
entity is to develop template materials. ’Here’s a logo, here’s how
we’ll discuss the product and here’s what it does.’’
It is then often up to the agencies in the local markets how they will
communicate, without compromising the integrity of the core brand.
Hobbs adds: ’A year or so before the launch of a pharmaceutical product,
responsibility is handed to the affiliates. Local agencies make
independent decisions. This is the point at which there’s a danger that
the communications chain can be broken and that messages can become
So communication to local agencies must be extremely well managed from
an early stage, and throughout the entire process. Ann Moravick, senior
vice president and global head of healthcare at Manning Selvage and Lee,
says: ’The idea is to develop a strategic approach that is as general as
possible that can be adapted to suit a local market. You can do one
thing in one market that you can’t do in another.’
There is the danger, however, that a pharmaceutical company or global PR
agency can dominate the communications process in local markets and end
up telling independent agencies what to do. ’You don’t want to take away
the motivation from local affiliates. You can’t be too prescriptive,’
Another issue which is crucial is to integrate all marketing
Hobbs says, ’If communications are not consistent then doctors will
perceive confusion. If a doctor attends successive international
meetings and receives different messages from events and press releases
then it will create confusion and therefore a lack of confidence in the
There are many tools and materials with which the global agency can
provide the local agency. For example, international meetings can be
organised by the global agency and affiliates can then invite their key
opinion leaders and media to these. Central on-line networks or
intranets can be set up, enabling those involved in every country and at
every level to keep abreast of developments.
’Locally there is more latitude to use the materials provided for them
centrally,’ Gallagher says. ’We would produce material for use around
the world and they would have the opportunity to adapt them.’
The key point is to set off the whole brand development, advertising, PR
and education process in the right way. Many PR and medical
communications agencies say that it is sometimes the case that a drugs
company finds it hard to appreciate that a local market might require a
Some US based pharmaceutical companies, for instance, are shocked that
different regulations exist in Europe.
Angie Searle, executive director of Cohn and Wolfe healthcare, which has
just picked up work for Novartis, says, ’Some US companies think that
they can take the US principle and apply it across Europe. We have to
educate clients about the value of core local programmes.’
The US has the largest consuming market presence for pharmaceutical
companies, and regulations allow pharmaceutical companies to advertise
direct-to-consumer. Because consumers are essentially paying for their
own healthcare through medical insurance, the culture is also such that
the consumer is generally more health conscious.
’US companies have exercised more latitude and are more aggressive in
targeting pharmaceutical products,’ Gallagher says.
The internet has opened up a new medium for disseminating information,
but while it is an excellent means of communicating, it is vital that a
pharmaceutical company carefully manages the messages of its
This is hard to do in the present climate, as guidelines in Europe do
not allow a pharmaceutical company to actively promote or discuss their
brands direct-to-consumer (DTC). However, anyone can access a company’s
US web site and gain information on a product.
’Pharmaceutical companies are anticipating a move towards DTC in
Europe,’ says Atkins. Cohn and Wolfe pushes right up against the
boundaries of these regulations. The agency conducted a survey on behalf
of Prozac that looked into how women worldwide suffer from pre-menstrual
tension. It got patient groups to endorse the findings, and distributed
leaflets to patients through surgeries with the Prozac brand colouring,
but with no actual wording - which would be construed as DTC.
Because of the different regulations in Europe and the US, it is
essential that the global PR agency and in-house department maintain a
strong relationship with their international offices, affiliates or
’Some pharmaceutical companies take a tight-rein approach. Some might
want a similar worldwide approach, and others might say adapt your
strategy according to the local market so that the core identity is
The degree to which they push that is widely variable,’ says Atkins.
Despite the relative independence that is allowed of local agencies,
central to a global drive is the consistency of theme, which must
percolate down to all levels of the communications process. What the
global agency can do is feed templates down the chain to local
For example, for their global ’Quit and Win’ campaign for Nicorette,
Shandwick used an image taken from the Swedish part of the campaign. It
was a photograph of a bonfire of cigarettes. The image clearly conveyed
a symbol that could be sold across the globe.
The local agency comes into its own in adapting the communications
process to its country’s regulative and cultural level.
Janet Morgan, head of pharmaceutical and medical at Euro PR, says,
’Globally we monitor the media coverage and feed it back to the local
agencies so that they can become aware of any big issues coming up. From
a local point of view it is important to be far more aware of
opportunities coming up.’
As pharmaceutical companies continue to extend their global reach, and
growing patient interest means that manufacturers are having to consider
consumers in their markets, the industry is learning from the FMCG
The day when a pharmaceutical product is among the world’s superbrands
may not be too far away.
CASE STUDY: Promoting an anti-psychotic treatment for Eli Lilly
Cohn and Wolfe is exploring ways of carrying out an effective global PR
campaign for a pharmaceutical brand in its work for Eli Lilly.
Zyprexa is an ’atypical’ anti-psychotic treatment that was cleared for
marketing in Europe and the US in 1996 for the treatment of
schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders.
Newer generation anti-psychotic drugs (’Atypicals’) represent a major
step forward from the older ’typical’ anti-psychotics, which are often
associated with a narrower efficacy profile and debilitating
side-effects, resulting in poor compliance and increased risk of
relapse. In spite of the advantages of atypicals over typicals,
prescribing in Europe remains consistently low.
Cohn and Wolfe executed a global communications programme to
differentiate Zyprexa from its competitors, which took into account the
differing needs of affiliates and the marketing stages the drug had
reached in different regions.
The objectives were to establish and maintain one global brand and to
ensure consistent communication of core messages at a local level; to
provide affiliates with core materials for local implementation; and to
encourage affiliates to maximise the opportunities presented by the
programme in their own markets and use the materials provided.
The programme comprised an integrated and comprehensive programme of
external and internal activities. A survey of European psychiatrists was
conducted to demonstrate their support for the conversion to newer
This generated pan-European and local market news hooks to form the
basis of a carefully integrated communications programme.
Press briefings were held at key international meetings to provide a
forum for experts to provide new data about atypicals and Zyprexa. This
provided third-party endorsement and dissemination to a wider audience
through the media.
Affiliates were given the necessary materials and guidance to invite
journalists to the meetings and distribute the press materials in their
Cohn and Wolfe regularly distributed press releases on emerging data,
sending data to local affiliates with guidelines on local
This constant drip-feed of information ensured that ’noise’ was
maintained in local media.
Eli Lilly also established the international ’Lilly Schizophrenia
Reintegration Awards’, which were non-branded so that they could be run
in countries where Zyprexa had not yet been launched.
For the internal aspect of the campaign, Cohn and Wolfe devised a
step-by-step global communications manual. This gave affiliates
information on how to organise a press briefing and provided templates
that could be adapted to meet the local needs of individual markets.
A media resource manual was provided, which contained globally approved
press material. This was regularly updated using the network’s on-line
system. The on-line system was set up that enabled communications
between Cohn and Wolfe, Eli Lilly and the various affiliate offices.
Four regional affiliate PR workshops were held to consolidate their
experience and to provide additional support for the development of
local PR strategies.
Media training sessions were also held for employees of the affiliates
and Eli Lilly.
The media coverage gained as a result of journalist attendance at key
meetings and from the ongoing dissemination of clinical data
consistently carried all core messages. Some affiliates also gained
coverage from their involvement in the ’Lilly Schizophrenia
Reintegration Awards’ programme.
Zyprexa has become a major player in the atypical anti-psychotic
TOP TIPS FOR GLOBAL PHARMACEUTICAL PR
- Identify interdependencies between target audiences - hospital,
primary care, funders, carers, patients and general public.
- Identify the needs (rational and irrational) of each audience within
the framework, reflecting the human and professional requirements.
- Develop a unique global positioning for the pharmaceutical compound
that is aligned to the key needs of the prioritised target
- Develop brand essence, messages, identity and vocabulary, and apply to
the commercialisation plan for the final phases of drug development.
- Construct a global communications strategy to deliver attention,
awareness and agreement for the brand message.
- Develop advocacy at a global level, with extension into national
opinion leader level.
- Market development: identify the limiting steps (patient presentation,
diagnosis rates, compliance etc.) to prescription of the new brand and
dedicate communication effort to removing the blockage.
- Market shaping: develop educational and message-driven initiatives to
orient the market towards the new brand.
- Work with national affiliates and their agencies to localise the
- Collect and assimilate market feedback, and evolve communications
strategy to reflect the developing market.