Reinventing Reputation: one of pharma's biggest challenges

By Seyda Atadan Memis, Takeda General Manager UK & Ireland and ABPI Reputation Board Sponsor

Polling commissioned by the ABPI finds that only 22% of people say they know a lot or a fair amount about the pharmaceutical industry – yet here you are, reading an article on the ABPI website.

Because you are reading this, I can be reasonably confident that you already know that pharmaceutical companies are at the heart of developing new treatments and bringing them to patients. Yet when most people think about our industry – if they do at all – their views are often coloured by a whole host of half-understood or misremembered information.

This presents us with an important challenge, as how people think and feel about our industry impacts our ability to fulfil our mission: to help patients get the effective treatments they need.

ABPI research tells us there is a significant gap in the public’s understanding of exactly how our sector works. Whether that be the level of investment needed for R&D, how supply chains are built or the process that takes a medicine from a clinical trial and into the health system. A big downside to this gap is it often leads to an assumption that the focus of the sector is on profits, not people.

This is why, in October 2023, the ABPI hosted its first-ever reputation conference to think more deeply about the factors determining the industry's image and reputation and what we can do to improve public trust and understanding.

Reputation Conference 871X571

This perception was perfectly encapsulated by this quote from one of the speakers:

"An eighteen-year-old in one of our focus groups likened the pharmaceutical industry to Batman. He's a superhero, goes round saving lives. Does lots of good things. But a bit curious, a bit mysterious, a bit opaque.." – Tom Fife-Schaw, Research Director, Ipsos.

A key theme of the conference, which brought together experts from academia, industry, government, patient organisations and the NHS, was the two core aspects of reputation: capability and character.

Our speakers all agreed that while the industry is known to be competent and capable at developing and delivering medicines, it needs to work harder on projecting and demonstrating its character and the core values of honesty, integrity, and fairness. Along side capability and character, discussions were also had on the importance of purpose - where 'purpose' is not just making money, but  aiming to make a real difference to  healthcare. This purpose should steer everything companies do, from big decisions to everyday tasks, ensuring they stay on the ethical path.

The discussions on the day set out a clear challenge for us all to answer. How can we bridge the gap between how companies view themselves and how the public perceives them?

While the solution is multifaceted, better communication is critical. We need to be better about telling our story on creating new medicines and talking about our collaborations with government, the NHS, and patient groups.

The conference concluded with several recommendations, which  included:

  • The ABPI to work with members and regulators to revise the Code of Practice. This would involve clarifying communication strategies about products and organisational purposes, encouraging transparency in successes and failures, and fostering industry-wide knowledge and familiarity.
  • For companies to embrace their core purpose and focus on being trustworthy rather than merely seeking to build trust.
  • For individuals within the industry, advanced media training should be encouraged to boost confidence in public communication, helping them better educate the public to understand the science behind their work.

We will be exploring these in more detail in further articles here over the coming months. For now, you can read more about the issues discussed on the day in this summary, 'Strengthening reputation and trust in the UK pharmaceutical industry'.

As we look to the future, the pharmaceutical industry faces a critical task of aligning core  values and character with external perceptions, a transformation that's essential for a positive and informed reputation.

  • Reputation

Last modified: 02 May 2024

Last reviewed: 02 May 2024