According to yet another poll (the second edition of I-Rep, Ipsos’ biannual survey on perceptions of large companies), most US consumers think oil and tobacco (industries) stink. They also think pharmaceuticals stink, but only slightly less than oil and gas (see chart and “Survey Says: Pharma Still Stinks But Not as Much as Oil or Tobacco!“). The good news is that slightly more consumers view pharma favorably than unfavorably (35% vs. 32%, respectively).

Nevertheless, I don’t smell any victory and I see no light at the end of the tunnel in pharma’s PR war for consumer approval.

GSK’s Missed Opportunity to Wipe Off Some Stink
An example of how pharma misses opportunities to win a PR battle for consumers’ minds is how and when GSK decided to pull it’s ads from the Imus in the morning MSNBC show.

According to TNS, GSK ranked number 5 in advertisers targeted to the Imus in the morning MSNBC show (download data here).

GSK wasn’t among the first to pull its ads from MSNBC and it took some prodding from me to help it see the light.

On the other hand, P&G — #10 on the advertiser list — was among the first advertisers to announce that it would withdraw its ads. Furthermore, P&G made this unambiguous statement as to where its values lie:

“We think we’re accountable first to our consumers. This particular venue where our ad appeared was offensive to our target audience. And so that’s not acceptable to us, which is why we’re evaluating further.” (See “Imus Too Hot for Marketers“.)

GSK, on the other hand, only had this to say:

“The bottom line is that we have suspended our advertising with MSNBC until we can determine that we can have a level of confidence that our media standards are being adhered to.” (See “GlaxoSmithKline pulls Imus advertising“.)

It’s too bad that GSK didn’t make a statement similar to P&G’s. It could have gone even further considering that it soon will be marketing its HPV vaccine Cervarix to young women in the US.

Could GSK have made a point of supporting the young Rutgers’ women who were attacked by Imus and thereby enhance its reputation among all young women? Whether or not such a public statement would help GSK market Cervarix is a secondary issue. It would have helped give the public a more positive image of pharmaceutical companies.

NOTE: A call into GSK’s media relations office to discuss this went unanswered at the time this post was made.

Industry Considers How to Improve its Image
In the March 2007 issue of Product Management Today magazine, a roundtable of notable advertising mavens (eg, Ron Pantello, Chairman, Euro RSC Life Worldwide) and communications experts (eg, Harry Sweeney, Chairman, Dorland Global) discussed “Changing the Public Perception: The Industry’s Role.”

Guess what these experts decided the industry should do. Fund a coalition to deliver its message to patients and consumers! Here’s what Pantello suggested:

“Is it time for us within the health care communications industry to form a new coalition or to redirect [his word, my emphasis] some of the coalitions that exist today, such as the HBA [healthcare Businesswomen’s Association] or the Coalition for Healthcare Communication [the folks who recommended less risk communication in ads] for the common purpose of delivering our message to patients and consumers?”

Instead of pouring millions of dollars into an astroturf PR effort, the industry would be smarter to tale advantage of PR opportunities such as that provided by the Imus Imbroglio to make a statement in support of its patients. P&G, more a packaged goods company than a pharma company, was smart enough to do it; unfortunatley, GSK was not.

My advice to the industry: Be smart, don’t fund your lackey non-profit organizations to do your dirty work! It will only provide more grist for the pharma blogging mill. Get some backbone and publicly exhibit your support — in words as well as deeds — for issues of importance to your patients; issues such as dignity.