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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Trust – years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair

Can pharma maintain the trust built during the coronavirus?

They say trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. The pharmaceutical industry has spent decades and significant sums of money trying to build trust in the sector.

So when new data from the globally recognised and respected Edelman Trust Barometer, including a Spring COVID-19 update (published in the June edition of PME on page 16), showed that the pharma sector had taken a record leap in trust since the start of the year, it should be something to really celebrate.

However, behind every great story is the cold light-of-day reality. The data for 2019 until the start of January 2020 showed a very different picture – a slight drop in trust and a more concerning decrease in trust from the so-called ‘informed public’.

The reality is that it has taken an unprecedented global health crisis to get us to this point. We must therefore also reflect on the second part of the adage, ‘... seconds to break...’ and ensure we don’t squander this opportunity. As communicators we undoubtedly have an essential role in helping to maintain this potentially precarious position.

Managing expectations

The eyes of the world are looking at us to deliver the tests, treatments and vaccines to bring us out of these dark times. It is therefore critical that we help manage those expectations so that the amazing work our sector does is not diluted or negated by overpromise or hype.

I find myself doing this daily, reminding family and friends who have just read something online or heard an over-enthusiastic politician that vaccines take time to develop and test. And even then, the task to manufacture the vast quantities required to vaccinate the world’s population is herculean.

I have previously discussed the need for us, as healthcare communicators, to take responsibility. I believe my small contribution in this area is important to help spread the news to the population about how vital it is to have realistic expectations.

It’s not about dispelling hope, as there is so much we can be positive about. But it is about helping to improve the understanding of timescales and probability of success, which is harder to explain, especially in a simple way.

KISS (keep it simple stupid)

Many companies and associations, like EFPIA and the ABPI, have been working to capitalise on the public’s thirst for knowledge that now exists, producing simple explanations (graphics, videos) of how treatments are developed and manufactured. These are being viewed by the public at record levels.

Having an understanding of the complexity of drug development is one of the fundamentals in establishing trust in how our business model works and in supporting discussions around IP, access, availability and affordability.

We should all work hard to communicate this simply and well, now we have the audience. Also, let’s not reinvent the wheel; as a sector we truly are all in this together and should be willing to use and share the great work of others, rather than be too parochial.

Communicating evidence and addressing fake new

sIn the Edelman Trust Barometer, 67% of responders said they worry that there is a lot of fake news and false information about the virus. In response, they want to hear from the experts and are leaning more towards traditional media.

In response, we need to utilise our external experts and our relationships with traditional media, not just focus on social media. We should also not underestimate the power of owned media and providing the human face of our sector through company CEOs and scientists being more present, contributing to the discussion and provision of evidence-based information.

Speed of access to data is also important to help informed decision-making, but this needs to be carefully balanced against the need for robust review. We have already seen leading international journals publish data which has influenced decision-making, but then had to be retracted.

Communicators also have a key role in helping to explain health innovation which the Barometer suggested was trusted, but often not well understood.

Building trust

To increase trust, the research shows businesses must join the fight against the pandemic. The pharma sector has done this, and we need to shout about it. There are amazing things happening. We have seen commercial partnerships in developing vaccines created in weeks, when previously it would probably have taken years, if it happened at all.

Companies are already talking about how this mindset could continue, with a new era of ‘smart risk-taking’. We are also seeing some very unique partnerships, such as Novo Nordisk and Carlsberg working together to produce hand sanitiser for the Danish market.

The world has also woken up to societal inequality and sustainability issues as a result of the pandemic. How we address these challenges going forward will be important if we want to maintain the levels of trust we have now reached. And again, the communicators’ role will be integral to the success.

We may have just quickly built trust, but whether that is broken in seconds, or is sustained, will very much depend on what we do now, in the next few weeks, months and then years. Everybody will have their part to play, but especially the communications professional.

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) and a communications consultant

21st August 2020

From: Research

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