Vice President, Corporate Communications
Building a Patient Advocacy Presence
When Gail Cohen joined Acorda Therapeutics in 2014, the company had no experience in Parkinson’s, and only a nominal social media presence. Gail took on the task of building relationships with the Parkinson’s advocacy community after Acorda acquired a small biotech with a late-stage program in Parkinson’s, and of improving the company’s social media presence. And in the three years Gail has been at the company, she has established a leadership position with the Parkinson’s patient community and spearheaded innovative programming in social media, including the PR Week and Webby Awards-nominated Many Faces of OFF.
Gail started by working with Acorda’s medical and clinical teams to establish relationships in the Parkinson’s patient advocacy community and also with opinion-leading “people with Parkinson’s” or PwPs, to inform Acorda’s programs and outreach in that area. Under her leadership, Acorda went from being unknown and inexperienced in the Parkinson’s world to being considered a leader by both PwPs and patient advocacy groups.
Besides building relationships with advocacy groups, Gail and the team at Acorda engaged in other activities within the space, including a social listening study; an in-office ethnographic study; and four advisory boards comprised of PwPs, caregivers, doctors, movement specialists, and nurses. One of the things the company discovered: Although it’s very common among people with Parkinson’s to experience the periodic re-emergence of symptoms—OFF periods—even while on treatment, there is a huge gap in how physicians and patients describe these periods. Gail and the team at Acorda are working on ways to address that gap.
The team took these learnings, and under Gail’s leadership, spearheaded the Many Faces of OFF Facebook page, a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to publicly articulate OFF periods across the Parkinson’s community. They crafted a strategy to spotlight real-life OFF experiences and foster connections among PwPs, care partners, opinion leaders, Parkinson’s experts, and online influencers. Perhaps, most impressively, the team was able to take the page from concept to reality in just eight weeks. And it has been a hit in the PwP community—the page exceeded its year-end goal of 10,000 likes just one month after launching.