Novartis Shines During Pharma's Dark Days
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Holmes Report
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Novartis Shines During Pharma's Dark Days

The blows were coming from all sides. Patients wanted new drugs ¨C more, better and faster. Politicians and governments demanded price cuts. The media knew a good bad-news story when it saw one , and from Wall Street to Main Street, investors washed their hands of Big Pharma.

Paul Holmes

The blows were coming from all sides. Patients wanted new drugs ¨C more, better and faster. Politicians and governments demanded price cuts. The media knew a good bad-news story when it saw one, and from Wall Street to Main Street, investors washed their hands of Big Pharma.

Amid this hostility, the reputation of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis skyrocketed, a singular feat in an industry under siege; Ruder Finn¡¯s bold communications program had enhanced the company¡¯s reputation in the U.S. as an innovative and caring pharmaceutical powerhouse. To plan for and to measure this success, in the event, RF began by creating benchmarks. It conducted two studies, one of the perceptions of the industry as a whole, and the other of Novartis¡¯ place within it.

A media scan of perceptions turned up a number of sore spots for Big Pharma:
¡Æ Pricing: Too-high prices and too little coverage
¡Æ Marketing: Questionable marketing tactics
¡Æ R&D: Paltry pipelines
¡Æ Accountability and Ethics: A lack of accountability and ethics, similar to that found elsewhere in Corporate America

To benchmark awareness and favorability of Novartis itself, RF commissioned a third-party research organization to determine these levels among four distinct target audiences. The study was then repeated to measure the effect of the RF campaign. From the two studies, the risk was clear that Novartis, unfairly, could get caught up in this atmosphere of negativity, and that its awareness and favorability levels could decline.

Based on the results of the research, RF launched the corporate reputation program, focusing on getting the Novartis story out to the top-tier, opinion-leading press, and trade media.

Target audiences include the general public; general public elites; the media; and physicians.

RF concentrated on offsetting negative industry stories with a number of positive Novartis feature articles. To do so, the agency utilized Novartis¡¯ management talent to communicate positive messaging in a hostile media climate. RF also leveraged Novartis¡¯ strategic business approach, cutting-edge science, and emphasis on corporate governance and ethics to establish Novartis as a smart, strategic, and innovative industry resource among the U.S. media.

The key messages:
¡Æ Pricing: Patient-assistance programs and increased access to Novartis medicines
¡Æ Marketing: Implementation of company-wide guidelines for all marketing practices
¡Æ R&D: Increased research investment, contrary to most drug companies, in the slow economy
¡Æ Accountability and Ethics: A willingness to discuss financial transparency

To engage top-tier media, such as the Financial Times, Time magazine and Fortune, the campaign had to overcome deep-seated skepticism and prove that Novartis¡¯ CEO, Daniel Vasella, was not only willing to speak, but was willing to confront industry issues that most pharma executives would rather avoid.

Awareness and favorability increased among all target audiences, despite the underlying hostile media environment. The most dramatic gains in awareness over 12 months were among the general public (32 percent to 41 percent) and general public elites (46 percent to 58 percent). The media remained at 100 percent awareness of Novartis. The most dramatic gains in favorability were among the general public (52 percent to 66 percent) and the media (69 percent to 94 percent). Novartis is viewed more favorably than the pharmaceutical industry by members from all target audiences (14 percent more favorable) and has a drastically lower rate of unfavorability than the industry as a whole (25 percent less unfavorable).

In the midst of the campaign to increase Novartis¡¯ positive visibility, the company¡¯s leadership was recognized by the industry. Novartis was named Pharmaceutical Company of the Year and Brand of the Year by Med Ad News, Company of the Year by DTC Perspectives, and was awarded the Most Innovative Pipeline award by R&D Directions.

Novartis¡¯ positive recognition extended to the global level. Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella was named the 2nd Most Powerful Businessman in Europe by Fortune, the Most Influential Business Figure in the last Quarter Century by Financial Times, Executive of the Year by Pharmaceutical Executive, and one of Time magazine¡¯s Builders and Titans.

RF introduced Novartis, over-and-above plan, to 92 reporters in the first 26 weeks of the year, with coverage resulting in the successful differentiation of Novartis from its industry, and with key messages contained across all media coverage.

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