How has the environment for pharmaceutical companies changed since the pandemic? And how should those companies change the way they communicate with key stakeholders, including patients and healthcare providers (HCPs), in order to adapt to this new normal?
These were the questions which Ben Fisher, head of health at WE Communications, and a group of Europe’s top pharma PR people, addressed in a session at the PRWeek PharmaComms conference. An expert in communications for pharmaceutical companies, Fisher talked the assembled communications specialists through the findings of WE’s recent Brands in Motions report, The Healthcare Mandate.’
The most obvious thing that the survey results highlighted was the public’s need for reassurance from brands. Having been through the upheaval of the pandemic, people want to know that they can rely on pharma companies and healthcare providers to provide stability, particularly in times of societal upheaval.
Between 2019 and 2022, the proportion of consumers saying they expected pharma brands to play a role in ensuring stability in uncertain times rose from 38% to 50%, putting them on par with educators and friends and family networks. When consumers expect the same of a brand as they do of a teacher or family member, that significantly raises the stakes in any communication.
The good news is that the pandemic response has boosted the perception of pharma brands. In the recent Fortune brand survey, Pfizer went from being placed outside the top 100 to fourth. This achievement was based almost entirely on its role in delivering a successful COVID vaccine. Only the big tech companies managed to beat it to the top spots. And 76% of patient groups scored pharma communications as ‘very effective’.
Nevertheless, further research shows that 67% of pharma executives said that their companies could do better. And a quarter thought that nothing less than a revolution in communications was necessary if the industry was to keep up with changing, and much higher, public expectations.
In shaping their response to this, Fisher said pharma companies should always keep in mind their triple role: as brands, but also as businesses and as educators. But there is, the Brands in Motion survey found, a tension between what they want pharma brands to do and how consumers react when those brands do what they expect.
Most Brands in Motion respondents suggest they want brands to communicate their values and take a strong stance on the big issues of the day. However, this needs to be done in the full knowledge that some part of your audience will remain sceptical. The key to building a stable and authentic partnership over the long-term is consistency of purpose which builds on your core offer and delivers value to your wider stakeholders. Fisher stated that there was a clear need to engage and brands need to be brave: fear less and do more. This was argued as the key to facing down cynicism.
To find out more about how pharma companies need to adapt their communications to the changing expectations of healthcare providers and patients, read WE Communications’ The Healthcare Mandate, here.