As pharmacos get globalised and communication gets real-time, there is a need to communicate right information at the earliest and in a manner that would enhance the corporate brand image. But are pharmacos getting more media savvy? Nandini Patwardhan finds out.
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.