How data can help pharmaceutical businesses improve their Media Influence & Advocacy Communications

Effective communication for pharmaceutical businesses

Transforming pharma PR and communications into a strategic function now requires a data and insight-driven approach in order to develop communications strategies and rethink traditional PR measurement.

Hence, the Data-Driven Strategy team at United Partners took the opportunity to conduct an extensive industry-related study while providing an analytical framework for the strategic analysis of pharma communications based on media data.

For the purposes of the analysis, we used a sample of 3,236 Bulgarian language articles and posts from traditional online news media, blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter, published in the period 1st July 2017 – 30th June 2018. The sample was quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed using a proprietary media research platform, as well as a range of tools for social media listening, natural language processing, and graph visualization.


The conducted research led to the following strategic insights & outcomes:

Measuring media reputation is crucial to building solid pharma corporate brands

How stakeholders perceive pharma companies is influenced primarily by the lay traditional and social media. Hence, media has a disproportionate impact on pharma companies’ reputation, so evaluating and measuring their media reputation should be the first step in managing overall reputation and corporate branding.

Financial success fuels a negative persona

The prevalence of financial news around big pharma companies can be considered as one of the main reasons for the industry’s reputational decline. To some extent, the latter can be attributed to the fact that many pharma companies are large multinational corporations that are under pressure to meet Wall Street quarterly earnings expectations, which is often achieved through intense M&A activity. The focus on financial communications does not aid the problem with the low familiarity among the general public of most pharma corporate brands.

Governance is suffering

Two pharma PR crises loom large in the Bulgarian media coverage, both related to Novartis – the Greek corruption scandal and the Michael Cohen case in the US. Although they concern only one of the big pharma companies, they result in a negative image transfer to all players in the industry.

Although the crisis topic is not so central to the overall pharma discussion, the centrality of Novartis helps its diffusion and acts as a media multiplier for the spillover of negative image to the entire industry.

Potentially unethical business practices attract more media attention than innovation and breakthrough discoveries

Doctor sponsorship or the provision of free services to doctors and patients, by almost all big pharma companies is a topic receiving significant media attention with the implication that physicians are in collusion with the pharmaceutical industry because of the financial benefits it provides. In this regard, several big pharma companies are already facing lawsuits in the US alleging that such sponsorships are illegal kickbacks.

Social media is driving conspiracy diffusion

The pattern of pharma news diffusion on social media is quite different from mainstream traditional media. Engagement around pharma news on social news on Facebook- the most popular social network in Bulgaria – is generally quite low, but the platform often serves as a breeding ground for the transmission of conspiratorial ideas, which lead to occasional spikes in engagement.

Following up on the listed insights, our study offers some useful recommendations on successful pharma communications strategies that include the following:

Drive depth of understanding

The prevailing media coverage of the pharmaceutical industry hurts its ability to communicate with their stakeholders and convey what they are doing, and how they are improving the quality of life for millions of people.

One of the main objectives of pharma PR and communications teams, therefore, should be to increase public familiarity with the pharma business and its mission to improve people’s quality of life through innovation.

Balance profit and purpose

Pharmaceutical companies are succeeding in areas the public has less concern for- financial performance – and failing in areas the public values the most- governance and ethics.

Media coverage around M&A and financial performance in pharma overshadows pharma companies’ achievements in the development of breakthrough therapies. Even in pharma financial communications there is significant ground for conveying a consistent message around innovation strength and patient- centric strategies.

Prioritize the corporate brand

When speaking about corporate reputation in the pharmaceutical industry, it is usually not the products that prompt people to say positive or negative things about a company, but rather people’s perception of the company formed by past experience or media coverage. Therefore, corporate branding corporate branding is crucial for therapeutic area portfolio branding (also known as franchise branding) in establishing strong company positioning in a given field.

Own your corporate narrative

Pharma marketing communications have traditionally relied on direct marketing through sales reps to promote new drugs and increase the adoption of marketed brands. The recent developments in pharma with medicines becoming more targeted and personalized and the explosion of online information and data about various medical conditions and the available therapies to treat them requires that pharma companies deploy more sophisticated and layered communications strategies and cannot just rely on sales reps to communicate their brand promise.

Adopt an FMCG approach to disease branding

“Patient centricity” and “beyond- the-pill marketing” are the new buzz words in pharma communications. As pharma companies are increasingly becoming more involved in campaigning and CSR, adopting a comms approach usually practiced by FMCG companies currently distinguishes the more progressive ones, which display firm commitment to achieve their business goals through more campaign-based activities rather than just simply pushing out press releases.

Do you want to learn more on successful approaches in developing pharma communications strategies?

Download the 16-page report by United Partners’ Strategy & Insights team and get full access to the data gathered from local media as well as our social media analysis. In addition, you will also be presented with relevant diagrams and strategic insights as well as useful recommendations for conducting successful corporate communications strategies.

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