Pharma Fights Back With New Reputation-saving Campaign

Earlier this year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) launched a national, multi-year advertising and public affairs initiative on behalf of America’s biopharmaceutical companies with the aim of rebuilding the industry’s reputation by showcasing its “unsung heroes”—the researchers leading cutting-edge medical and scientific discoveries. The multimillion dollar campaign, tilted GOBOLDLY, will consist of TV, print, digital, radio, and out-of-home advertising as well as public affairs initiatives across the country. PM360 spoke to Robert Zirkelbach, PhRMA’s EVP of Public Affairs, about the campaign.

PM360: Why did you launch this campaign now?

Robert Zirkelbach: For the last couple of years there has been a national conversation around prescription drug costs. We believe that discussion has been myopically focused on the list price of medicines and largely ignored the tremendous advances that are happening today. Our scientists will tell you that right now is the most exciting time ever in biopharmaceutical innovation. We’re in a new era of medicine in which scientists are doing things that would have been considered science fiction just 10 years ago. So there’s a real lack of appreciation about how far the science has come.

You mentioned the recent pricing controversies. How are you addressing those issues?

The campaign has two elements. A lot of the focus has been on the advertising, but there’s also a significant public affairs component in which we are going around the country engaging with stakeholders in spaces outside of Washington D.C. to talk about the new era of medicine, the types of public policies that are needed to support and sustain innovation, and how we can find new and better ways to pay for these medicines. Those are discussions that are better had during in-depth policy arenas more so than a 30-second TV ad.

Going back to the advertising element, what was the inspiration behind the first “Do Not Go Gentle” TV spot?

Our firm, WPP’s Health and Wellness Group, brought that idea to us and we immediately gravitated towards it. The Dylan Thomas poem really encapsulates what this industry does. They don’t go gentle. They continue to fight and develop new treatments and cures. So it was a great way to introduce the campaign and the message. So far we’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback.

Forbes reported that PhRMA increased its membership dues by 50% to help pay for the campaign. Is that true?

Some of the numbers in the media haven’t been exactly on task, but with that said, this is a substantial campaign. It’s tens of millions of dollars every single year. So yes, our member companies are investing in this effort.

What’s the plan moving forward?

We know what the plan for this year looks like, but we’re going to continue to optimize. We’re going to see what works, what doesn’t, how people respond, and continue to look for new and innovative ways to break through. We also know that you must be willing to do a campaign like this over an extended period of time to have a full impact.


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