WHITEHOUSE STATION, NJ: Merck, which has been embroiled in one of the largest drug crises in recent memory, is looking for an agency to help build awareness of both the company and its good work.
The initiative is billed as the first image campaign in the company?s history.
And while Merck notes that the campaign was conceived more than two years ago, its launch comes as the embattled company still faces fallout from the Vioxx recall.
?The bottom line is we believe it?s important for people to know who we are,? said Chris Loder, director of media relations.
WPP agency Ogilvy & Mather has already been awarded the advertising component, which launched this month and will run through the end of the year.
Loder could not confirm by press time how many PR agencies will be asked to pitch.
He was also vague about the details of the PR effort, except to note that the themes and messages would be consistent with the advertising piece.
Merck?s leaders first took a closer look at the company?s reputation in January 2003, according to Loder. The company then reached out to 20,000 stakeholders to find out what they knew about the company.
It turned out that they knew very little. Less than half of lay and medical audiences were somewhat or very aware of the company.
Loder noted that the interviews also showed a low awareness of Merck?s patient assistance programs or the role the company played in eradicating childhood diseases like mumps and measles.
?What came back to us was that Merck was not familiar to most people,? he said. ?Which is surprising because we do all those good things.?
About 40% of resources will be used to increase awareness of its drug discount programs, and Merck will also partner with non-profit groups to educate people on how to sign up.
?That?s the whole goal of the grassroots? part, Loder said.
A budget was not disclosed.
In addition to its personal challenges, Merck has been swept along with the image problems facing the entire industry. Many companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer, have launched similar campaigns.
A separate study by market information group TNS found that recent events bear strongly on a company?s image.
Drug companies that once enjoyed ?stellar? reputations fell ?dramatically? as the media took a critical look at drug approval, noted SVP Curt Carlson of TNS? Stakeholder Management Center.
In contrast, tobacco company Altria saw a reputation boost as lawsuits have been settled and media scrutiny lessens.
M&A activity seemed to boost a company?s standing.
?Those require a steady, controlled communications stream to stakeholders,? Carlson said.