Pharma companies are not the friendliest to the media. At PRWeek, we encountered an exception recently, when Bristol-Myers Squibb invited our new healthcare reporter on a media tour of the company's new oncology facilities, along with reporters from major business dailies and weeklies. It included a Q&A with the company's R&D leadership about what's in the pipeline, and finished with a presentation by cancer survivor Sharon Blynn.
This event offered a level of transparency and collaboration that is sadly lacking in much of the pharmaceutical world, as it relates to the media that covers it. Certainly companies have reason to be wary. With a general public that equates big pharma with big tobacco and other reviled sectors, it is no wonder that companies are skittish about opening up. But modeling a media relations effort on paranoia and secretiveness is not a way to engender the kind of trust needed to turn those negative perceptions around.
None of this is news. But as bad as it has been, it's going to get worse as consumers demand more info, and increasingly get it from other sources. By now, everybody (or at least, everybody “hip” and “with it”) has seen the YouTube sensation created by combining Mentos and Diet Coke. Imagine what would happen if someone decided to conduct a drug trial video online? This scenario is far from remote, and may already be happening.
Pharma companies need to cultivate active and transparent relationships with the media, and not just when things are good. Consumers are looking for information they can trust. The media is an important channel that is too often choked off at the source. Don't like what that reporter wrote? Consider the alternative. Media relations must play a strategic role in the marketing mix, before consumers turn away from traditional sources entirely.
Julia Hood is editor in chief of PRWeek