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A good reputation is more valuable than money

Putting patients at the heart of corporate culture is central to being a 'preferred partner'

Pharma reputations patient groupsIt may seem surprising that several of the recognised and respectable pharma companies cited in new research from PatientView, which conducted a global independent study of 800 patient groups on corporate reputation in 2013, received a relatively low, or fall in, rank despite great efforts to nourish their reputation over the year. Others soared to the top of the preferred partner list, which is essentially what a ranking by reputation is, in today's climate.

The key tenets of effective reputation management now run beyond the staples of a consistent positive news flow, involvement in high visibility altruistic campaigns, responsiveness via social media and a 'patient-centric' message from the CEO on the website homepage. The added-vital requirement is to spotlight action in front of claim, which starts by making patient-focus literally - not just figuratively - an intrinsic corporate value.

Snakes and ladders
This is different to stating that new clinical data is, 'yet more evidence of our commitment to meeting patient needs' in a press release. When we examine what starts to differentiate those companies rising up the ladder, whose corporate reputations are improving among patient groups, firms such as AbbVie and Sanofi, as well as those with a sustained position near the top like Novo Nordisk, we can see their defining characteristics in how they endeavour to make patient focus a pragmatic reality.

AbbVie (up from 6th in 2012 to 3rd from a total 33 companies) in the UK has as one of its five Strategic Priorities, which underpin the entire business, “become a truly patient-centric organisation”. Two things are notable: employees are accountable to the CEO (and vice versa) for delivering against this. Secondly, this is a position to attain in the future and therefore a journey to embark upon and strive for; not a destination that was arrived at successfully in the past and which can now fall prey to other priorities in the business.

Gwenan White, AbbVie UK director of communications, explains: “At AbbVie, our priority is supporting people living with illness and helping them lead healthier lives. It is encouraging to learn that this is being appreciated by patient organisations and we will continue to work with our partners to provide this support.”

Sanofi (up 8 places from 23rd in 2012 to 15th), which embarked on a fundamental evolution in culture in 2010 and is still driving change towards patient focus, took another leap forward following its acquisition of Genzyme in 2011; a company that could be argued is truly a benchmark for embodying claims of patient focus.

A spokesperson for the company revealed that the working group in Paris in 2010, led by Laure Thibaud, SVP and head of corporate communications at Sanofi, not only tabled but subsequently permeated the following question throughout the entire global organisation, for each and every employee (including CEO Chris Viehbacher) to consider and answer: “How will what I'm doing right now help patients?”

A fruitful exercise to encourage broader thinking beyond the job description; merely asking the question was at least evidence of action versus rhetoric. The company said:  “Working together with patient advocates and groups is becoming an increasingly important part of our culture as Sanofi continues to transform to be a truly patient-centric healthcare company. Sanofi is committed to listen and foster an open dialogue with the patient community to increase our knowledge of patient insights and to act to meet patients' needs.”

Novo Nordisk, accredited to Investors in People for more than 13 years, sustained its high ranking this year (up from 11th in 2012 and now within the top 10). Peter Meeus, managing director, Novo Nordisk UK, attributes this recognition not only to the fact that people with diabetes are at the heart of “all we do”, but also the visible stream of innovation in this key therapy area.

“Globally, we are proud to invest 14.1 per cent of our revenue into R&D, changing diabetes through innovation. On a local level, we collaborate with patient organisations such as Diabetes UK to develop diabetes improvement networks and clinical champions, delivering tangible, integrated solutions to the 3.22 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK.”

A trustworthy partner
For global pharma companies seeking partnership with patient associations, strong corporate reputation and integrity is a licence to operate. Groups representing the needs of patients can be seen as a tribe with a strong common belief. They need to see this expressed likewise in any potential partners in pharma and that their way is respected. But more than that, they need to see a standing that is solid and deserved within any partner's own sphere, and that takes a sustained and targeted action.

It seems that today's glaring requisite for transparency and good corporate citizenship means not only putting patients pragmatically at the heart of internal corporate culture, but communicating this consistently, universally and intelligently to the outside world. This is how those at the top manage to strike up and sustain the right partnerships at the pivotal moment.

Article by
James Leeming

Freelance healthcare journalist and industry analyst

19th February 2014

From: Marketing



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