PR plan for pharma


Phil Lucas | MPH
10 minute read

The price of researching and developing new medicines is very high and so ensuring that a new drug is adopted is of paramount importance to pharma companies. PR teams play a key role in creating unique openings for marketers to provide consumers or healthcare professionals with swift and detailed drug and healthcare information.

Having a strategic public relations (PR) plan will help to:

  1. Generate effective market penetration
  2. Raise product/brand awareness
  3. Create a strong brand position within your market
  4. Keep stakeholders updated
  5. Track how the product is received by the public.

Here are our 6 steps to creating a successful PR plan for pharma.

Step 1 – Gather background information

Before you start planning your strategy for the promotion of a new product, it is important to gather together the key information you have relating to the product, from discovery right through to licensing, and any case studies that were created. Use this information to transform a comprehensive overview of all information about the drug including the research, development stages, and results into a targeted and compelling story idea.

There should also be details of the interested parties such as stakeholders, rights groups, government departments, lobbyists, organisations/institutions, government (local and national), industry representatives, health care providers, health ministers, and others. This NHS document shows how to identify and analyse stakeholders and talks about the ‘9Cs’ which are:

  • Commissioners: those who pay the organisation to do things
  • Customers: those who acquire and use the organisation’s products
  • Collaborators: those with whom the organisation works to develop and deliver products
  • Contributors: those from whom the organisation acquires content for products
  • Channels: those who provide the organisation with a route to a market or customer
  • Commentators: those whose opinions of the organisation are heard by customers and others
  • Consumers: those who are served by the customers (i.e., patients, families, users)
  • Champions: those who believe in and will actively promote the product

The next stage is to devise the communications plan and outline who needs what information and how it’s progress will be tracked.

Step 2 – Define objectives

The purpose of the PR campaign is to help the organisation achieve its business objectives. It is important to have a clear strategy and set overall goals and objectives that are SMART; i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. The objectives will outline what you hope to achieve through the PR plan and so you need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What are the challenges to the overall desired outcome?
  • How will the activities inform and engage local stakeholders in a positive way?
  • What role will the Key Opinion Leader (KOL) play? See our blog article on KOLs.
  • How will the drug be bought and sold?

Here are some examples of SMART objectives to consider:

Outputs – such as press releases and other media marketing. Define how many impressions you want to achieve through traditional and digital marketing methods over a certain period.

Takeaways – communicating and remembering the USP. What percentage of customers will remember the key differentiating feature of the medicine and believe it is more desirable than other products in the marketplace.

Results – the actions that will result from the PR program. How many people do you want to use the new medicine, how many companies/regions/doctors do you want to adopt the new drug.

Secondary results – the main goal will most likely be to get people to adopt the new medicine, but you may also want to achieve relationships with new companies and KOLs for future funding, research, and/or promotion. These ‘added extras’ should be defined and measured as well.

Timing – the PR activities should have a specific timeline that is tightly aligned to the product development and launch schedule. The PR plan should also define a suitable time period that the activities and results can be monitored such as 4 weeks, 3 months and 6 months – again depending on the overall timeline of events.

Budget – the cost of the PR activities will need to be defined and broken down across the potential marketing activities. Key stakeholders will, of course, be interested to know what money has been spent and what the return on investment (ROI) is, particularly as a lot of money will have been invested in the production and launch of the drug in the first place.

Step 3 – Pick the audience

There are two audiences that you must reach and understand to have PR success. These are firstly the market segment that you are wanting to adopt your new product, and secondly, the media outlets who reach your target audience. Traditionally a PR plan would have only focused on the media, but now that we live in a digital and multi-channel environment, companies can also reach the target audience directly through self-publishing in blogs and social media.

1 – Define the profile of your target audience

Rather than casting the net very wide and hoping to catch someone’s attention, it is much better to target specific people or groups. Profiling your audience should take into account not only specifics like age, gender, and location, but also lifestyles, attitudes, self-perceptions, and interests.

2 – Research their communication methods

In marketing they say ‘fish where the fish swim’, meaning that there is no point advertising your product in places where the right people won’t see it. It is therefore important to research your audience’s communication methods. These will then be the places where you will focus your marketing efforts to achieve your goals.

3 – Create a database of media contacts

Identify the specific media members and channels that already publish content and interact with your target audience. Create a database of people/companies including when and how you communicated with them, and what the results were. The contacts should be categorised into groups such as ‘very likely’, ‘likely’, ‘unlikely’ so that again you are focusing your efforts on the contacts that will help you the most.

Step 4 – Key messages and channels

This is the most important part of the PR program/plan and before initiating any communications with the target audiences, you must first decide what you need to say to them. You will need to identify what the key messages are such as the benefits or unique selling points of the product. These messages should be consistent throughout all communications to create maximum impact and credibility, and to help the audience understand your value proposition (the features making your product attractive to customers).

Regular activities throughout the PR strategy should include reviewing and updating the communications plan and materials, updating feedback and activities logs, and overseeing news and social media coverage.

1 - List all of the features and benefits and brainstorm what the strongest messages of the medicine are

It will be important to think about the profile of your target audience and decide what features/benefits they will be most interested in. It is worth noting here that there are strict regulations about the promotion of medicines in the UK, and we will discuss this further in Stage 5.

Create your product description and highlight the main features. This should describe the medicine (include the Summary of Product Characteristics) and its differentiation to the others on the market, while showing the value for customers. There should be relevant information added in here such as results from the clinical trials, as well as cost in comparison to other medicines.

2 - Channels to use

Make a list of the various channels that you will be using and what will need to be created for publishing. If you are going to attend conferences and exhibitions, then you may want to have leaflets and tangible marketing materials to leave with people. If you will be publishing online through publications, social media, email, and press releases then these need to be professionally written as they all have their own formatting and word count requirements.

3 - Create and distribute the communications

You will not send out all of the marketing materials out at once, so you will want to create a timeline of what should be posted and when. Arrange for the copy to be created/written for use across the various channels, and when contacting media members you will need to ensure you are following a standard format for press releases. Make sure all messaging has been approved by the relevant decision maker and/or any stakeholders. It will also be very important to keep a record of all of the communications created, as well as where and how they were distributed. See our blog about ‘tailoring medical messages to different audiences’.

Step 5 – Risks and responsibilities

In the UK the rules about advertising messages are very strict and are controlled by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The guidelines are documented in the MHRA’s Blue Guide and more information about the rules for advertising new drugs can be found in section 3 of our KOL blog.

Once the communications plan is up and running there will need to be a designated point of contact that can deal with any external enquiries about the new product, including any questions and issues. A strong communications and engagement plan should restrict the space available for incorrect information by communicating clear, coherent, and consistent information in a sustained way and reduce the risk of negative media coverage.

There should be details of how other depts will assist, what the typical responsibilities are and who should take of what. Key spokespeople should be briefed on the key messages and speak knowledgeably, and consistently to avoid potential challenges from the media.

Step 6 – Results

The results of the PR strategy should be monitored at the intervals previously defined to not only measure its success but allow for adjustments to be made if necessary. Throughout any business process, it’s always a good idea to review the strategy and identify areas for improvement.

Results should be measured against the original objectives and analysed to see if the criteria are being met. If the results aren’t as good as expected, then adjustments should be made to improve the results.

Questions to ask for each objective:

Outputs – how many impressions have been achieved? What channels are working best?

Takeaways – what percentage of customers are remembering the key differentiating feature of the medicine?

Results – how many people have adopted the new drug so far?

Secondary results – what extra benefits have been achieved, such as new partnerships and funding?

Timing – is the plan staying on track and is everything being delivered on time?

Budget – is the PR plan currently under or over budget and what is the cost breakdown of all the activities?

At the end of the PR strategy, a comprehensive report should be made and given to all stakeholders and decision makers to review the overall results.

Contact us for an informal chat with one of our specialist medical communication marketers today to discuss your specific needs.

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