Think What’s Possible: the Novartis Corporate Reputation Program
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Think What’s Possible: the Novartis Corporate Reputation Program

Nine years after the merger of Ciba and Sandoz, Novartis was beginning to deliver on its promise – especially in the U.S., its largest market. However, preliminary data suggested that Novartis’s brand recognition was relatively low among key U.S.

Paul Holmes

Nine years after the merger of Ciba and Sandoz, Novartis was beginning to deliver on its promise – especially in the U.S., its largest market. However, preliminary data suggested that Novartis’s brand recognition was relatively low among key U.S. audiences compared to other major pharmaceutical companies. With a negative image of “Big Pharma” becoming more apparent within the media, political arena and investor community, it was important for Novartis to differentiate itself and shine as an industry leader. Novartis enlisted Ruder Finn (RF) to implement a bold communications program designed to build positive awareness and enhance its reputation in the U.S. as an innovative and caring pharmaceutical powerhouse.
RF launched a corporate reputation program with a particular focus on driving feature stories in top-tier business press. Media relations focused on building and establishing meaningful relationships, resulting in a major Novartis story nearly every week of 2002 in high-profile publications. Novartis’s messages were communicated in each story, reinforcing the corporate print-and-radio-advertising campaign, which was part of the reputation-management program.
Measurements at year-end showed that the program had successfully differentiated Novartis from the industry, with both awareness and favorability increases across all target audiences. In addition, Novartis’s increase in market capitalization was emphasized in large-scale publications including Forbes, Fortune and Time magazine.
Novartis had been achieving steady double-digit sales growth in the U.S. and had achieved more drug approvals than anyone else in the industry, including breakthrough oncology treatments such as Gleevec (which was approved by the FDA in record time), as well as Zelnorm, a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Novartis’s robust pipeline, combined with its recent major research announcement – that the company would substantially increase its research investment at a time when many companies were cutting back, and moving its research headquarters to Cambridge, Massachusetts – was moving the company into the limelight in the U.S., especially with business, financial and elite audiences. An opportunity existed to parlay this positive visibility toward generating similar results with U.S. consumer audiences – an important goal as the U.S. was the company’s most important business market.
Though Novartis had made great strides already in raising awareness and favorability among key audiences, trust in “Corporate America” was at an all-time low, and the pharmaceutical industry in particular had been under constant scrutiny for a variety of reasons: access to medicines and prescription drug pricing continued to be on the political agenda; marketing practices, including direct-to-consumer advertising and sales-force activities with physicians, were under attack, with prominent stories in major news publications questioning the ethics of the pharma industry.
Compounding the hostile media environment was the fact that many of Novartis’s competitors had significantly bigger promotional budgets. Novartis would have to create and leverage compelling story opportunities in order to grow and maintain the glow it was starting to achieve in the U.S.
To gain a clear understanding of Novartis’s reputation, RF commissioned Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates to benchmark awareness/favorability levels among key audiences, and to track changes in these levels at regular intervals through the course of the campaign. A thorough analysis of messages, combined with focus group testing, helped Novartis and RF determine the “Think What’s Possible” theme for the campaign, which was communicated through advertising and all media relations, utilizing news stories of primary interest among key audiences.
The results showed impressive gains across audiences in both awareness and favorability.
In an aggressive pursuit of every reputation-building opportunity, RF trained all top-management spokespeople to deliver consistent messages, and sought out all potential editorial opportunities in leading national media. Senior Novartis executives made themselves available for media interviews, with each spokesperson focusing on their specific areas of expertise. RF conducted research to identify industry trends and worked to develop thought-leadership for key Novartis spokespeople.
All media relations and advertising were targeted toward the audiences polled by Penn, Schoen & Berland, focusing on markets where those audiences were clustered and publications those audiences noted reading.
Media tactics focused on stories including that of the breakthrough oncology drug Gleevec, the positive financial performance of the company, profiles of key executives, Novartis’s patient assistance programs, the establishment of NIBR in Cambridge and of the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases in Singapore, among others. These stories drove home the “Think What’s Possible” campaign’s key messages, that Novartis is a caring, innovative leader. A simultaneous “Think What’s Possible” corporate-advertising campaign featured full-page advertisements designed to tell the story of individual patients with dramatic life improvements due to a Novartis treatment in each of Novartis’s key therapeutic areas.
Among the results:
· 92… the number of new media contacts in just the first six months
· 48… the number of Novartis business stories in top-tier print press (non-brand focused)
· 36… the number of media briefings with tier-two media
 On the advertising front:
· 14… the number of first time full-page color ads (NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, USA Today)
· 12… the number of ads placed across from table of contents (Forbes, Institutional Investor)
· 10… the number of back covers (Financial Times, Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American)
· 5… the number of inside covers (National Journal, Black Enterprise)
· 4… the number of ads across from key editorial features (Fortune, HBR, New Yorker)
 “This year [Novartis’s] shares in the U.S. are up about 10%--the best performance among major drug companies—even as the Morgan Stanley Capital USA Health Care Index, a basket of big drug stocks, has fallen about 25%. Novartis is the 17th most valuable company in the world, up from 27th last year.” – TIME Magazine, July 29, 2002
Novartis was ranked one of the “Top 5 International Stock Picks” by Fortune in August 2002: “Novartis has emerged suddenly as a big player in the global drug biz”

Sega Brand Repositioning
Sega with Access Communications

Access Communications’ client SEGA, a leading video game publisher, was in need of a corporate image makeover at the start of 2002. The company had successfully transitioned from being a hardware developer to a third party video game publisher for all three of the console gaming systems. 2002 would be a “make or break” year for SEGA, as the company had a stated goal of becoming the #2 independent console publisher in the U.S. by the end of holiday 2002. Access Communications’ extensive efforts on behalf of this client helped ensure positive corporate image with media and analysts, and ultimately, consumers.
Although SEGA had already began to create video games for consoles such as PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, investors, analysts and media were looking to for more information and proof points as to why SEGA would be a successful third party publisher like competitors such as Electronic Arts (EA).
Following the industry’s largest trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), in May of 2002, analysts, investors and media believed SEGA’s achievement of goals was contingent upon the success and timing of SEGA’s game launches.
Since the company only had a history of developing games for one gaming platform, Access needed to communicate that SEGA could manage the launches of 35 different titles on a variety of different platforms and ship them on time with competitive titles. And competition for coverage was fierce – EA and Activision had blockbuster titles such as “Madden” and “Tony Hawk Pro Skater,” among many others. Further, general consumers still seemed confused about SEGA’s transition. Thirty five percent of gamers did not know which game platforms SEGA developed for; educating them was another major challenge for Access.
Despite these challenges, there were opportunities. SEGA was known for more than 40 years as the leader in creating original content utilizing its 12 powerhouse development teams, a strong message for Access to drive home with media and analysts. Also compelling, SEGA had just announced its first positive financials in at least five years and had a well-admired management team.
Finally, media and analysts were anxious for the competition to “heat up” between SEGA and EA, particularly because SEGA was the only game publisher that made strong sports games that could compete with EA’s. Access had the opportunity to fuel the fire with SEGA’s messages delivered strong to investors, analysts and media.
 Access first conducted a media audit to assess how media and analysts felt about SEGA and the company’s chances of success. In terms of SEGA’s biggest challenges to become a leading software publisher, 44 percent found that achieving brand recognition was key; 38 percent cited making continuously great games; 10 percent cited poor financials and 8 percent cited EA as SEGA’s biggest challenge. Seventy five percent of respondents found that SEGA’s greatest opportunities were its strong game library/developers, online development expertise and the SEGA Sports games.
Second, SEGA and Access conducted a Brand Tracking Study, in which it was discovered that 35 percent of gamers did not know which platforms SEGA developed games for. Given this information, Access PR focused on the following points in messaging – reinforcing that SEGA made the best games on multiple platforms and had the best development teams, that the company was financially stable and meeting milestones and that the company had the right game plan in place for continued success.
 The communications objectives were to re-position SEGA as a leading video game publisher; secure positive coverage for the company, positioning it as being “on par” with successful game publishers such as EA; communicate that SEGA makes great multiplatform games and has strong developers; and secure positive analyst quotes in coverage. Key audiences included business press, analysts, gaming and consumer press.
 The Access and SEGA PR team created a series of monthly creative postcards to media and analysts ranging from a “Back in Black” card to reinforce SEGA’s first positive financials to a postcard defining the word “transition” to show that SEGA has successfully transitioned to a third party publisher.
There were four developer events which helped expose media and analysts to SEGA’s incredible development talent and reinforce content strengths, including: “Developers Unleashed” event, which brought all 12 of SEGA’s global development studios together in one place for the first time; “Virtua Fighter 4” and “Jet Set Radio Future” held concurrent with these game kick-offs to spotlight the developers. The multiplatform message was stressed at these events by showing games on various platforms. Media and analyst attendance at these events totaled more than 400.
Given that sports accounts for 55% of SEGA’s business and 30% of all platform sales, pushing the SEGA Sports message was critical in the overall repositioning of the SEGA brand. To that end, PR put on an exclusive Sports Summit at a New York Hotel on September 5, concurrent with the launch of the NFL season. At the event, SEGA Sports’ developers conducted game demos and pro athletes like Jason Giambi were on hand to sign autographs.
Executives also explained how SEGA was meeting and exceeding 2002 objectives. More than 90 reporters and industry analysts were on hand to hear executives discuss the future of the SEGA Sports brand and to try their hand at SEGA Sports’ 2K3 line up. The multiplatform message was stressed in saying SEGA was making “all sports games on all platforms.”
Executives were active on the speaking circuit, participating in industry panels and speeches at E3, Game Developers Conference, Bear Sterns Conference and many others. During these speaking engagements, SEGA reinforced how the company is meeting/exceeding milestones, its strengths in game development and its 12 studios, its online gaming expertise and success in the sports gaming market.
Monthly in-person and phone meetings with all key analysts, business press and gaming press during which executives would reinforce how the company was meeting/exceeding objectives; discuss game sales, game features and other relevant topics. More than 150 briefings occurred in total.
This “rolling thunder” campaign ensured that SEGA was showcasing how the company was meeting milestones on a monthly basis.
 Because of the PR team’s proactive outreach, excellent media results ensued and all objectives were met. In a mid-term media audit, 86 percent cited that SEGA’s games that they’ve seen thus far have been better than the competition. 75 percent thought that SEGA could achieve the #2 publisher status – a 15 percent increase from earlier in the year. Messages stating that SEGA makes great games were replayed in 85 percent of industry stories and game reviews.
Ten feature spotlight stories on developers and at least five feature stories were secured focusing on SEGA’s comeback opportunity, and 95 percent of game reviews hit the multiplatform message by listing all platforms a particular game was available for. In a follow-up study, only 20 percent were not aware that SEGA was multiplatform vs. 35 percent six months prior.
In addition, three critical analysts upgraded the Japanese stock to “buy” status. By the second quarter of the year, SEGA was the #1 publisher on Nintendo GameCube (up from #2 in Q1) and #2 on Xbox (up from #5 in Q1). Finally, more than 75 percent of analyst quotes about SEGA were positive.
The key quotes reinforcing messages Included:
· “SEGA is mounting a comeback…the company is known for the high quality of its sports games. SEGA can come knocking on EA’s door, and I think EA’s a bit nervous about that.” San Francisco Chronicle, May 2002
· “Two years ago, gaming industry insiders were wondering whether Sega would survive. Now they’re wondering how far it will go.” CNN/Money, June 2002
· “Analysts say Sega’s financial recovery is much faster than expected. ‘It’s impressive considering their recovery pace, and the fact that Sega’s core consumer game sector is returning to the black is a very good news for them,’ said Lisa Spicer, a game sector analyst from ING Barings. CBS MarketWatch, March 2002
· “A gaming powerhouse is back; Sega embracing console systems.” Florida Times Union, August 2002

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