Our Blog

Footer Background_v2 copy

How Pharmaceutical Leaders Can Capitalize on the Momentum of Positive Public Perception

by TLD Group

Before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Gilead were often tagged as “big pharma” putting profit before purpose.

Now, one year later, pharmaceutical companies are being praised for their positive impact resulting from the speed at which they were capable of producing FDA-approved treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

Through its ingenuity, strategic leadership and nimble pipeline management practices, the pharmaceutical industry is meeting a deep and drastic human need: to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and alive.

Strengthen Healthcare Partnerships

Now, amid the daily news headlines on vaccine rollouts and national and international COVID case and death rates, this may be the time for pharma companies to leverage their individual and collective power to enhance and advance their public perception and reputation.

In a 2020 TLD Group presentation, “Building the Pharmaceutical Voice in the Future Health Ecosystem,” Stephanie Laplante, an executive coach at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) , stated: “COVID has turned many competitors into collaborators. It has created new opportunities for stakeholders to collaborate in ways that we never considered before.”

In terms of these stakeholder collaborations, within and across the walls of the pharmaceutical industry, there are already some positive steps.

Last September, as pharma companies raced to conduct vaccine clinical trials, the CEOs of AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer and Sanofi co-signed and published their pledge to continue to prioritize the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals.

In their letter the nine companies wrote: “We, the undersigned bio pharmaceutical companies, want to make clear our ongoing commitment to developing and testing potential vaccines for COVID-19 in accordance with high ethical standards and sound scientific principles.”

Beyond the walls of the pharma industry, health ecosystem partnerships—including mergers with large healthcare organizations--are not new. In the past 10 years, examples of these inter-sector partnerships include CVS Health and Aetna, UnitedHealth and DaVita, Quest Diagnostic’s partnership with IBM Watson Health, and Google’s partnership with The Mayo Clinic.

Also, according to the Wall Street Journal, by 2016, venture-capital funding in U.S. healthcare companies had increased by 34%.

“It is clear that, in order to ready itself to deliver on the promise of population health and provide value-based care, all healthcare stakeholders—providers, payers, pharmaceutical, public health experts--must align and transform,” says Tracy Duberman, PhD, founder, president and CEO of the TLD Group.

Thought Leadership and Mutual Learning

Across the health ecosystem, what are the potential thought leadership and mutual learning opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare sectors?

For example, following a year when many large and small health systems endured supply chain interruptions, what can the pharmaceutical industry teach us about more robust and reliable supply chain management? Equally, as many pharma companies have been forced to pivot some parts of their patient clinical trials to telehealth or virtual patient encounters, what can healthcare providers teach pharma researchers about best-practice telehealth and digitally-based patient engagement—particularly among patient groups for whom telehealth is new, marginally accessible, or daunting?

From providers to payers to pharma to policy makers, what can we all teach each other about efficacious data sharing in order to enhance research, care delivery and, ultimately, longitudinal health outcomes? According to this PWC Health Research Institute Report, “Payers and providers, awash in data about members and the populations they serve, including social determinants of health metrics, may be able to help pharmaceutical and life sciences companies develop trial protocols that serve more diverse populations.”

Tell, Don’t Sell: The Value of Pharmaceutical Storytelling

Thanks to consumer, trade, and news reports, most of us know how the COVID-19 pandemic stressed and burdened healthcare systems. There’s a heightened public understanding of individual and organizational strains and sacrifices, including the impacts of deferred routine procedures, preventive care—and the related fiscal hits for large and small providers. By contrast, how much or how well has the pharma industry shared or informed the public about its on-the-ground 2020 experiences, including the impact of compressed drug development timelines and suspended or delayed non-COVID clinical trials—all while managing and working via remote teams?

Call it the “tree falls in the woods” syndrome. As vaccine doses get dispatched to sites across the country, and as hospital-based clinicians now use the FDA-approved treatments for moderately or severely ill COVID patients, our pharmaceutical companies need to tell (and re-tell) their own story.

In fact, let’s start with baseline knowledge here. How much do frontline clinicians, payers, patients and the general public know or understand about the “normal” drug-development process and its component research phases? Next, how can pharma companies convey how the warp-speed COVID vaccine development process was anything but normal? Instead, thanks to the leadership, ingenuity and sacrifices involved, pharma’s warp-speed development of vaccines was, in fact, remarkable. And now, looking ahead, what are the lessons learned and new implications for future drug-development and approval protocols?

In collaboration with its healthcare partners and its trade organization, pharma needs to re-communicate and reiterate its commitment to patient safety and to share, aggregate and co-publicize the health metrics data that, a year or two years from now, will clearly demonstrate pharma’s central role in flattening the infection curve.

Pharma’s Influence in Health Equity and Population Health

In her September 2020 article in “Pharmaceutical Executive,” Caroline Eick, Creative Director at CultHealth, writes about the historic and systemic U.S. health disparities that have been laid bare by the COVID 19 pandemic: “We, the healthcare industry, can democratize health information and education to help ensure that all patients have better outcomes. We can be there for patients when doctors can’t. We’re not just in their medicine cabinets, we’re in their phones, computers and televisions.”

In the article’s call to equity action, Eick cites the dual need for plain-language patient education materials (PEMs) and for questioning our industry assumptions about patients’ baseline understanding about how treatments work and patients’ media consumption and access: “The people who need this information the most are often the people who get it the least.”

When it comes to pharma-driven and funded health equity and population health initiatives, there are some promising projects.

For example, last year, the PhARMA Foundation announced its new challenge award ($300,000) aimed to address health disparities and underrepresented groups in value assessment.

Also, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry trade group which represents the country’s leading innovative biopharmaceutical research companies, provides many accessible PEMs and no-cost fact sheets, including its download-able chart pack, “Biopharmaceuticals in Perspective.” In accessible language and graphics, these publications outline the role of prescription medications in the patient wellness and the healthcare system, and the role of partnerships and collaborations within and across the research and development (R&D) system.

Meanwhile, at the individual-company level, Johnson & Johnson, in response to the COVID-related mental health strain on the general population and on nurses and healthcare workers, invited funding applications (up to $100,000) for nurse-led innovations and projects that could empower nurses to transform mental health care and well-being for their fellow healthcare professionals or the patients they serve.


In its article on reputation management, Forbes reports that a quarter of a company’s market value can be directly related to its reputation, and 87% of executives think that reputational challenges are more important than other strategic risks. Therefore, in addition to reputation-maintenance or advancement initiatives, we hope that all of us in the healthcare industry look within and beyond our corporate walls to enhance knowledge-sharing, patient engagement, public awareness and patient health.

New call-to-action

Recommended Content

Presentation  A New Rx for Building Leaders:  Linking Talent Strategy to Business Strategy

Podcast  Interview with Nicolette Sherman Vice President, Global Leadership Development, Sanofi

Topics: Healthcare Ecosystem, Pharma

TLD Group

Written by TLD Group