Pharma’s Shift to Corporate Branding

The traditional model for pharmaceutical public relations is to focus on the product brand, not the corporate brand.  Healthcare consumers tend to identify more closely with product brand names rather than the company that controls that brand.

Case in point: how many average consumers do you think realize that Wyeth makes Advil, that Johnson and Johnson makes Motrin and that McNeil makes Sudafed?  I’d be willing to bet it’s well less than half.  Why?  A brand crisis in the past could have huge ramifications across the product portfolio of a pharma company.  The philosophy is similar to how firefighters attack a blaze—containment is key.

But that model is slowly but surely changing and pharma companies are showing a willingness to engage and invest more heavily in PR and social media that enhances the corporate brand.  Take a look at Johnson and Johnson as a prime example.  J&J is a highly decentralized corporation that controls hundreds of operating companies around the globe.  Because of this model, it would seem logical that the company would prefer brand PR over corporate PR.  But that’s not entirely the case.  J&J has been lauded for its foray into social media.  But a closer inspection of its efforts shows that they are aimed at enhancing the corporate brand—not a specific product brand.

And J&J is not alone. ePharmaRx recently posted a list of pharmaceutical companies that have established a presence on Twitter.  The list includes names like Bayer, Glaxo Smith Kline, Pfizer and Astra Zeneca to name a few.  Of course, the argument could be made that some of the aforementioned companies are not truly engaging at this stage of the game.  But hey, baby steps.

So why the shift to corporate branding efforts in the pharmaceutical industry?  It comes back to what Sally Suzman, Pfizer’s Chief Communications Officer, recently termed return on reputation.  It has become apparent to pharmaceutical companies across a broader spectrum that the corporate brand can create a halo effect that enhances the product brand.  If as a company you are viewed as compassionate, honest, responsive and accommodating to the consumer voice it will ultimately lead to product loyalty.

There is also the issue of regulatory concerns when it comes to social media for pharma companies.  The reporting of adverse events and FDA regulations are commonly seen as huge hurdles to social media focused on a brand.  But when you move to a corporate level, you have effectively mitigated some of those challenges.  That is not to say they go out the window entirely, but they are infinitely more manageable.

Brand PR and even social media will always be an important part of the pharmaceutical communications mix.  To think that corporate branding efforts will suddenly supplant brand-specific efforts is naïve.  However, the tide is clearly shifting, and pharmaceutical companies need to decide whether to go with it, or risk being washed away.

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1 Response to “Pharma’s Shift to Corporate Branding”

  1. 1 Branded Merchandise October 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    This has been a huge issue within our industry.

    With the new legislation, most of the pharmaceutical companies have to limit their gift giving. Even branded merchandise like the ones that we offer at

    Gallant, Inc.

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