An ad-centric strategy is no longer the best prescription for pharma companies that have complex messages for diverse audiences.
"Many times in the pharma industry, we hear that you have to do journal ads," says Sheryl Williams, senior PR director for Cephalon, a Frazer, PA-based biopharmaceutical company. "Often, the question is, 'How do you measure what PR does?' With brand PR, ROI is priceless because a good relationship with the target audience is priceless. It creates an environment for marketing and sales to do their jobs effectively."
Cephalon launched Provigil, a treatment for excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy, in the US in 1999. In 2004, it was approved for two additional indications: excessive sleepiness in obstructive sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder. Provigil has no competitors.
"We had indications that no one had ever obtained for a pharma product," Williams says. "We were pioneering in [that] therapeutic category."
A main challenge is that 50% to 90% of people are undiagnosed. "Sleepiness" wasn't readily recognized as a medical problem or taken seriously by sufferers or doctors. "We needed to home in on the consequences to get people to take action," Williams says.
Cephalon and Dorland Global Public Relations (part of Dorland Global Heath Communications, an integrated pharma advertising firm) devised Alertness Matters, a PR-led campaign to educate shift workers and doctors about the importance of alertness. Focusing on alertness allowed discussion of sleepiness without using the term, which wasn't resonating.
"With PR, we have the ability to create [a] crusade that has more credibility than if it's tied to a particular brand," Williams says.
The strategy was to expose large groups of people to the issue, driving them to alertnessmatters.com. Of particular interest were professions the US Bureau of Labor Statistics identified as having high numbers of shift workers: emergency medical workers, police officers, firefighters, airline workers, and tech support workers.
Education opens doors
"No employer is going to allow you to bring advertising into their marketplace," Williams says. "[Employers] allowed us in because, whether or not people get our product, [the campaign] has [educational] value."
Nancy Long, president of Dorland Global PR, says making alertness meaningful presented an interesting educational challenge. "You can't do that with a quick hit," she says. "We needed [a] comprehensive [program to reach] people where they live, work, and play. We needed one central message and as many ways to deliver the message as possible."
Pilots were launched in Atlanta and Chicago. Mark Rosekind and Melissa Mallis, sleep experts and former NASA scientists, were enlisted to give workplace presentations. Teams also worked the streets and, in Chicago, ballgames. A simulator was used to demonstrate perspectives of the sleep-impaired. Quizzes, questionnaires, surveys, and informational materials were widely distributed. As for advertising, billboard and transit ads were used to raise the issue and drive people to the Web site.
"Different tools engage people and build relationships, so they can address whatever issue they have and find a way to have a productive conversation with physicians," Williams says.
At Dorland, all PR teams have dedicated advertising talent working with them. Donna Huang, group supervisor in the PR operation, says ad creatives are "counselors in terms of translating [our goal] visually and through text."
Josh Beatty, senior art director on the ad side at Dorland, worked on the campaign and says advertising and PR strengthen each other. "Cephalon is very open and committed to [doing] the best thing," he says. "[It's] a luxury."
The pilots reached more than 22 million people, generating 85,000 Web site visits (the goal was 10,000 per market) within two months and garnering 11 million media impressions. Based on test-market success, Cephalon unleashed $4.5 million and extended the campaign into eight more markets.
Long applauds Cephalon's willingness to "embrace a different dynamic" in achieving the campaign's objectives. "PR rarely is the lead discipline in a marketing campaign," she says. "The client may perceive it as risky. [Now, PR] is in an ideal position to lead and own a much larger part of the marketing puzzle."
Cephalon is not alone in using PR as a central part of its marketing outreach, with advertising playing a supporting role. ArthroCare Spine, maker of a bone cement that treats compression fractures in back patients, boosts its sales with an ongoing, grassroots PR campaign led by physicians.
The company has its competitors, but "we're a leader in terms of providing information," says Jennifer George, senior product marketing manager at ArthroCare Spine.
George enlists doctors from markets that have the highest sales to conduct local-level seminars in such places as senior centers, AARP meetings, and medical centers. Doctors aren't paid, and George only approaches those who are "aligned" with the company and believe education is important. Media relations focus on "active, health-aware" adult publications. Flyers are used, and ads run in small, community publications. The only other paid placement has been in Reader's Digest.
Danish pharma company Novo Nordisk and Chandler Chicco-owned Biosector 2 also used a PR-centric strategy when they created a three-year campaign for insulin NovoLog FlexPen using spokesman Will Cross, a former high school principal with a passion for extreme adventures who has lived with type 1 diabetes most of his life. Cross trekked to both poles and summitted six mountains, touting the benefits of NovoLog and showing that people with diabetes can live extremely active lives if they manage disease properly.
An Phan, Novo Nordisk director of product communications, says, "A balance of branded and unbranded programs provides compelling messages, especially in the absence of new clinical data." The approach, she adds, showed that NovoLog FlexPen is the preferred and convenient therapy.
Cross received extensive media training and became adept at delivering key messages and raising brand awareness. The two challenges he led garnered more than 344 million impressions. Since 2003, Novolog's market share has risen more than 50%.
"When you have a more commoditized brand, you need to build a relationship with the specific brand, rather than the category," says Jackie Krieger, PR strategist at Biosector 2.
Timeline of a campaign: Provigil
12/98 - Provigil approved for excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy
2/99 - Product launched in the US
1/04 - FDA approves Provigil for excessive sleepiness in obstructive sleep apnea and shift work sleep disorder
10/03 - Dorland becomes AOR for Cephalon
11/04 - Alertness Matters campaign conceived and approved
5/05 - Alertness Matters Atlanta pilot
9/05 - Alertness Matters Chicago pilot
12/05 - Cephalon marketing team approves funds to expand Alertness Matters to eight markets (Cincinnati; Charlotte, NC; Detroit; Memphis, TN; Buffalo, NY; Pittsburgh, Denver, Las Vegas)