GSK's in-house comms team handles doctor decision

GlaxoSmithKline is handling internal and external communications about its decision to stop paying doctors exclusively though its in-house comms department.

LONDON: GlaxoSmithKline is handling internal and external communications about its decision to stop paying doctors exclusively though its in-house comms department.

Although the UK-based drug maker has Cohn & Wolfe and Burson-Marsteller on its agency roster, they are not helping the company with the announcement.

GSK said this week that it will no longer pay doctors to promote its products or tie sales representatives' compensation to the number of prescriptions written by doctors with whom they interact. The organization's sales representatives will be paid based on technical knowledge, quality of service provided to clients, and the company's business performance. Following similar moves in the company's US business in 2011, it is planning to complete the change in strategy globally by 2016.

GSK CEO Andrew Witty said in a statement that his company's actions will ensure that patients' interests come first, and that doctors should be provided with information about GSK medicines in a clear, transparent way without any perception of conflict of interest.

Before making the public announcement on Monday, it was pivotal for the organization that the message resonate well with employees, according to Stephan Rea, head of GSK's US external communications.

“We wanted to make sure in our messaging that employees really understood the driving rationale for the changes we were making, that they would embrace those, and they would be empowered in their own way to communicate the benefits of these changes for patients and for our own organization,” he said. “We wanted to give them enough time to ask questions and make sure they really knew what these changes meant for them before we announced the news externally.”

GSK's comms team was cognizant that it needed to ensure it had enough time to communicate with staffers around the world before the public announcement. Because the company has more than 99,000 employees in 115 countries, the communications team had to contend with cultural issues and different languages when figuring out a strategy to quickly get its message across.

“Our leaders are the driving force behind the organization in terms of communicating with employees, so we invested a lot of time in briefing senior leadership across the globe, ensuring they had time to talk with their own teams,” said Rea.

The strategy included a full suite of digital materials, translated into all the different languages GSK uses in its operations, which staffers could access through the company's intranet. A separate site helped department directors access materials, such as briefing packs, translation materials, and Q&As. GSK also uses Yammer, a private social network for corporations.

“We encourage staff to use Yammer as a hub to harness their thoughts and views, which can help us form and evolve comms strategies,” Rea said.

The external communications strategy involved media relations and posting the announcement on the organization's social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

“Social media is a great barometer and gave us a real sense of how the news was landing with our own employees, advocates, and potential critics of the industry,” said Rea.

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