Editor's note: Paul Tunnah is CEO and Founder of Pharmaphorum

pharma trends in 2013As we proceed into 2013, there is a cautious air of optimism that the pharma industry is showing signs of adaptation and innovation in its business models, with some interesting commentary already emerging from the JP Morgan event earlier this year.

One of the areas I am very passionate about is how the pharma industry communicates its work externally and the impact this can have on its reputation. This is not to say any misdemeanours can be brushed aside – these also need addressing – but 2012 saw a more open, communicative pharma industry emerging, and this is a trend that must continue in order to address some of the misunderstandings about it.

Here are my top seven trends in external pharma communications that I hope to see continue in 2013.

1. Put faces to your senior execs

The old adage that ‘people buy from people’ has always been true, whether you are selling in the monetary or relationship sense, especially in the age of social media where real engagement with faceless corporations is limited. Our industry leaders are, more often than not, smart individuals who talk with great passion about the work they do in helping patients who recognise the balance between commerciality and ethical operations.

Pharma has started to recognise this and move on from purely investor led financial presentations to letting their senior executives present their views on a whole host of issues, something which must develop further in 2013 to present the human face of pharma.

2. Empower your employee voices

Just imagine for a moment if your corporate PR team consisted of thousands of individuals, talking every day about what a great company yours is to work for. Looking within pharma, there are plenty of smart, engaging and passionate people operating at all levels within the industry, the vast majority of which only have good things to say about their work.

As more pharma companies provide communication and social media guidelines for employees that not only set boundaries, but actively encourage them to get involved, this can become a reality. Giving employees permission to talk about non-confidential good work being conducted is essential, particularly when it comes to corporate philanthropy and social responsibility.

3. Shout about your good work

Talking about corporate social responsibility (CSR), despite the current economic challenges there is still a lot of good philanthropic initiatives being conducted by the industry. Whether it is supporting the eradication of malaria in the developing world or investing to reduce the burden of drug development on animals the industry invests significantly in areas with no obvious, immediate commercial return. 

 “The patient voice has to be maintained, and built upon, as a critical component of new drug development and commercialisation…”

In 2012, CSR seemed to come to the fore of pharma websites and annual reports – a trend that is likely to continue in 2013. The industry should not be embarrassed to shout about these initiatives as they are more than just PR manoeuvres, but a real investment in both areas of global need and in the development of a strong corporate culture for the future.

4. Listen to patients

‘Patients’ became a bit of a buzz word in 2012, but behind all the noise there has been some genuine engagement with both individual patients and patient groups around the challenges of tackling different diseases. Patients have not always been seen as the key customer in prescription markets, but the insights they bring can have a major bearing on the development of new treatments.

Regulations prevent promotion to patients in many parts of the world, but they do not prevent pharma listening to patient feedback. The patient voice has to be maintained, and built upon, as a critical component of new drug development and commercialisation right from the earliest stages, especially as real world evidence and outcomes becomes the driving issue on access.

5. Respond to criticism

No-one likes to be criticised, whether in business or personal life. However, in communicating more openly, negative feedback is inevitable. For some critics, this is a venting of frustration caused by years of closed doors (which will diminish with time), but for others there will be some genuinely useful feedback in their comments.

Pharma, like all industries, must learn to recognise that criticism which is valuable feedback and take it on board. If the points being raised are addressed it can only serve to build better relationships and a stronger business model. Perhaps 2013 will be the year pharma breaks through the criticism barrier?

6. Demonstrate thought leadership

As with all industries, the days of didactic push sales and marketing are pretty limited. We have already seen the sales force arms wars becoming redundant and significant adaptation in how pharma engages with medical professionals.  This trend must continue in 2013, with such interactions demonstrating deep expertise in therapeutic area issues, rather than simply pushing individual treatments.

 “Communicating thought leadership builds trust, which leads to more constructive two-way dialogue and, ultimately, more effective medical interventions.”

Communicating thought leadership builds trust, which leads to more constructive two-way dialogue and, ultimately, more effective medical interventions. Both direct engagement and broader medical education programmes must continue to drive this new approach this year. In addition, demonstrating leadership around particular disease areas is incredibly valuable for recruiting the best talent and showcasing to the commercial partners.

7. Integrate digital in all comms

OK, so I know that I am slightly biased on this one, but digital is a fantastic channel for implementing all of the above. But so far every industry has slightly fallen into the trap of chasing after the latest, greatest trend in digital, whether it is a new social media channel, online forum or shiny new tech such as the iPad.

However, 2012 showed signs of pharma focussing more on doing the right things with digital, rather than getting side tracked by the hype. Moving on from this, 2013 should be the year where pharma effectively integrates digital with traditional communications channels and makes it a core component of everything it does.

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