If distrust of the pharmaceutical industry is not high enough, then fact sheets issued by the World Health Organisation warning of massive corruption throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain is certainly not going to inspire much confidence. The WHO fact sheet reads more like a criminal rap sheet. While it may be unfair to paint the entire industry with such broad strokes, the fact remains that it is a reflection on the industry as a whole and the damage it does is hard to dispute.
From research to clinical trials, and manufacturing to widespread prescription, accusations of unethical behaviour by pharmaceutical companies, coming from a major international health organisation like the WHO, are incredibly damaging. When this comes off the back of existing public mistrust, it's certainly another solid blow to the reputation of the industry as a whole, and one that was already under the microscope.
Snake Oil Salesmen?
If anything, the industry needs to step back and ask itself how it reached this point. How can an industry which has brought so much good to the world have such a poor reputation? The pharmaceutical industry has been behind the vast majority of medical breakthroughs in the last 100 years, from funding research and finding cures, to creating a market which allows those drugs to reach the people who need them. Life expectancy and quality of life has increased dramatically over the last century too, much in part due to the efforts of the pharmaceutical companies and the industry as a whole. While it does have its problems, it certainly had a lot going for it.
The media has been blamed to a large degree, with the belief that sensationalist reporting has done the industry few favours. The media does tend to report on the worst and you are rarely going to read positive stories. While some of this criticism may be fair at times, it's not exactly going to solve the problem until the pharmaceutical industry as a whole changes the existing perception that consumers have.
Consumers don't trust pharmaceutical companies when there tends to be so much activity that confirms their worst fears. Bribing regulators, fast tracking clinical trials, abusing the patent process, incentivising prescription, corrupt inspections and unscrupulous marketing practices; just a few of the damaging reports in the media.
This is why pharmaceutical companies need to take a more proactive approach with their own reputation management. When the activities of few companies can reflect poorly on the activities of an entire industry, it's important to develop trust in your brand. While in the past this relied heavily on media participation, the rise of the internet and social media in particular does provide a direct connection to consumers and the public. The days of wide scale media campaigns are hardly over, but the World Wide Web does provide a more personalised approach and does help build the sort of transparency consumers are looking for.
It's absolutely vital for any pharmaceutical company to develop a sound and long term strategy for their ongoing reputation management, and this needs to encompass a comprehensive online strategy too. While the industry may never overcome consumer distrust completely, there is no reason why trust cannot be built in a brand regardless of what industry that company is in.
In my next post, I will share a case study that reflects the issues that a Pharmaceutical company faced as a result of negative online reputation and what we did to solve it.