NEW YORK: Healthcare communications professionals filled the Waldorf Astoria's Starlight Room last Wednesday to hear a series of speakers discuss PR's role in developing and executing direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing plans.
The event, Pharma PR: The Real Direct-to-Consumer, was PRWeek's second annual healthcare conference. The gathering in 2002, Pharma's PR Diagnosis, was more generally focused on pharmaceutical PR strategies and tactics. This year's concentration on DTC comes at a time when pharmaceutical companies have made the practice a staple in their approaches to marketing drugs.
Mary Stutts, senior director of corporate relations for Genentech, began the day by speaking about how the established biotech company has evolved its marketing strategies to coincide with its steady growth.
Panels consisting of agency and corporate communications representatives followed. Rebecca Tillet, director/team leader, US pharmaceuticals PR for Pfizer; Nancy Turett, Edelman's head of healthcare; and Mary Lynn Carver, director of oncology public affairs for AstraZeneca, discussed how PR can prove its value.
The way in which product branding impacts the corporate reputation of pharmaceutical companies was analyzed by Melissa Brotz, VP of corporate communications for Abbott Laboratories; Michael Rinaldo, head of healthcare for Fleishman-Hillard; Gloria Stone, executive director of global PR for Novartis Oncology; and Ketchum's healthcare head David Catlett.
Shelia Thorne, president of Multicultural Marketing Group, delivered a presentation on multicultural markets, and how they are still virtually untapped by pharmaceutical companies. Julia Amadio, VP of multicultural marketing for Aventis, presented a case study on work Aventis executed in Detroit to reach African Americans affected by diabetes. Both panelists, however, agreed that not enough has been done to reach multicultural audiences.
Lunchtime speaker Peter Pitts, associate commissioner for external relations at the FDA, called upon the PR industry to help eliminate the confusion DTC advertisements and news stories about drugs sometimes cause. Overstated benefits and understated risks about pharmaceuticals, according to Pitts, are almost always considered a coup for the company whose drug is being promoted. Pitts challenged the room to be "responsible" by presenting products to the media and consumers in a fair and balanced manner.
The latter half of the conference consisted of discussions on marketing to the caregiver, integrating pharmaceuticals across marketing disciplines, and managed care and pharmaceutical partnerships. Representatives from Weber Shandwick, Migliara/Kaplan Associates, Gilead Sciences, Schering-Plough, Corbett Health, DDB, Porter Novelli, Signova/Vox Medica, AstraZeneca, and WellPoint made up these panels.