Pharma communicators predict more crises on the horizon

June 16, 2022 · READ

Pharmaceutical companies know the bottom-line effects of a wide range of corporate risks. The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the race to develop vaccines upended all normalcy in risk management for pharma communicators. Health topics dominated online and offline conversations on a global basis and medical misinformation was rampant and uncontrolled. This digital chatter ushered in a new, disruptive normal as our Communications Leaders Risk Survey: Pharma Edition reveals. These pharma communications professionals are stepping up to the challenge, however, and seeking risk intelligence solutions to protect their global enterprises and proactively mine digital chatter to identify an issue before it escalates into a full-blown crisis.

Perpetual state of crisis

Working in a highly regulated industry brings scrutiny into every aspect of the research, design, trial, approval and launch of new drugs. Fortunately, pharma communicators are equipped to handle these anticipated risks. However, enter social media and traditional crisis playbooks no longer apply. The speed and scale of digital chatter has created a never-ending cycle of accelerated risks. As pharma became “everyone’s business” during the pandemic, pharma brands quickly became household names and felt the heat of intense criticism normally reserved for direct-to-consumer brands. Much of that criticism now manifests or becomes amplified online, and requires pharma communicators to make it a priority on their risk watchlist.

A constant state of vigilance is here to stay. In fact, more than three-quarters (76%) of pharma communicators expect to face three or more crises per year versus less than half (49%) of their peers in other industries. The risks these professionals expect fall outside the scope of known areas, such as patient safety. For example, the “infodemic” of misinformation spread during the COVID-19 pandemic may be one reason for pharma communicators’ heightened sense of concern. More than three in five (64%) pharma communicators report it’s likely their business will face a crisis sparked by misinformation, notably higher than their communications peers (56%). Furthermore, consensus among pharma professionals (76%) is that their organizations will encounter “new, unknown risks,” far outpacing other communication professionals’ expectations (66%).

Societal issues fan the flames of digital chatter

Inequities in access to health care, drugs and life-saving services have existed for years. The difference today is that digital chatter significantly amplifies these risk topics. As environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues gain greater attention, expectations of businesses and CEOs to take a public stance are also rising. Ignoring these subjects can cause serious harm to not only the business but its leadership team per the Wall Street Journal.

Pharma communicators are sounding the alarm. Nearly all (94%) agree social injustice will be a key driver of increased risks, versus 85% of their communications peers. Alongside a marked increase in reputational risks, pharma communicators are battling sinking consumer perception. In the latest Gallup poll, Americans rated the industry the third lowest out of 25 sectors. Despite the industry’s race to develop and distribute life-saving vaccines, a history of distrust remains entrenched in public opinion.

Prioritizing resilience over response time

When a crisis arises, timing is everything. The speed and scale of digital chatter has drastically reduced the response time for organizations to assess, prepare and respond to an issue. Pharma professionals overwhelmingly agree, with 82% saying there is a shorter window to react let alone respond to risks originating from digital chatter.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Identifying or responding to a risk too late can impact internal and external systems with disastrous effects. Pharma professionals cite the most worrisome impacts as damage to brand/corporate reputation (93%), negative publicity (92%), employee morale/recruitment (73%), consumer/customer experience (59%) and financial performance (46%).

Now what? Pharma professionals aren’t sitting idly by. They’re communicating up and across the organization, advocating for a shift in strategy from one solely focused on response time to a resilience model. Resilience models that leverage risk intelligence can help teams prepare for and defuse a crisis before it starts. In a true flip of the script, pharma professionals see risk intelligence from digital chatter as their best counter measure. Four-fifths (80%) of professionals say the escalation of incidents arising from digital chatter within minutes is top of their list, more than their peers (71%).

Not only are pharma communicators expanding their job responsibilities, they’re clearly articulating what the organization needs to stay ahead of risk. More than three-quarters (77%) say not enough funding exists in necessary risk intelligence solutions. Existing monitoring tools simply can’t protect the organization, according to nearly two-thirds (65%) of professionals. A similar number (64%) attest to the increased difficulty of anticipating or identifying risks arising from social chatter.

Prevent the next crisis

Pharma professionals have cause for hope. The C-suite is increasingly acknowledging the immediacy, relevance and scale of a changing risk landscape, and the role digital chatter plays in accelerating it. Our recent survey of over 100 CEOs, COOs and CFOs, reveals nearly three-quarters (72%) agree that investments in new risk intelligence solutions and technologies will increase within the next 12 months. With the attention and support of the C-suite, pharma communicators can now advocate for new resilience models focused on preparedness and prevention as a company-wide strategy, and adopt sophisticated intelligence solutions to protect their brand reputations.

Resolver Crisis Defense protects brand reputation by delivering real-time alerts on risks that emerge via social media, the deep and dark web, and reporting on the key actor groups who represent a risk to your pharma brands before they escalate into a crisis. Resolver is different because our risk-trained AI technology calculates the likelihood of each risk, which our Human Intelligence teams then use to predict its future severity. That way, your communications team can take preventative action before it becomes a crisis. A recent Forrester Consulting study found Resolver customers reduced the impact of a crisis by 40 percent, prevented one-in-three crises per year entirely and achieved a 572% ROI. Today Resolver defends over $6.5 trillion in combined market capitalization for over 1,000 brands.

Is your pharma brand at risk? Contact us to develop a customized risk profile and ROI analysis to inform your communications planning and strategy today. To learn more about how your pharma peers perceive risk and its consequences to brand reputation, download the full Communications Leaders Risk Survey: Pharma Edition.

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