Thursday, July 9, 2009
Ask any media person about the pharma industry and one can hear monologues on how pharmaceutical companies are not parting with the necessary information. And this is not dependent on the size and type (domestic or MNC, big or small) of the player. Most Indian pharmaceutical companies do not have a well-established department for handling media queries and for them, interaction with the media is largely restricted to publishing annual results, or press releases on M&As, product launches and USFDA approvals. And those, who have well-established departments, are bound by archaic media-interaction policies and time delays.
However as Indian companies are transforming themselves for the global age, they are taking a fresh look at media management to create a sound and formidable corporate image.
"The last few years have seen pharmaceutical players, both Indian and global, to have initiated a process of keeping the channels of communications open with the media and are more open to share information regarding developments and plans," explains Aman Gupta, CEO of the Mumbai-based Imprimis Life PR, a public relations firm having a host of clients in the pharma and healthcare sectors. The same view is corroborated by others from the industry. http://www.imprimispr.com/
"The Indian pharma industry has grown rapidly and is today recognised for its capabilities throughout the world. Considering this fact, most of the pharma companies in India have realised the need to have a dedicated process and policy, relating to media interactions and hence, have constituted exclusive departments that are well equipped to interact with the media," explains Ch. Ram, Head, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations at Orchid Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals.
However, there are still certain rules and regulations that govern media interactions of pharma companies, given the very nature of work carried out. With multiple concern areas, like patents, product recalls, trademark infringements and marketing tie-ups, few pharma companies might be open to media and avoid media at some stage, opines NR Munjal, Managing Director of IndSwift laboratories. Additionally, companies shy away from the media due to the fear of being misquoted.
"At times corporate clients may decide not to go ahead with the query or interview because of certain reasons—fear of the journalist misinterpreting, a weak storyline, too soon to share the information, he may not have the information, company policy, regulations or too tight a deadline," explains Gupta.
Role of mass media
In today's day and age, pharma companies cannot simply ignore the importance of interacting with the mass media. With bad publicity coming their way through examples of Vioxx, recalling of various drugs and counterfeiting, it has become essential for pharma majors to create a robust corporate image. And the mass media can assist them in this direction. "Instead of five-six odd media interactions, during publishing of results, if the pharmacos continually interact with all their stakeholders through mass media, it will go a long way in creating a corporate image," explains a top official from a renowned magazine.
Consistent communication with consumers through mass media will not only increase the recall for the corporate brand, but will also help the company ride over any controversies. Media goes a long way in educating the consumers about a particular company and its performance (financial), its products, management team and so on. This helps in building a transparent and a sound corporate image as well as in creating recall in the minds of consumers. Hence it makes sense for any corporate to have a 2-way communication channel with the media. It will be an added bonus, if they make an effort to ensure that the media fully understands the business and its various therapeutic areas of a pharma company. This will help reduce the problems of misrepresentation of information. Such 2-way communication also helps in building a trustworthy image (in minds of the customers) and safeguards against dissemination of wrong information.
By being media savvy, a company stands only to gain. "For starters, a company can benefit through an enhanced corporate image in the minds of doctors and patients, increased confidence in investors and other agencies dealing with the company, availability and retention of skilled and competent manpower and lastly, increased possibility for international tie-ups like in-licensing or out-licensing and a boost to marketing efforts," says Munjal.
IT vs Pharma
Proprietary knowledge and intellectual property is a common feature of the IT industry too. So what makes the IT industry more media responsive than pharma? Experts from the pharma industry defend themselves by saying that the nature of the pharma industry is different from that of the IT industry. "Most service providers in the IT industry employ large number of people and undertake client-contracted work. Therefore, they tend to be more open and visible in terms of operations," asserts Ram. The pharmaceutical industry, on the other hand, is characterised by R&D and manufacturing, which reflects facets of proprietary knowledge that at times set certain limits, when it comes to sharing information. "Not withstanding this, I believe that the Indian Pharma industry has come a long way in terms of communicating its growth strategies and plans with its stakeholders in a transparent manner," he adds.
It is but obvious that companies, irrespective of the industry they are in, share information to the media within the lines of a policy framework adapted by the company. This protocol is drawn on back of the interests of the concerned company and its stakeholders. "There are numerous IT companies who are media shy. Yes, I agree that there are various rules and regulations binding a pharma industry and most importantly it is a research driven sector. Therefore a pharma company cannot openly talk about its various products and its benefits like an IT or an FMCG major," reveals Gupta.
All for a favourable image
A sound corporate image cannot just be created in isolation. It has to be intrinsic to a company's operations. Pharma companies stand to benefit on many grounds by investing in creating an image for the company as a whole. For starters, its products get instant recognition. It helps in generating recall amongst doctors and patients, as well as the general public. "A strong image also delivers many benefits from attracting and retaining human talent, perception of the company's products and services in the mind of the customer and of course also reflects in the capital markets," explains Ram.
While many opine that ensuring corporate governance is the only way of creating sound corporate image in the minds of the shareholder and the consumer, others feel that organising press conferences for announcing results, new product launches and marketing tie-ups at regular intervals, making all useful information available at the company's website and circulating press releases for all the key developments in the company is yet another way of achieving the objective. Whatever tactics a company adopts need to be based on the information needs of all the stakeholders. "The strategies adopted, vis-à-vis each identified strategic stakeholder group will vary, depending on the intensity of the company's standing with each group. However, the overall strategy will have certain common elements on product profile, performance, competencies and corporate responsibility," clarifies Ram. And this is not all. In addition to understanding, a corporate also needs to anticipate the information needs of the different stakeholder groups and deliver it in real-time. One can also look at many other ways, like facility visits, friendly HR initiatives, environment friendly policies and quality initiatives. It is of utmost importance to understand the needs of the various target groups and structure the strategy accordingly.
"A good corporate image is built brick by brick. They are built by policies that are communicated to and accepted by employees, by the quality of customer service and employee behaviour. Reputations are enhanced by how willing and prepared a company is to communicate honestly, sharing good news and bad. Public relations and communications tools can be used effectively to support messages that enhance an organisation's reputation," elucidates Gupta.
A separate department
Companies today, have established corporate communications department or hire services of reputed public relations (PR) firm to help them interact with the media and maintain their image in the minds of the stakeholder. "The corporate communications department does play an important role in complying with the corporate governance requirements, but it has a much more specific role in the overall brand management of the company. Obviously, good governance leads to a good image," opines Ram. "A Corporate Communications department acts as a link between the company and the outside world which includes the media and its investing community," states Munjal. Thus, this department plays a significant role in bringing to the forth, the true image of the company.
Activities of a PR firm, in the pharma context, are not just restricted to distributing press releases. "An agency's role is about reputation and perception management and brand building. It's about creating and implementing public relations programmes that make a meaningful, positive impact on each client's reputation, brand and bottom line," explains Gupta.
However, today, more often than not, both these outfits are criticised for delaying everything and for being inefficient. "That is a wrong perception. PR is definitely not, nor has it been a roadblock. Every process, which is followed, is governed by various protocols and company policy," emphasises Gupta. Usually, when a query comes in, the agency evaluates the query keeping in mind the code of behaviour and the interests of its client. It is forwarded to the concerned spokesperson or corporate communications head of the company. Then, depending on the time, availability and the deadline specified by the journalist, the dialogue is initiated—be it an interview or answers to a query.
Thus, as pharma companies grow bigger and invest crores in corporate branding, the time has come now, to leverage the power of media towards creating a strong corporate image.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Since the late '40's, double blind trials testing homeopathy on various medical conditions have led to mixed results. Some are claimed to support the use of homeopathy. In other cases, this method of evaluation proved itself incapable of documenting the success of homeopathic cures.
In a report published in the September 20, 1997 issue of Lancet, Dr. Wayne Jonas, head of the Office of Alternative medicine, and Dr. Klaus Linde, concluded that, when the evidence of the 89 studies of homeopathy judged to be of good quality was pooled, homeopathy was deemed to be 2.45 times more effective than placebo.
In 1996, an unpublished study from the Homeopathic Medicine Research Group, an organization formed by the European Union to determine the effectiveness of homeopathy, concluded that homeopathy was more effective than a placebo... and the probability was only 0.027% that this result might be due to chance! Remarkably, a group skeptical toward homeopathy had assisted in the study's design.
In the February 9, 1991 issue of the British Medical Journal, an analysis by two Dutch researchers asked to assess the efficacy of various forms of alternative medicine, reported that although initially they had been sceptics as to homeopathy and alternative medicine in general, "The amount of positive results came as a surprise to us... The evidence presented in this review would probably be sufficient for establishing homeopathy as a regular treatment for certain indications."
Another, more recent, study stated “Compared with placebo, homeopathy provoked a clear, significant, and clinically relevant improvement in nasal inspiratory peak flow, similar to that found with topical steroids.” British medical Journal August 19th 2000.
The basic law of Homeopathy is let like cure like. This means that the appropriate substance to treat a disease is one which induces similar symptoms in a healthy person. Then, it is crucial to know the symptoms associated with various substances, remedial pathogeneses.
Their have been lot of communities promoting Homeopathy, like http://i-heal.blogspot.com/ is doing a signature campaign to promote this alternative medicine. HEAL is an independent, open-membership platform whose mission is to promote health and well being through homeopathy and endorse homeopathy as a system of medicine. Our key objective is to create awareness about homeopathy. The HEAL web site and blog, aims to reach people who are new to homeopathy with helpful information.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
As this sector deals with life - every life saved translates into big publicity and every life lost translates into lot of negative publicity very difficult to erase. Crisis in this sector is usually classified into the following:
- Death of patient
- Sexual harassment charges
- Medicine overdose
- Duplicate drug
- It is very important to understand the crisis, talk to all the parties involved.
- Inform the spokesperson and people affected to maintain a common statement for media. In the meant time setup an enquiry committee.
- Keep media informed about the latest reports only after approval.
- Get assistance of legal department/consultants.
- Understand what media wants and diplomatically solve all the queries.
- There are many aspects to deal with crisis so it is necessary to hire a communications agency.
This can happen in any hospital like Hinduja Hospital, KEM Hospital, JJ Hospital, Tata Hospital, etc. So be aware and set your protocols to fight such crisis...
Friday, February 20, 2009
The correct approach must be to be forthright, transparent, and to accept ultimate responsibility without much hesitation. News media are bombarded with stories every day. How do you choose what is most interesting? We will not cover press releases here, but rather the importance of a long-term strategy emphasising your 'good works'.
Your objective is to identify real stories about what a great facility you have, and the good you do for people and communities. So, put your best foot forward. The best news stories are about patients and medical staff as human beings, combined with healing against all odds, or successful surgeries in difficult circumstances.
How do you start your pro-active strategy? Bring all department heads together for a comprehensive discussion towards a cohesive approach. Of course, this approach must be in tune with the brand and image of the facility. In other words, don't forget to invite the marketing department. As in any organisation, the challenge is to have this cohesive message still intact by the time it filters down to the front lines. For this reason, your PR officer should meet with each department separately and regularly to discuss important and innovative work.
An important result of regular contact with media to tell them about worthwhile stories is that, whether stories are published or not, your PR officer forms a relationship with key health and news reporters. Contacts are made and kept. These contacts and this approach are extremely important when the bad news happens.
Sometimes mistakes are made by medical personnel who are human beings. Sometimes a quality process is not up to standard, or not internalised by staff. Sometimes ownership has neglected an issue. Most important, every patient is different and has different responses to stimuli. Sad and bad things happen. Yet, two facts are against you even before the unfortunate occurrence has taken place.
First, the 'tall poppy' syndrome. When someone increases in stature to be a superstar, other people have an urge to cut that person 'down to size'. Sad but true. People and reporters will always want to know the clay foot of a superstar. This syndrome is coupled with a distrust of authority, in most countries. Hospitals and doctors are of course authorities on health. In some circumstances, people are not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to authority, but rather to suspect the worst. They think of a cover-up.
Second, the media loves a sensational story. 'When it bleeds, it leads' is a maxim of media. This is why reactive stories of tragedy are more likely to be news, while proactive 'good works' stories may be harder to place in media. Don't forget that every reporter wants to be a star, too. They want a juicy story. All these sad and bad things do happen, and who is to blame? You are to blame.
When bad news happens, your facility can only hope the media contacts you have carefully nourished pro-actively will call you to ask for your side of the story, for balance. Consider the UK media where 'slash jobs' are done without any balance. So, when bad news happens, what will your story be? For insight, let's look at two famous negative health care stories: Tylenol and Bhopal.
In 1982, seven people in Chicago, USA died after taking Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with and replaced with poison. This was soon found to be an act of random murder. Parent company Johnson & Johnson distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors. They stopped Tylenol production and brand advertising, but soon advertised that individuals should not consume Tylenol. They issued a nationwide recall of an estimated 31 million bottles of Tylenol with a retail value of over $100 million.
Tylenol's market share immediately collapsed from 35 to 8 per cent. Later, it was determined only Tylenol capsules were tampered with, and Johnson & Johnson offered to exchange Tylenol capsules purchased by the public with solid tablets. Tylenol soon re-introduced capsules in a new triple-sealed package, which set a new packaging standard for all OTC medications. They had taken a negative and turned it into a positive, and were seen as a leader. Market share rebounded in less than a year, credited to consumer confidence in how the crisis was handled, and Tylenol was undisputed market leader for many years.
Think again about this story: it is a focused strategy to limit danger no matter what the cost or embarrassment, and to emphasise quality and trustworthiness.
In 1984, a tragedy struck right here in India: Bhopal. I will not recount the details here. Readers know of the gas leak which was blamed by Union Carbide on some unnamed 'disgruntled worker'. A different opinion came from former workers who said the plant maintenance was not up the mark and led to the disaster. More than two decades later, the cost of human suffering is scarcely fathomable: more than 1,00,000 people have died or become deformed or affected in other ways. The groundwater around the plant area remains contaminated, and the question of cleaning up the area is still unresolved. In addition there were costs to business, to the brand of the city, to various Governments and to Union Carbide. The company has since been sold several times.
This was a difficult case. Police were recorded as broadcasting that 'everything is normal' to the population. Several conflicting statements from various sources came during the ensuing days, weeks, months and years. This remains one of the worst industrial accidents of all time.
Anyone who thinks about this story will realise that from the beginning right through to the present day, nobody has taken appropriate responsibility. Which is the correct approach? Remember you are dealing with effects on your brand and company value, your employees, your patients, not to mention Governments, regulators and benefactors. Should you hide, deny and hope for distraction? Or should you address issues head-on and simultaneously show you are correcting the situation?
The correct approach must be to be forthright, transparent, and to accept ultimate responsibility without much hesitation. Of course, you did not intend this bad thing to happen. Presumably, you had the correct safeguards and quality standards in place. Obviously, your PR officer should already have ownership-approved emergency SOPs in place for any unfortunate occurrence, and those SOPs have been understood by department heads in order to lessen misunderstandings at a critical time. Naturally, your PR officer must have 24-hour access to a mobile number of the CEO to discuss an urgent response to an emergency.Hopefully those good pro-active relationships may help to buy some time or understanding, as that reporter inches closer to deadline with each passing minute. Yes, in healthcare public relations, you put your best foot forward…and you hope for solid footing for as long as possible.