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3 Reasons Pharma Companies Should Turn to PR Amid Changing DTC Guidelines


July 22, 2015

By Theresa Dolge, VP, Media Director

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of drugs in the U.S. was born in 1985 but really exploded more than 10 years later when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eased up on its rules about reporting side-effects in television commercials.  Fast forward to 2014 and guess how much was spent on DTC ads in the pharma space?  Nearly $5 billion!  Life was really good in DTC drug land until February of this year when the FDA announced it would again change its policy on reporting drugs risks so that consumers could actually understand them.

So what did FDA actually say about this?

  • Well, first they want drug companies to simplify their DTC print ads by summarizing a drug’s side-effects in layman’s terms
  • Second, they are suggesting (but not yet mandating) that companies ditch the long list of side-effects from radio and TV ads and only include the “most important” ones (translation: scary side effects like death that companies don’t necessarily want front and center)
  • Lastly, FDA says drug makers are free to experiment with formatting, although they recommend Q&A’s and “Drug Facts” boxes

Prior to the existence of DTC advertising, there was another communications discipline that was critical to the launch of new medications (and indications): public relations (PR).  While PR is still very much involved, it often takes a backseat to the larger DTC advertising companies that command larger budgets and more staff.  As the FDA works to change how DTC ads are communicated, the role of PR – which has clear guidelines for including fair balance and prescribing information – becomes even more essential.

Here are three ways PR can help drug companies not only relay the benefits of a new medication, but do it in a responsible and credible way:

  1. PR teams forge meaningful relationships with patient advocacy groups to help educate about new drugs and disease categories
  2. Physicians work regularly with PR groups to provide their insights for the creation of healthcare communications programs
  3. There has been a longstanding relationship between PR people and the media so information can be accurately conveyed to the public

Health literacy remains a major issue in our country; there is an ongoing and growing need for PR to help educate and destigmatize disease, which would ultimately expand the drug market.  A message’s credibility is greater when delivered by unbiased third parties than by those seeking to profit from it, hence why PR is a communications tool that works – and works well – in this market.  As the FDA continues to evaluate DTC advertising guidelines, drug companies could better maximize their budgets and the reach of their messages if they consider using or increasing PR.