Tamiflu Launch Media Campaign
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Holmes Report

Tamiflu Launch Media Campaign

The Tamiflu public relations team created a program to increase awareness and understanding of the influenza virus and help change the way people – both healthcare professionals and consumers – approach the disease. The campaign addressed local flu outbre

Paul Holmes

The Tamiflu public relations team created a program to increase awareness and understanding of the influenza virus and help change the way people – both healthcare professionals and consumers – approach the disease.  Influenza is a highly contagious and unpredictable disease that strikes at the local level, moving from locale to locale.  The campaign addressed local flu outbreaks within communities and emphasized the societal impact of influenza and new treatment options available, like Tamiflu.  Tamiflu is part of a new class of antivirals called neuraminidase inhibitors that target the virus and stop it from replicating within the body, thereby reducing the duration of a bout of flu.  But patients must take the first dose within 48 hours of symptom onset, which posed a difficult challenge to the timeliness and efficiency of public relations efforts.


The public relations team was faced with several challenges during the launch of Tamiflu: the unpredictability of the influenza virus, competitive spending, the limited window of opportunity (flu season) to sell our product, and the lack of consumer education on the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

1.  Unpredictability of Flu:  Since flu is a local disease that can attack a local market without warning, we recognized that our public relations campaign had to convey consistent messages at a grassroots level.   Flu season tends to begin in November and end in April, with a peak of flu activity occurring in mid-January.  However, scientists cannot predict where, when, or the intensity of the flu virus each year.  The team had to be prepared for flu to strike at any time during the winter months.  

2.  Competitive Spending:  At the same time Tamiflu was launched, Glaxo-Wellcome launched Relenza with a significant national advertising campaign featuring Seinfeld star, Newman, as “influenza”.  Although Roche also implemented an advertising campaign (which did not feature a celebrity), it was strictly local.  In addition, Glaxo has traditionally been a more well-known consumer marketer than Roche so there was concern that consumers and media would confuse the products and our efforts would, in essence, be complementing the awareness building surrounding the Newman ads.

3.  Seasonal Disease/Treatment Window:  Similar to campaigns supporting allergy products, there is a limited window of opportunity to promote and sell influenza products.  Brand awareness building needs to happen quickly to support the disease season.  Also, in introducing Tamiflu to the antiviral market, the public relations team sought to change the paradigm of flu treatment by empowering consumers to self-diagnose their flu bout and present to the doctor within 48 hours of symptom onset.  In the past, consumers relied on rest, over-the-counter symptom-reducing medications and homemade chicken soup to get through the flu.   Now, new antiviral treatments like Tamiflu are available to actually treat the flu.

4.  Lack of Consumer Education:  Roche Market Research showed that most consumers did not seek medical treatment for the flu; rather they “rode it out”.  Also, those patients that did visit their healthcare professional’s office often times received an antibiotic not an antiviral for their flu.


We needed to adapt our communications plan to address the unpredictability of the local flu outbreaks.  To meet this challenge, Edelman New York and Roche Public Affairs created a hybrid network of twelve local public relations agencies to take advantage of flu as a breaking news story and launch Tamiflu in the top 100 local markets when flu was in the area.  The agencies would provide additional resources to support an unpredictable market and also local media and third-party contacts.

Prior to flu season, representatives from the local agencies convened in Nutley, New Jersey (Roche Headquarters) for an intense two-day training on the product and disease category.  The Edelman New York office, the core public relations team, created all press materials to ensure consistent and accurate messaging.  The Roche local business units and sales force identified local physicians who were interested in participating in our media campaign to add the clinical angle to the Tamiflu story.  Perspectives by these local physicians were added to the press materials to localize the story.  FluSTAR, the Roche surveillance system, triggered all media activities.  The real-time system tracks influenza outbreaks across the country.  

In addition to this media campaign, relationships with reputable third party organizations played an instrumental role in the local launch of Tamiflu.  Prior to the launch of the new drug, we partnered with consumer and professional organizations in an effort to educate their members and constituents on influenza and Tamiflu.  At product launch, the educational materials we developed were distributed to the organizations’ members.  Additionally, we leveraged these relationships by enlisting our third-party partners to serve as spokespeople and increase awareness of Tamiflu and its benefits.


·        Educate consumer and professional audiences about the influenza virus and the Tamiflu brand

·        Increase awareness of Tamiflu as new way to treat influenza 

·        Motivate flu sufferers to recognize flu symptoms and seek early treatment 

·        Drive sales 


·        Create local agency network 

·        Localize promotional and educational opportunities

·        Align Roche with credible third party advocates

·        Leverage other Roche promotions—Man in the Cube campaign


The initiative incorporated the following elements:

1.      Create and Manage Local Agency Network:  Establish PR team as the Influenza Resource

Tamiflu’s nationwide network of 12 public relations agencies was assigned to the top 100 markets throughout the country.  Before the official start of flu season, the agencies distributed the Influenza Resource Guide and Flu Rolodex cards that established them as the local influenza resource to their media contacts.  This network was instrumental in taking full advantage of flu as a breaking news story and the launch of Tamiflu in their local markets.  The agencies were able to convey messages through community physicians and local patients willing to share their personal experiences with flu and Tamiflu.  

2.      Partnership with Third-Party Organizations: Advocacy Relations

Educational programming with select third party groups provided us with access to important audiences (e.g., healthcare professionals, key opinion leaders, government and medical associations, consumers).  Partnering with such organizations gave us the opportunity to position Roche as a leader in influenza education as well as lending credibility to all medical or educational patient information programs co-sponsored by Roche.  The public relations team, in collaboration with these organizations developed a number of publications including:

  • American Pharmaceutical Association “New Product Bulletin”--16-page bulletin that introduced Tamiflu to the professional community as well as provided answers to patient questions about Tamiflu and influenza
  • National Association of Chain Drug Stores “Chain Practice Memo”-- featured a product profile of Tamiflu
  • National Women’s Health Resource Center “National Women’s Health Report”-- incorporated an educational section on influenza

Additionally, Roche created the A.R.T. of Influenza Management series that provided information on the importance of the Awareness, Recognition and Treatment of influenza.  The public relations team facilitated a web component, housing this material online with direct links from the websites of the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Academy of Physician Assistants, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, American College of Physicians, National Council on the Aging and Kiwanis International.

3.      Local Outreach in Activated Markets

Once “flu outbreak” occurred, full media outreach began in the market.  Press kits were distributed immediately to media including press releases, fact sheets, patient information, product shots, backgrounders and “Know the Facts About the Flu” brochures supported by the American Academy of Family Physicians.  

4.      Man in the Cube Campaign

The New York Edelman Tamiflu team leveraged Roche’s promotional “Man in the Cube” program in order to create a synergistic approach publicizing flu outbreaks and the availability of Tamiflu in markets on “flu alert”.  This initiative involved a person a cube traveling across the country in a glass-enclosed, germ-free environment to successfully escape the flu.  This person was accompanied by “Grannies” who handed out educational materials and chicken soup. This program, honored with the industry’s top marketing awards and called “the best, most innovative promotion they have ever seen” by marketing professionals, gave the public relations team an additional opportunity to contact local media to spur stories on outbreak.


Beyond media impressions, our goal was to educate, increase awareness and motivate consumers to change their behavior through public relations strategies.  During the 1999-2000 flu season, recall surveys, coordinated through an outside vendor, showed that consumer awareness of new flu medications had increased significantly since the launch outreach for Tamiflu in November 1999.  This survey was initiated prior to the start of DTC advertising in the local markets, which enabled us to directly assess the ROI of the public relations campaign.  The survey conducted in January 2000, following Edelman’s public relations initiatives, exhibited that when prompted, nearly 60% of respondents were aware of new treatments available for the flu.  This percentage was up from 25% in November 1999 and up from 16% in September 1999 (pre-launch).

Campaign Results:

·        Placement of appropriate media stories that are both educational and promotional for Tamiflu
·        Tamiflu key messages communicated in 50 out of the top 50 markets
·        Consumer awareness of new prescription flu medications heightened to 60%
·        Increased professional and consumer awareness of Tamiflu
·        Tamiflu positioned as treatment of choice for influenza 
·        Number one prescribed antiviral medication
·        Roche positioned as leader in influenza education and good corporate citizen
·        Established relationships with local physicians and media
·        Increase in Tamiflu market share

A.       National Launch:     749,733,331
B.        Local Launch: 226,065,598
C.       Advocacy Relations: 382,000
Total Media Impressions: 976,180,929

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