A Medical 360: Convincing Doctors to Use Beta Blockers
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A Medical 360: Convincing Doctors to Use Beta Blockers

Convincing doctors to use a drug once perceived as fatal to now save their patients lives is no easy feat. In 2000, Cohn & Wolfe was charged with this task.

Paul Holmes

 

Convincing doctors to use a drug once perceived as fatal to now save their patients lives is no easy feat.  In 2000, Cohn & Wolfe was charged with this task.  Three years earlier, the drug Coreg, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, was launched but had a difficult time gaining acceptance in the medical community as a safe and effective treatment for heart failure.  Coreg belongs to the beta blockers class of drugs which have been used for over 20 years for the treatment of high blood pressure, but up until recently their use for heart failure was prohibited.  There was an “age-old” medical belief that beta blockers would kill heart failure patients. However, in March of last year, results of a study were released in Europe proving that the beta blocker Coreg was beneficial for the treatment of severe heart failure patients—and could actually save lives.  Cohn & Wolfe was challenged to not only gain awareness for Coreg but also to change public and medical perception of using beta blockers to treat heart failure patients.  

OBJECTIVES

  • Generate wide spread U.S. media coverage of Coreg and the drug’s benefits.
  • Increase sales of Coreg.
  • Increase the use of beta blockers for the treatment of heart failure.

CHALLENGES

Doctors had a very negative perception of using beta blockers to treat heart failure:  Although used for many years as a treatment for high blood pressure, beta blockers were taboo in the field of heart failure.  In fact, as early as medical school, doctors have been advised over the years to avoid beta blockers for patients with heart failure and told that for patients with severe heart failure, beta blockers could be fatal.  

Data presented at an obscure medical meeting in Europe: The data regarding Coreg’s success were presented at a European medical conference.  Our research told us that U.S. reporters did not typically attend nor cover data presented at this meeting as they felt it was not relevant to the American public.

Data released at three separate intervals:  Results of the study were released piece meal not allowing the Agency to utilize a strategy of releasing one “big story” with one “big bang.”  The Client still wanted each separate announcement to generate lots of coverage.  The Agency was concerned that approaching the media too many times would dilute the message and so had to creatively “re-package” the story so it seemed fresh to reporters. The first announcement was not in a peer-reviewed setting and was not considered material information for the company, making the challenge even more difficult.  

RESEARCH

To prepare for the announcement, the Agency did an extensive media audit.  The audit included researching which reporters had attended the European medical meeting in the past and what types of stories best appealed to them.   The Agency also did a careful analysis of beta blocker coverage in the media to date. Additionally, the Agency researched how the channels of media operated – specifically, what it would take to get a European story covered by U.S. media, even though American reporters wouldn’t be attending the meeting in person.  Finally, the Agency researched potential spokespeople to use in media interviews.  It was vital that the doctor spokesperson be world renowned, thus offering credibility on a challenging subject matter, as well as U.S.-based to encourage American media coverage.

STRATEGIC APPROACH

From pre-pitching, issuing press releases, audio news releases (ANR) and video news releases (VNR), the Agency employed traditional PR tactics in achieving wide spread media attention for Coreg and subsequent sales increases.  However, it was the strategic planning and the timing that differentiated this program from the rest:

First, the Agency took one of their greatest challenges, the irregular release of the study data and used it to work in their favor.  By revisiting the media on three intervals the Agency provided continuous coverage of Coreg in an innovative manner that did not saturate the media with repetitive information nor lose the media’s interest.  The Agency found creative ways to “re-package” and retell the same story.  Key to this was translating the dry scientific data into easy-to-understand “real world” implications.

Secondly, the agency created “international partnerships” between European and American media counterparts to ensure that the European news would travel across the Atlantic to the market that GlaxoSmithKline most wanted to target—the US.

Finally, the Agency realized the key to success for the entire media campaign, rested on nailing a few critical interviews -- the newswires.  With this in mind, the Agency began conversations with these wire reporters weeks prior to the meeting, offering them special one-on-one interviews with world leading scientists for a sneak peak at the data.  The Agency would later use the resulting wire stories as a catalyst to generate local U.S. print and broadcast pick-up.

EXECUTION  

Revisiting the Media with Three “New” Stories

The Agency approached the media at three separate intervals to provide the complete story of Coreg and the results of the European study as they were released.  

In the first instance, the Agency presented the story of the “halting” of the study (the study was stopped earlier than planned because the results were so significant that the immediate use of the drug had the potential to save lives). At this point, the actual hard data was not available so the Agency focused on the significance of the trial being stopped early and what made it different from previous studies.  

In the second wave of outreach to the media in August, the Agency pitched the hard data (Coreg proven to cut the risk of death by a third) and how the results were relevant to the American public.  The Agency translated the study findings into “real world” easy-to-understand implications (study shows that treating patients with Coreg could save up to 50,000 American lives a year).  

Finally, two weeks later, the Agency returned to the media a third time.  This time the data were presented at a small American conference in which media was not even invited.  The Agency used this third presentation as an opportunity to revisit local reporters who had not yet covered the results.  During this pitch, we included local heart failure statistics and set-up interviews with local doctors and patients to help build a local story angle.

Building a Bridge Across the Atlantic

One of the most challenging aspects of this announcement was gaining the interest of the US media in covering the study that was announced in Europe.  By researching the European counterparts to the major wire services, the Agency created connections across the continents.  The Agency then notified and connected reporters on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that stories generated by European reporters would be picked up in America.

Targeting Wires and Select Broadcast

Through media research, the Agency realized that this European story would result in US print and broadcast stories only if picked up by the U.S. wire services.  The Agency began outreach to reporters weeks in advance of the meeting and offered embargoed interviews with world-leading scientists.  This enabled the Agency to secure the critical wire stories before the meeting even began.  On the day of the announcement, the Agency blast faxed the wire stories to U.S. print and broadcast reporters.  Additionally, the Agency disseminated a VNR and RNR and offered TV interviews to the networks (e.g., NBC, ABC, CBS) via satellite from the meeting to help further encourage local pick-up of the story.  

RESULTS

Objective: Generate wide spread media coverage of Coreg and the drug’s benefits..

Results: Secured more than 207 million media impressions with coverage in both national broadcast and print outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America and NPR. Secured coverage on all U.S. newswires.  AP story picked up by more than 75 local newspapers.  100% of stories included key messages regarding Coreg’s mortality benefit in severe heart failure patients.

Objective:  Increase sales of Coreg,

Results:  Immediately following the campaign, Coreg sales increased by close to 15%. This sales increase was without any other forms of publicity regarding the data including advertising.

Objective: Encourage the use of beta-blockers for the treatment of heart failure patients.
Results:  Beta blocker use increased from 10% to 20% and continues to be on the rise.

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