Pharma and polluted rivers - why Pharma must regain the media narrative

Corporate Communications
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate PR
Crisis Management - PR
PR Strategy

A gaping paradox exists within the world of pharmaceuticals. 

The industry has verifiably saved the lives of millions across the world, played a key role in improving health outcomes for billions, and has had one of the most transformative effects on modern medicine in recent centuries. Why then, does its overall reputation remain a challenge?

Pharma’s relationship with society can be turbulent, and the industry’s prominent role in scientific discovery and medical progress is not the panacea that shields it, full-time, from media criticism. This was very clear last week, following reports that potentially toxic levels of pharmaceutical drugs were found in a quarter of river locations across the world. The findings have clear environmental implications for governments and society, but the media coverage has been particularly damaging for pharmaceutical firms.

Those within the pharma world have, interestingly, been reluctant to discuss this issue publicly, despite many organisations working tirelessly behind the scenes to enhance their sustainability efforts. The resultant policy of engaging with the media only when absolutely necessary has unfortunately left a chasm to be filled by less informed, third-party voices, who may not have the industry’s best interests at heart.

As a result, media coverage on the industry often focuses on the trials and tribulations of big pharma, with many prominent stories in recent years focusing on crises, fines, or the consequences of major decisions by pharma executives. The nature of this coverage, which has prevailed over favourable news, has led to an increasingly blurred, some would say unfair, public perception of the pharma industry.

With consumer trust voted the second most important factor for consumer engagement, firms need to start relaying a defined, clearly relatable purpose if they want to shift the reputational dial and prevent negative stories from tarnishing their reputations.

This all starts with a well-defined communications strategy.

The strict rules on what pharma companies can and can’t say are tough and well-known.

However, as other industries have found, there is still great opportunity to tell a wider corporate story, and to be creative with messaging. The scope is there – from disease awareness campaigns to charity partnerships, positive corporate news and profiling. There is a wealth of tactics available to develop more positive relationships with the media. Naturally, campaigns need to be formulated carefully to ensure they are compliant, but as the world opens up once again, there would appear to be great opportunity to tell strong corporate stories.

With ongoing uncertainty continuing to cause issues in markets all over the world, competition is rife, and pharma companies – like companies in many other sectors – are facing more demand and greater attention on their business practices than ever before. There is an opportunity to use this momentum for good, to talk directly to public and healthcare audiences, tell pharma’s side of the story and redefine what the industry stands for – but only if firms are bold enough to take on the challenge.