Thou Shalt Build Credibility But Plan for the Worst


As pharma companies plan for the launch of new products, much of the discussion centers around how to position a new drug or device to the rest of the world. Still, much of that same planning can be internalized and used early on to create messaging with employees.

By building an internal messaging plan, companies can find out where potential flaws or holes might exist. As noted previously, Best Practices, LLC, developed 10 tenets that are critical to the success of internal branding. Today, I will focus on the fourth, fifth and sixth of those.

Fourth Commandment: Build communication on solid science to show that a condition is real and that it can be treated

Scientific and clinical data form the bedrock of discussing disease state, condition and treatment within a company. When a drug can treat a new or little-known medical condition, it is imperative to present data demonstrating a condition exists and that a treatment is possible.

Again, Pfizer’s Viagra team highlighted how a team’s internal messaging proved valuable leading up to launch. The Viagra brand team took a strictly medical approach to communicating to employees about erectile dysfunction. The company understood that Viagra “had to come out as a medicine for a medical condition,” an executive who worked with the product shared with Best Practices. That initial clinical approach not only set the long-term positioning of the drug, but it helped Pfizer respond effectively to talk-show jokes at the drug’s introduction.

Tactics for Using Science/ Clinical Data

  • Explain the medical background – who is affected, known causes, symptoms, treatment availability, incidence, etc.
  • Provide statistics on morbidity or diminished Quality of Life.
  • Explain how the disease is presently understood.
  • Avoid communications that are too technical
  • Make sure data is believable.
  • Tell how the company plans to fulfill unmet need.
  • Share clinical trial results & health outcomes data as available.
  • Let senior leaders, thought-leaders and influencers introduce the science.
  • Share messages in all-hands meetings and web chats.
  • Publicize events and postings via e-mail.

Fifth Commandment: Prepare for controversial issues to resolve conflicts with adversarial or hostile groups

With more public scrutiny nowadays, it is not surprising that controversies will arise from time to time.

Interviewed executives who experienced such conflicts suggest creating a standing communications infrastructure to respond quickly to challenges and public issues, as well as to opportunities. Such an infrastructure supports both internal and external communications when needed. The principles employed by successful brands include:

  • Identify and appoint “communication deputies” across functions and regions to accelerate response to crises or key events.
  • Centralize information management and coordinate field response on an enterprise basis.
  • Respond to local challenges at the local level to prevent escalation into additional areas or regions.
  • Keep the core communications team well informed through rapid updates on issues/events.

Sixth Commandment: Engage Thought-Leaders to Win Employee Support

Brand leaders with experience in new conditions and socially sensitive diseases recommend using thought-leaders (and company experts) to build internal support for a new product. They note that these influencers help educate employees.

Brand executives find that employees retain disease state information when they hear it from senior leadership, thought-leaders or internal experts. These guidelines can be used to derive the most value from such influencers inside the company:

  • Have senior leaders introduce basic disease information at regular company meetings (all-hands, quarterly briefings, etc.), This process should generally begin at or before clinical Phase 2b.
  • Leaders should share the basic message: “This is coming; this is what it does; this is why we’re doing it; this is the value.”
  • Schedule and provide product development progress reports at corporate meetings.
  • Feature thought-leaders at speaker forums or in web chats. Video speakers for employees to replay on the intranet.
  • Share the disease state and product information with those who are farthest from the patient—early R&D and Manufacturing—as well as with Marketing and Sales.

Author: Cameron Tew (Executive Director of Research)

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