“There is permanent, unyielding interest in healthcare and pharmaceutical stories,” notes Jim Weinrebe, SVP of Schwartz Communications' healthcare practice.
Yet, the positive coverage of new drugs can be offset by negative stories about the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, Weinrebe adds.
“The business of pharmaceuticals – drug pricing, aging pipelines, ethical issues, and controversies in marketing and corporate behavior – tend to dominate the industry in terms of coverage,” he says.
Many consumers don't have a positive image of the industry – a perception driven by media coverage – but they do trust the drugs prescribed to them, says Patrick Clinton, editor-in-chief of industry trade publication Pharmaceutical Executive.
“Most people tend to trust the drugs that they themselves are taking, but they don't trust pharmaceutical companies [or] drugs in general,” he says, adding that consumer reporters often focus on a new medication's side effects at the expense of the overall benefits. “To me, the pharmaceutical industry coverage is not very good.”
The medicine vertical itself is also constantly changing. As a result, Pharmaceutical Executive is tweaking its editorial content, Clinton adds.
“If you look back, a great deal of this magazine was about marketing,” he says. “But we've also been ramping up coverage of various forms of enterprise management and talking about the strategic business implications of new technology.”
Those improvements are not just changing the medicine industry – they're also dramatically impacting pharmaceutical media at large, says Jeff Hoyak, president of MCS Public Relations, an agency that focuses on healthcare communications.
“The biggest trend I'm seeing... is that a lot of the news reporting is now taking place online,” he says. “Something like 78% of Americans go online seeking medical information, so not only are there more dedicated, Web-based publications, but [also] pretty much every newspaper and TV station has online pharmaceutical coverage.”
Hoyak adds that reporters from a number of beats, including health, business, science, and lifestyle, can cover pharmaceuticals. However, he suggests most reporters look for the same story angles.
“For a new clinical advance, you need to have a study, and you need to have the investigators lined up to talk; and also, you need the company spokesman lined up,” he says.
Weinrebe adds that healthcare PR pros must make complex drug and medical issues relevant for a general-interest audience.
“The constant ingredient, irrespective of what milestone you're touting... is putting a human face on it by coming up with a compelling patient trying to overcome a significant health challenge,” he says.
- The pharmaceutical industry can have difficulty getting positive press, so focus on the drugs themselves and highlight a treatment's real-world benefits
- Rising drug prices are a big issue, so turn that to a client's advantage by pointing out the swell of generics and that the US has some of the lowest generic drug prices
- There are a lot of biotech entrepreneurs driving major changes in pharmaceuticals. Their stories can be as compelling as the products they are helping to bring to market