Sunday, September 14, 2008

Publicity - the emerging 'P'

The explosion of media (including new media) in the modern age is creating new and urgent importance for laying emphasis on 'publicity' - the P factor - in the promotional mix in pharmaceutical and healthcare communication strategies. Traditionally, pharmaceutical marketing has not laid high importance on publicity. The marketing communication efforts concentrate on doctors, and chemists. With doctors having complete control over patient behavior, influencing prescribing and recommending behavior of doctors has always been given prima donna importance by pharma companies. While this will continue to have the #1 priority in pharmaceutical communication efforts, the factor of PUBLICITY will now have to be addressed more keenly and delicately. This is mainly due to the explosive growth of media, its connectivity to the masses, and ability to influence patient or prospect behavior.
Publicity and Wyeth's pneumococcal vaccine

The startling effect of publicity on marketing efforts was felt recently when Wyeth's pneucomoccal vaccine made waves in national newspapers for the wrong reasons. On 8th Sept., 2008, front page news in the leading daily of India (The Times of India - which incidentally is one of the largest media brands in the world) questioned whether this vaccine was relevant to India. The report in The Times of India, is excellent where points being emphasized include that the vaccine does not decrease clinical pneumonia, the cost of vaccine just does not justify, and that WHO itself talks of its side effects... CLICK HERE PLEASE. In India, IAP (Indian Academy of Pediatrics) has two classifications for vaccines - those that need to be given compulsorily like DTP, Hepatitis B, BCG etc., and another class of vaccines that the patient has to discuss with the doctor and administer to the child (this class of vaccines are popularly called optional vaccines). Wyeth has been working hard to put the PCV (pneumococal conjugate vaccine) from optional vaccines category to compulsory vaccines. The media reports suggest that the PCV (pneumoccal conjugate vaccine), a patented product from Wyeth (hence, having monopoly market in India) does not justify the expense, is not very effective in 'clinical pneumonia', and can even increase incidence of asthma. The media sources cite WHO reports in support. FROM A MARKETING POINT-OF-VIEW, THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN A PUBLICITY DISASTER. Drug Action Forum - Karnataka has asserted that the pneumococcal vaccine should be withdrawn from WHO immunization programs. DAF - KARNATAKA has written an open letter to WHO questioning the usage of the vaccine on a broad front. THIS IS ABSOLUTE UNINTENDED 'DEMARKETING' OF THE PNEUMOCOCCAL VACCINE FROM WYETH. From an economic point of view for the company, these media publicity happenings are a serious blow. The spill over effect will naturally be felt on other products of Wyeth as it represents a loss of goodwill. This media publicity related WYETH'S CASE OF PCV holds a great lesson for pharma marketers.

A second boat was rocked slightly by the media

Media reports on the promotion of letrozole to treat infertility by Sun Pharmaceuticals, recently created ripples. However, what is striking about this case of media activism (?) is that MIMS has questioned the wisdom of DCGI (Drugs Controller of India) in permitting Sun Pharmaceuticals to legally market the drug for infertility management. MIMS questions the preclinical and clinical procedures followed for permitting letrozole promotion in infertility. This is perhaps a case of splitting hairs. Scientific debate can always be encouraged and the room for improvement in case of clinical studies is always big. However, there is nothing hard core to point out in the case of letrozole that the safety and efficacy factors of a medicine's use has compromised patient well being. Moreover, in India, off-label use of drugs based on the prescriber's wisdom and experience is a common phenomenon.

The lesson from the above case studies

The important lessons to be drawn from the above recent happenings is that PUBLICITY is now emerging as an important element of the promotional mix in pharmaceutical marketing. Traditionally, pharma marketing has concentrated on personal selling, advertising, and packaging in its communication strategy. Perhaps, only The Himalaya Drug Company (a leading herbal and Ayurvedic manufacturer and marketer) has laid emphasis on PUBLICITY or PUBLIC RELATIONS as an important element of the promotional mix. This company has done admirably well on the PR front whenever Ayurveda has been rocked by the now familiar and frequent news of heavy metal toxicity in formulations or other issues. However, on the whole, Indian pharma companies ought to change their mindset to include the publicity dimension in the marketing promotional mix to avoid any unsavoury news and uninvited DEMARKETING of products. For example, many Indian pharma and healthcare companies do not have a MEDIA KIT, (an information packet about a business or product), which is the basic element of good publicity. That is a good place to begin with!
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