By Mark Weadon
It’s fair to say that the pharmaceutical industry has an image issue, generally ranking just above the tobacco industry in public opinion surveys. One recent Harris Interactive poll reported that only 26% of Americans view pharma favorably. Even worse, 52% of respondents expressed a negative opinion of the drug industry. And this for an industry that enhances health and extends life! Low public esteem may stem from a perception of excessively high prices for life-saving medications or negative media coverage and inflammatory political oratory.
At the same time, drug-safety scares and product recalls have undermined the public’s faith in drug therapies. Clearly, the pharmaceutical industry has some serious work to do to reverse the trend of declining public opinion.
The industry has countered with ad campaigns highlighting the value of medicines and companies’ significant R&D investments. But, innovative strategies are needed to help the industry take a leadership position in public opinion surveys. One possible approach is for the industry to position itself as a vanguard in implementing sustainable business practices, a subject deeply important to legions of those same doubters.
Many pharmaceutical companies are already implementing “green” IT practices designed to lower costs, improve sustainability, and reduce energy consumption in their data centers. Yet by failing to package metrics around green IT, they can’t educate the public on their significant results as an example of the industry’s commitment to more sustainable business practices.
But publicizing metrics from green IT initiatives would just be a start. It will take a comprehensive sustainability effort that spans the enterprise — and eventually the industry — to make a strong positive impact on public perceptions of the industry. The industry has an opportunity to demonstrate that minimizing its effect on the environment is both good business and good corporate social responsibility.
Green IT — The Starting Line
Let’s face it — pharmaceutical companies are making great strides implementing green IT. And providing IT services in a manner that minimizes environmental damage turns out to be good business as these green IT initiatives can reduce operational expenses while lowering energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Pharma CIOs may be aware of multiple green IT projects, such as virtualization technologies, server consolidation, PC power management, grid computing, energy-efficient procurement strategies, or environmentally safe IT asset disposal, under way in their organizations. Individually, they may seem small. But combined, these individual projects bump up the organization’s ability to meet both its business needs and larger social and environmental sustainability goals. The only missing link for the IT department is the ability to systematically measure and report the collective effect. Once they can quantify the impact, companies will be able to provide compelling sustainability success stories — easily consumed by the public — to help improve the image of the pharmaceutical industry.
A Larger Opportunity — Sales And Marketing
The greening of IT and the IT data center is simply the starting line for a sustainability strategy that can move the needle of public opinion. To significantly alter the public’s perception, pharma companies must implement sustainable processes across the enterprise — including manufacturing, sales, and R&D.
Innovative sustainability strategies for core business practices have tremendous potential to boost public opinion for the pharmaceutical industry. A few examples from the sales and marketing department provide a glimpse into possible ways to minimize damage to the environment while improving business results and lowering costs.
For instance, imagine the fuel savings from streamlining travel routes for sales representatives and MSLs (medical science liaisons) globally. Pharmaceutical companies already invest heavily in data and analytics to determine which physicians to target for sales calls. Why not apply analytical techniques to optimize the routes of the sales and MSL teams? The results would save both fuel costs and time, while reducing carbon footprint.
Pharmaceutical companies have utilized e-detailing strategies for years. But e-detailing may also represent an opportunity for the right brands to increase revenues while limiting negative impact on the environment. In fact, messaging that stresses the favorable environmental advantages may influence physicians to prefer electronically delivered details over traditional office-based details.
The marketing department is another fertile area for high-impact sustainable business practices. Closed-loop marketing, for example, uses software for tablet PCs or other digital systems to replace expensive print collateral with richer, more interactive marketing content. Reducing printing, paper, and shipping costs translates into tremendous impact for your corporate sustainability program. And don’t ignore the positive impact to top-line revenues from increasing the effectiveness of each physician interaction.
The Solution — Improve Public Perception
Using sustainability as a lever, significant improvement in the public perception of the pharmaceutical industry is achievable — provided you have full management commitment and the right tools and strategies. Overwhelmed by options? Unsure of how to start? Concerned about how to identify, collect, integrate, and analyze sustainability information in order to publicize and report your achievements? Sustainability solutions available today help measure, manage, and report on the triple bottom line — environmental, social, and economic indicators — and determine business strategies that reduce risk and increase shareholder value. Using current sustainability solutions, you can:
The value of a good reputation is hard to quantify. Given the current state of public opinion, pharma CEOs must address public perception or risk significant legislative and public backlash in the future. Sustainability may be one approach to improve both public perception and overall corporate performance. And it’s good for everyone.
About The Author
Mark Weadon is the industry marketing manager for life sciences at SAS. In this role, he is responsible for product marketing for the life sciences industry on a global basis. Prior to SAS, Weadon implemented pharmaceutical industry IT solutions for more than 13 years at GlaxoSmithKline, where he last served as a Senior Manager of Information Technology. He previously worked for Cisco Systems and General Electric, and he holds an M.B.A. from Elon University.