Advocacy organizations serve as primary drivers of opinion and knowledge with patients, media and policy makers. Corporate reputation is increasingly subject to the influence of these stakeholders as their prominence, visibility and access can help effectively build reputation and credibility over the long term.
Pharmas have always understood the importance of working with allied patient and professional organizations. Recently, there's been a shift in how these connections are cultivated. Many companies now invest in advocacy departments with staff experienced in developing and managing relationships.
Terms like “measurement” and ROI are readily tossed around to evaluate how the company will benefit from a specific relationship. And as corporate budgets are being scaled back, marketing managers are re-evaluating their investments and questioning what partnerships should look like.
Forging strong advocacy relations is critical for achieving objectives. The most effective relationships are cultivated only when you remove short-term branded objectives from the equation and focus on the long-term value of the partnership. The true benefit of advocacy relations is a measure of less tangible results – public perception, bonds with thought leaders and gaining a contact list of friends in times of crisis.
Friends in the advocacy world are vital for driving broader awareness initiatives. Leveraging the credibility and influence of a professional or patient organization is key to developing an effective disease education campaign to reach target audiences. These relationships are also key to laying the foundation for future activities or managing potential issues.
Building strong advocacy ties is much like starting a new relationship. You need to follow a few simple rules:
Don't come on too strong: When meeting a group, take the time to listen. Identify mutual educational and patient care goals.
Remember that it's a two-way street: Successful partnerships provide benefits for both partners. For many groups, this may include increasing their influence and membership while retaining their credibility.
Appreciate what they can offer: Advocacy organizations are the first places people go for information and educational tools, as they have a proven track record in developing effective programs.
Elizabeth Battaglino of HealthyWomen summed this up: “The pharmaceutical industry partners with organizations because we know what works best when reaching professionals and consumers. So when developing an educational initiative with a third-party organization, don't dictate what we should do but rather, allow us to use our experience to create a campaign that provides the information and tools we know people need. In the end, it will be a success for everyone.”
Be open and honest: Transparency is paramount especially during a crisis. When dealing with an issue, let your partner do the talking while arming them with the relevant information to tell your story.
Make a commitment: If you sponsor a program, support it beyond the initial public launch. Success isn't measured just in media impressions but in behaviors changed.
In PR, we develop lasting partnerships for clients that exist beyond the lifecycle of a single brand. Through these connections, companies listen to and understand the needs of patients, and learn ways to better address them.
Kate Cronin is managing director of the healthcare practice at Ogilvy PR