RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC: Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has undertaken a critical marketing campaign - not for a new product, but for its reputation.
The company has started working on a media relations campaign to address criticisms about the high cost of brand-name drugs.
The initiative is being led not by the PR department, but by a separate reputation committee established in April.
"We've got to be visible, and we've got to talk to the press," said Michael Pucci, VP of external advocacy. He added that Glaxo must "take on our critics, and stand up and have it out."
The current media relations effort comes out of grassroots work Pucci initiated just over one year ago.
"The PR group is largely reacting to the press and issues that are thrown in our way," he said. "These [grassroots] initiatives are designed to take the message out into the community."
Last year, for instance, Glaxo trained its 9,000 sales reps to give presentations in front of community groups where they live and work.
Pucci said that the company's message will focus on the reason drugs cost as much as they do - and link the cost of today's drugs to the future research those profits will fund.
The urgency of the situation crystallized two months ago, when a Harris Interactive poll showed that only 44% of respondents said that the pharmaceutical industry is doing a good job.
"It's a wake-up call," Pucci said. "That means, if the poll is correct, that an attorney could select any jury" and win a case against the industry.
The reputation committee already had initiated an advertising campaign last March.
Other companies also have taken steps to address criticism surrounding the cost of drugs. Pfizer last month unveiled an initiative offering deep discounts to the uninsured.
Pucci noted that Glaxo has a long tradition of providing free drugs to low-income Americans, but the company needs to better highlight those programs.
"Pfizer has been doing a better job of taking that message to the public," he said. "We've got to demonstrate that we care."