Pharma's Rep: Redeeming the Seedy & Greedy

Can the pharma industry restore luster to its dimming reputation?

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

pharma's reputationThe burnout of the neon sign’s reputation has been dramatic.

In the 1930s, neon was innovative and extravagant. During their hay day in the 1950s, glowing neon signs lit up the city skies, beckoned motorists off highways, and set businesses apart from competitors.

But neon signs started becoming so commonplace, that they lost their allure. They were too bright, too loud, too hot. Lighting technology evolved. Some cities even discouraged the use of neon lights by passing ordinances restricting or banning their use.

Today, neon signs are largely relegated to seedy, late-night businesses, to the tune of strip clubs, sex shops and bail bonds. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Given the current state of pharma’s reputation, it’s difficult to imagine that there was a time when the industry shined bright. Following WWII, pharmaceutical companies entered what is referred to as the “golden age” of drug development, where they transformed lives by finding cures for previously incurable diseases (such as tuberculosis) and developing viable treatment strategies for illnesses that were killing people at a rapid pace (such as pneumonia). Pharma was life-changing. Pharma was innovative. And perhaps most impressive, pharma was known for something other than corporate greed.

Today, countless surveys and rankings illuminate pharma’s fall from public grace. The same companies that have saved billions of lives are among the most hated in the country. From drug prices to opioid addiction, what the public doesn’t understand, the public chooses to vilify.

And the industry’s strategy has largely been to stay silent. But this month’s cover story discusses why public perception, as intangible as it might seem, should be top of mind for pharma companies looking to keep their businesses healthy.  

But how do you repair a broken rep? One suggestion is to start small. While personally, I loved PhRMA’s powerful GOBOLDLY campaign (and I applaud the trade group for taking action on pharma’s image problem) — pharma needs to bring the transparency to a more personal level. Why? Because people believe in the credibility of individual companies over that of an entire industry.

To that end, Philly-based consulting boutique, NAXION, conducted a national survey of patients being treated with prescription drugs for various conditions and found that patients think significantly more highly of the company that supplies their drugs than the broad industry to which it belongs. “How you experience the value of a product or service (or extend ‘forgiveness’ for cost) is different when you focus on the face of a company up close rather than the herd,” explains the company’s CEO, Susan McDonald, Ph.D.

As you will read in our cover story, there are ways to break through the noise and effectively tell your company’s story. 

Step out of the shadows, pharma, and be the brightly shining sign no one can ignore.

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