Charlotte Beers, the former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs for the Bush administration, launched a scathing attack on pharma’s critics, challenging the industry to stand up and fix the problem.
“I’m mad as hell and I want to do something about it,” Beers told delegates at the Pharmaceutical Brand Leadership conference in Chicago. The enemy, she said, “comes clothed in all kinds of righteous wardrobes: it’s the rampant politician, it’s the singer, it’s the star, it’s the elderly, it’s charities, all of whom seem to have permission to treat the pharmaceutical industry as a whipping boy.”
But Beers, who was charged with reshaping America’s global image when President Bush began waging war on terror, was equally critical of pharma’s largely invisible response. “Why are you willing to tolerate this virtual silence as far as the broad-based enterprise of consumers around the world are concerned?” she demanded. “Is it so far gone that you think there is no way to rescue it? Or do you not have any idea how you might marshal your resources and do something about it? I don’t know how you can settle for less, really… it’s your livelihood and it’s addressing an extreme distortion.”
Beers, who served as chairman at J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather and has a resume brimming with big-brand accounts, urged companies to market brand experiences instead of just products, and to “bond together” and speak with one voice. “In your kit are amazing stories,” she said. “There is a veritable army of all sizes and shapes of people in the world who depend on and benefit from this sophisticated and exceptionally productive industry.”
Beers was under no illusions about the magnitude, urgency and complexity of the challenge, likening it to her own attempts to build mutual understanding between the US people and the people of the rest of the world, “especially when we were invading Iraq.” Nevertheless, she remained adamant the industry can turn around its image.
“I know you have the resources to do it,” she declared, “but do you have the will?”