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Are you media-savvy enough?

The two words 'media relations' have caused much discussion within pharmaceutical companies over the years. Cherry Wood defends the industry's right to be innovative - albeit code-abiding - in the way it creates awareness
Cherry WoodAchieving widespread positive media coverage after many months of hard work is often the icing on the cake for many brand teams planning launches of new medicines and disease awareness campaigns. But not everyone is happy with the relationship between the media and the pharmaceutical industry. In particular, since the Health Select Committee's review of the industry and the subsequent revision to the ABPI Code, there has been increasing pressure to take a more 'hands off' approach

However, the desire to achieve coverage has not abated, so how can we work within this disconnect to ensure that everyone is happy? With all the claims of 'nanny state' are we now allowing the regulators to over-regulate in an attempt to improve our industry's reputation?

Over the years, the rules and regulations for many areas of pharma marketing have been more clearly defined but for media relations Clause 20.2 of the ABPI Code of Practice remains unchanged. Does this mean that there haven't been enough complaints about the way that we approach our media relations for a revision of the Code to be necessary? Or does it mean that we are actually doing a good job and should be encouraged to do more to help change the increasingly tarnished image of the UK's pharma industry?

One of the key obstacles surrounding media relations is whether or not it is advertising. Some feel that if a drug name is mentioned then it automatically means that it's being advertised. However, legitimate 'paid for' space and true editorial are two entirely different things. Instead of providing more structure to the process of undertaking media relations, the tightening of other areas of the Code have caused some pharma companies to veto any media relations activities.

This is unfortunate as the public has a right to learn about diseases and improvements in science just as it has the right to know about advancements in any other aspect of life.

Increasingly when highly qualified medics are brought together in an advisory capacity they will suggest that an effective media relations campaign should be developed. They are very aware of how pressure through the media has brought aboutchanges in making restricted medicines available to be more widely prescribed.

Most pharma companies are keen to be perceived as being innovative with the medicines that they have researched and developed. Should it be seen as a negative if they are also innovative in the way that they market their products? A certain amount of regulation and process gives a framework in which to work rather than giving a reason not to do something.

Speak to any journalist and they will tell you 'health sells.' More space and airtime is dedicated to health than ever before, which creates pressure on journalists to deliver health-related stories. It also means that there is more scope for the pharma industry to work with the media. Media relations is much the same as advocacy development and good relationships can be built by being as helpful as possible when approached and through providing good stories.

As long as we are giving journalists a wellpackaged story with case studies and good spokespeople, there should be more scope for informed and balanced coverage in the future.

The Author
Cherry Wood
is managing director at Athena Medical PR. She can be contacted at cherry@athenamedicalpr.com or on +44 (0)20 8956 2299

Innovative Thinkers in healthcare PR - a special supplement from PMGroup

13th June 2008

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