Public Relations in the next 40 years...

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Pharma marketers are seldom early adopters when it comes to cutting-edge promotional techniques and new technologies. But when it comes to communications, drug companies and their agency partners wrote the book.

“Pharmaceutical PR has been at the forefront of PR, and much of the evolution of PR as a strategic enterprise has been pioneered in the pharmaceutical industry,” says Nancy Turett, president and global director of Edelman's healthcare practice. “Many of the best practices now used in multiple industries were pioneered in pharma.” Pharmaceutical communicators, she notes, pioneered models of advocacy, ally development, grassroots and educational programming now routinely employed by companies like Proctor & Gamble and Wal-Mart. “Because healthcare is so heavily regulated, it's been incumbent upon us to be as creative as possible to effectively reach patients, and that's inspired a lot of new approaches,” says Turett.

The advent of branded broadcast advertising in 1997 brought a shift in the role of pharmaceutical public relations as a tool for reaching consumers. “Prior to that, PR had a very important role to play in educating consumers where advertising couldn't,” says Kym White, managing director of Ogilvy PR. But where DTC advertising is great at building brand awareness, PR techniques excel at informing people.

“Advertising won't ever replace PR when it comes to persuading and educating patients,” says White.

But the rise of advertising and the fall of Vioxx has made unbranded, disease-state focused communications that much more important in healthcare communications. Expect that trend to continue, says White, whose shop worked on the Heart Truth women's heart health awareness campaign for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

The Heart Truth campaign, now in its fourth year, has outfitted celebrities from Laura Bush and Christie Brinkley to Paula Abdul in red dresses and signed up corporate partners, from Wal-Mart to Macy's.

 “This really speaks to finding something meaningful that really resonates with the consumer,” says White.

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