NEW YORK - The exact cause of glaucoma, a disease where pressure builds inside the eye, is still not well understood. But the marketplace for glaucoma drugs is nevertheless a crowded one.
At Allergan, Lumigan had become a top-selling product, but the pharmaceutical company wanted to capture a greater market share for the brand.
The company, along with Webb Patterson Communications, launched a PR campaign on two fronts: to gain credibility among physicians and to create consumer demand for Lumigan. But because many individuals are not aware of the risk factors for glaucoma, Allergan would first have to build awareness among the people most at risk for developing the disease.
To attract the most media attention, Allergan realized that its campaign would have to focus first on education and brand awareness would follow, says Todd Wood, senior product manager for Lumigan.
Allergan, therefore, enlisted the help of six nonprofit groups with ties to specific communities. "Naturally, they can then reach out to media," says Wood.
Four of the organizations reached out to the black community, which has one of the highest incidences of the disease. In addition, the Glaucoma Research Foundation provided the key facts central to the campaign's message.
Together, the groups formed Partnership for Sight, a blindness prevention and disease awareness coalition.
Wood notes that the decision to take a grassroots approach was a purposeful one. "People might listen more to their minister or their pastor rather than what their doctors are telling them," he says.
To reach physicians, Allergan also formed the Allergan Advisory Council, a group of respected glaucoma specialists, to gain perspective on how physicians approach the disease.
Patients with glaucoma, the "sneaky thief of sight," often have no symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. The vision loss it causes can be irreversible. Partnership for Sight, therefore, launched a national glaucoma screening tour to identify people with the disease and to encourage those at risk to schedule regular check-ups.
"We needed an event of some sort," Wood says. "That was the tool to create media coverage."
Webb Patterson promoted 15 large-scale screenings with media relations and grassroots efforts, such as poster distribution and community calendar listings. The agency also pitched stories to the trade media on topics of interest to physicians - like the equipment used during the screening test.
But a large part of the effort was aimed at reducing the stigma associated with the disease. "It's a very private matter," says Rita Loskill, executive director of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. "People think they will be looked at differently."
The screening effort also tried to reach individuals through family members and focused on the propensity of the disease to affect multiple siblings.
Katy Dimmick, SAE at Webb Patterson, notes that during the course of the screening tours, Allergan had key "face time" with physicians outside their busy offices. In addition, the company had access to doctors who might not have responded to a standard sales pitch.
At the end of the campaign's first year, Lumigan had increased its market share to 10% of the $1 billion glaucoma market and also had captured 35% of its drug class.
Partnership for Sight received 20.4 million media impressions, says Dimmick. In addition, one trade publication named Allergan "Most Admired Specialty Pharmaceutical Company" and cited the screening program as a major outreach effort.
Webb Patterson, AOR for Lumigan and another Allergan glaucoma drug, Alphagan P, is looking for ways to continue the advocacy campaign. "We have applied for federal grants and funding from various foundations to continue the program," Dimmick says.
Wood notes that it would be easy to expand the initiative. "We built a nice base of community awareness," he says. "It opens the door for more volunteerism."
PR team: Webb Patterson Communications (Durham, NC) and Allergan (Irvine, CA)
Campaign: Partnership for Sight
Time frame: March 2003 to present (ongoing)