Caution: We are entering a climate of uncertainty, where the natural response is a brake-pumping pattern of corporate indecision.

Faced with news headlines that scorn pharma pricing and question drug value, and challenged by pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) non-medical switching, a noticeable number of brand builders are delaying reputation initiatives or choosing to do nothing—rather than find their voice and raise their profile in uncertain times. This is potentially a bad move.

Today, cost compels every health-ecosystem member—patients, payers, policymakers, and providers—to ponder the value of pharma innovation. Formulary changes and prior authorization place so many hurdles in front of doctors and patients that they wear out from obstacle course paperwork exhaustion. With stakeholders feeling fatigued and alone, even the most compelling trade association advertising campaign will not elevate company reputation or build drug brands.

Against this backdrop—and, perhaps, sensing pharma trepidation—PBMs such as CVS and Express Scripts have taken a new tack. For multiple drugs within a class, CVS Health limits its formulary. Express Scripts sets annual therapeutic caps to shift patient usage. These challenges add complexity to the environment and create a fire-fighting culture. They draw attention away from patient urgencies and opportunities to share stories that underscore brand value.

Enterprises seem hesitant to speak up in this complex context. Yet “no decision” is a decision—although often not the best choice.

Use these four quick tips to strengthen your brand voice:

1. Patients are Ambassadors: Create partnerships around shared health needs.  Advocates focus on what is right for patients and offer their counsel as partners—not as marketing surrogates. The climate requires a patient-engagement mindset and advocacy groups are the patient community’s voice to payers and policymakers.

2. Media Needs Time: Think long-term relationship—not tomorrow’s story. Reporters do not have time to study clinical data, or speak with external medical experts and patient groups when scientific or regulatory news breaks. Like medical thought leaders, invest time upfront to enable the media to digest data.

3. Avoid Silos: Integrate the PR plan. Patients, payers, and providers express viewpoints on social media—whether pharma companies engage digitally or not. Speed and convenience drive conversations to social platforms. Leaders engage.

4. When CEOs Talk, People Listen: CEOs don’t need to be marketers. They do need to frame why their medicines matter. They do need to advocate why their company cares about patients and public health priorities. As chief decision makers at a time of societal indecision, CEO participation shows confidence in the journey ahead. Pharma CEOs must enter the conversation—not to defend, but to advance the value message.

At a time when other health sectors are defining pharma industry value, indecision is tantamount to saying “no comment.” One of the basic rules of communications is to advocate for the brand—don’t let lack of voice imply lack of value.


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