Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kudos to GlaxoSmithKline: Years of pharmaceutical industry image advertising has done little or nothing to halt the steady decline in public perception of giant drugmakers, in part because I suspect it’s been directed to answering a question no one asked. Most of the industry’s ads focus on its track record of innovation, which is indeed remarkable, and a major contribution to the health of our society.

But no one is criticizing the industry for its lack of innovation. Critics are more concerned about two issues: cost and safety. And the industry has done little to address either. Stories like this one about a $100,000 a month cancer drug and continuing coverage of Merck’s problems with Vioxx do more to shape public perceptions than any of the industry’s ad campaigns.

But now GSK is putting together a program that involves changing the message and—perhaps more important—the messenger. This is an issue on which credibility is key, and sending out employee ambassadors is likely to be much more effective on that front than an advertising campaign. Simply put, advertising is not only unsuited to addressing credibility issues, it’s often downright counter-productive. (“How come they’re spending all of their profits on glitzy ad campaigns?”)

Michael Pucci, the company’s VP of external advocacy, says that when employees go out into the community to put a human face on the company, “the majority of questions the reps receive revolve around pricing, and he has given them what he calls a ‘learning system’ that takes 50 minutes to master and will enable the rep to satisfy queries about the company and the industry.”

Turning employees into active ambassadors—whether online or off—might seem like a risky strategy. One of the GSK rivals is quoted in the article: “I’m not sure I want 8,000 people on the ground given that level of responsibility to basically speak for a company and an industry. With that many, the odds say there’s going to be a percentage of them—however small—that will make a mistake, or stray from the script, or whatever.”

The reality he seems to be missing is that employees are speaking for your company and your industry every time they open their mouths. Surely they will do a better job if they are given the tools and training to do it effectively.


  • At 11:34 AM, Blogger Katie Delahaye Paine said…

    I totally agree. I think this concept is brilliant. I, of course, worry about how they'll measure its success. I just hope they're measuring and tracking the improvement in relationships not just counting conversations or press clippings


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