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Winning Over Pharma Communication Challenges

Social Media, Risk, Cross-Functional and Strategy


Renowned author and literary critic Lawrence Clark Powell said, “Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow.” The idealism inherent in this statement is inspirational for the pharmaceutical industry when overcoming communication challenges. Barriers are eliminated through insightful interpretation of the written word, verbalization of details that ensure full comprehension and total absorption of etched material to expand knowledge base. A smooth and seamless exchange of information results from the creative ways enlisted to handle social media, risk, cross-functional and brand strategy dialogue.

Social Media

LindaDiPersio-MayArtwork1In the digital age, it is imperative that pharmaceutical companies have an online discourse with patients to continue moving forward and not fall behind. Facebook is a tremendous opportunity to engage and connect with patients worldwide. The challenge with social media is that the continuous redesign of rules and regulations require strict adherence. Worldwide regulatory bodies, including the World Health Organization and the United National Health Care Organization, mandate the type of drug information companies can disseminate. In the United Kingdom, referring to the name of a prescription drug or an internet address is considered advertising which is prohibited for prescription medications. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration stipulates that brands must add the associated risk information to their social media campaigns and allow accessibility to effective risk discussions.

Prevailing over this challenge by posting generic – rather than specific – information about drugs creates a community that explores widespread topics and promotes a mission with patients as Facebook “fans.” The potential to advance the corporate image of pharma companies is reinforced when patients read and comment on engaging medical information. Although pharma is not permitted to direct patients about the benefits of medications or which to purchase, they are at liberty to respond in broader terms and promote online drug awareness campaigns. Pharma should delineate the terms of engagement on Facebook pages and state plainly the types of comments that receive a response.

Cross-Functional Communication

LindaDiPersio-MayArtwork2In a 2014 study “Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs: Arming Regulatory Groups with Voice and Influence to Meet Strategic Challenges,” 48% of drug companies reported a lower level of comprehension with interdisciplinary regulatory requirements. Some internal teams are not aware of the timing of changes in the regulatory environment. These individuals believe that an agency approves a drug merely because it is clinically beneficial but they fail to notice its cost-effectiveness and trial design. Internal groups do not understand fully the impact of regulatory strategy on developing drugs, authorizing medications to be put on the market, and marketing after the approval process has ended.

The remedy is for regulatory affairs to lead discussions with cross-functional teams about processes that provide clarity on current guidelines. Regulators should promote the benefits of guidelines and set forth perspectives and priorities that impact the way prescription medication is developed. Focusing on the rules that increase the chances of medications entering and remaining in the market not only results in improved internal team communications but also stronger relationships with regulatory agencies.

Risk Communication

LindaDiPersio-MayArtwork3Communicating risk is a critical component in the reputation of pharma companies. Summary of product characteristics, package inserts, patient information leaflets and cartons are all tools currently regulated based on templates. The call to action arises when the use of templates limits the flexibility of companies to adapt risk messages to certain targets. These templates do not afford companies the opportunity to understand the message perception by different audiences and the fundamental drivers of change in patient and prescriber behavior to increase safety and minimize danger.

The comeback is for pharma companies to assimilate a separate group of communication professionals who focus solely on coordinating conversations aligned with objectives that are accepted by key stakeholders unaffiliated with regulatory agencies. Pharma companies need to emphasize promotional material with supporting factual sources. A team of professionals must determine communication effectiveness, gauge audience reaction and modify the level of risk accordingly. It is essential that trained individuals who know how to manage risk, which may become public later and damage the company reputation, be assigned exclusively to handle the internal dialogue about impactful issues. The relationship between risk communication, perceptions and management is of major concern and it is important that it be addressed.

Drug vs. Brand Strategy

Pharma companies focus their communication efforts on illnesses with the best or “one and only” treatment. In the future, if the severity of diseases diminishes with just one treatment or with only one medicine that is different from others on the market, communication strategies will have less value.  Newly introduced medicines are only unique for a short period of time because constant innovations enable more effective drugs to enter the market. Innovative drugs with reduced prices enter the market and profits decrease.

The technique to settle this is to shift communication strategies from centering on drugs to building brand policies. Connecting brands to concepts makes the pharma industry stronger. Pharma needs to promote what differentiates them from their competitors with a distinguishable brand identity. An umbrella brand protects and empowers medications and also makes it easier to launch drugs that have curative capabilities while a new communication strategy uses brand journalism and consumer engagements to spread the word about the brand. Articulating messages with clarity and being aware of brevity is of utmost consequence. When brand leadership is revealed to the general public, prestige and stature enhance the reputation of the drugs.

In conclusion, communication is a two-way street, but the conveyance does not always occur fluently. Messages from the sender are not necessarily understood in their entirety by the receiver in the intended sense which results in a communication breakdown. Pharma needs to gain the confidence and courage to develop creative solutions that master dialogue challenges with social media, expressing risk, communicating information cross-functionally and brand strategy.




“Cross-Functional Communication of Pharmaceutical Regulatory Strategy Boosts Organizational Impact.” Business Wire. (2014)

Cura, M. and Costa, M. “Communication in the Pharmaceutical Industry from Product to Brand.” Developing Ideas. (2015)

Elgie, D. “Pharma Brands on Social Media:  Overcoming the Challenges.” Emoderation. (2015)

O’Riordan, B. “6 Challenges Facing Pharma Communications.” Pharmafile. (2015)

“Risk Communication and the Pharmaceutical Industry.” SpringerLink. (2015)


Linda J. DiPersio
Professional Writer
Linda J. DiPersio, MSM, MSHC, is a professional writer. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree at California Southern University. Linda earned a Master’s in Health Communication from Boston University and a Master’s in Management from Lesley University. She has been published in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare. Linda is a researcher/writer for the Public Health Museum and a member of the American Public Health Association and American Association for the History of Medicine. She is the author of psychological, pharmaceutical and historical health information on her website:
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