Comms Talks: Pharma – a frank conversation about ethics and trust in the pharmaceutical sector

How effective is the pharma industry at getting its messages across to an increasingly (mis-)informed audience?

Consumers’ unrestricted access to information via digital and social media, as unchecked channels for content dissemination, has an indisputable impact on the pharmaceutical industry, the way it is perceived, and how communicators manage their clients’ and companies’ reputation – it is on this premise that the Comms Talks: Pharma discussion kicked off this morning.

The event – co-organised by media analysis agency Perceptica and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) with the support of the Bulgarian Association for Public Relations (BDVO) and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (АМЕС) – brought together communication professionals from the pharmaceutical sector to discuss the “empowerment” of the end consumer, and what the communication challenges this otherwise positive phenomenon creates for practitioners in the sector.

The panelists in the discussion pinpointed two crucial factors that, when combined, result in loss of trust in pharmaceutical and medical experts and can ultimately lead to adverse consequences for consumers and patients: the speed with which unreliable information and non-expert advice are disseminated, and the strict internal and external regulations that govern pharmaceutical companies’ communication activities.

“Our analysis shows that the more common a disease is, the more likely it is that people won’t turn to healthcare professionals. They look for information and advice from friends, relatives and on online forums”, Perceptica Director Georgi Auad said. “We see a big difference in the topics that receive traditional media coverage and those that authentically capture social media users’ interest.”

They concluded that, to counter these trends, communication in the pharmaceutical industry must be grounded in trust and a set of pre- (and even re-) defined ethical standards, using communication channels relevant to each campaign and case – including the social and digital channels currently underused within the sector, and selected based on measurement and evaluation of public conversations. This is the only way pharmaceutical companies can reach out to the wider community and share their expertise effectively.

The discussion panel included Actavis’ Director of Communications for Southeast Europe Radoslava Ganozova, Nadya Gogova – Managing Partner of Enterprise magazine and IAB-Bulgaria Director, Iva Mikova – Key Accounts Manager at healthcare agency PR Play, and microbiologist Yordan Stefanov of the popular blog Science and Critical Thinking. It was moderated by Elena Mateeva, Media Communications Manager at Sopharma, and BDVO and EACD member.

Comms Talks: Pharma is the first edition of the Comms Talks – a series of sector-themed discussions that forster dialogue between the communication industry’s key stakeholders: in-house communication departments, agencies, the media, and media research and analysis professionals. Comms Talks events are public, free to attend, and aimed at current and future communications professionals.