For all the talk about the importance of a “positive corporate reputation”, there is surprisingly little written about what tangible actions you should take to build one. What specific themes should be the focus for Australian medical and pharmaceutical companies that aspire to lift their organisational reputation?
The extent to which pharmaceutical companies in particular struggle with reputation is certainly well canvassed. Only one pharmaceutical company made the cut in a recent Forbes list of the ‘100 Most Reputable Companies’.
A separate international survey showed that the pharmaceutical industry was ranked 7th of the eight healthcare sectors it evaluated.
For those of you who are wondering ‘why bother?’, corporate reputation is important not least of all because it facilitates better business with your customers, opens the door to new partnerships and helps you attract the very best staff. After all, what bright, engaged, talented prospective employee wants to work for company with a terrible reputation? Or indeed for a company of which no-one has ever heard. Ditto a high profile research foundation looking to develop an innovative collaboration.
One approach is to look at the variables that typically get measured in the corporate league tables reported via various industry websites on the ratings of reputation.
There appear to be at least seven recurring themes that make up the backbone of building a positive corporate reputation:
- Evidence of innovation: The notion of being innovative also fits with the current popular corporate narrative around agility – of being able to adapt to a changing business environment and to find new innovative solutions that work.
- A focus on transparency: One of the main things that has changed most in the past 20 years in medical marketing is the commitment of pharmaceutical companies to new standards of transparency in their relationships with healthcare professionals and other stakeholders. It is what people have come to expect and if you can’t meet the new standards and expectations then it will do you reputational damage.
- Contribution of content: Companies with a reputation for being progressive and innovative build that reputation not just on the way they develop products and do business. They are also judged in light of how they choose to communicate and engage with customers, industry leaders, peers and the public. What does their contribution look like –blogs, guest articles, opinion pieces, news updates and educational videos - and how strategically is it promoted via social and online media?
- Fair dealing and pricing: Increased consumer and media literacy in Australia about public subsidisation and health economics will bring pricing issues into sharper focus in the future. We are likely to see more frequent references to the role of the manufacturer in stories that seek to explain why certain medicines are not being reimbursed. As awareness of the process grows, people will increasingly ask “If it’s not being listed on the PBS then is it possible it is a profit-focused company asking too high a price?”
- Meaningful external relations: They say people form a view of you based first on the company you keep. So the demonstration of strong, collaborative, transparent relationships with relevant patients groups, healthcare organisations and other third parties is another key ingredient.
- Support for the less fortunate: There is evidence that showing tangible and considered support for the less fortunate is being used as an effective tool to recalibrate perceptions of pharmaceutical companies. People want to know what contribution companies are making outside of their core business. Companies that are active in volunteering and charity support will reap a reputational and recruiting benefit if that action is actioned, supported and communicated in an authentic way.
- Effective issues management: People understand that you can’t control every minute detail of global business – but you can control how you respond to it. If you do it in a way that is quick, open and patient-centric then you’ll earn reputational points. If it is slow, financially driven and evasive then you’ll need to prepare to wear the reputational damage.
How many of these boxes is your company ticking?
Which of these variables you need to focus on might depend on the kind of brand and platform your company has built for itself. If you’re an agile, smaller medical company involved in edgy collaborations then innovation is a top priority. If you’re leading the charge on transparency then distinguishing those efforts might take up more of your resources.
But a well-rounded organisation will have their eye on all of these variables. Because having a good corporate reputation will make it easier for you to do business, trigger productive relationships and help you attract the best and brightest team.
Fair dealing and support for the less fortunate can help build a positive reputation