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The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

The Week That Was: Crises in Communications

July 24, 2017 0 Comments

While the dog days of summer rage on, The Week That Was team is cranking up the AC, enjoying more than our fair share of ice cream and avoiding Penn Station at all costs.

Highlight of the week: our colleague Julian Suchman published a piece in Pharma Exec about some of the ways to leverage digital and social media tools to communicate with patients in the value-based pricing environment.

Other notable news includes President Trump’s unique photo op showcasing the strength of injectable drug vials and Sean Spicer saying goodbye to the White House. Read on for The Week That Was.


In news that is making TWTW team chuckle, KFC released a new advertisement in the U.K. this week. The commercial, which was produced by advertising agency Mother, features live chickens moving and grooving to DMX’s X Gon’ Give It To Ya. Yes, you read that correctly.

The ad has received mixed reactions from industry insiders. While some commend KFC for boldly featuring their main “ingredient,” others question the personification of your family’s potential dinner. As Mark Ritson at Marketing Week puts it, “There is a world of difference between the long-lived, healthy animals running around atop plush green hills at River Cottage and the unfortunate army of juvenile birds destined for a KFC bucket.” Um, pass the salad?


There’s no question that this ad is daring. There is something to be said for owning your product unapologetically, especially in an industry historically challenged by concerns with sourcing and processing. But you can’t be chicken with this type of strategy; this campaign will generate questions, concerns—and maybe even protests. Our advice? Prepare company spokespeople for controversy. When it comes to anthropomorphic food, what’s kitschy and funny to some will be highly offensive to others; remaining unapologetic is easier said than done, especially when the attacks start rolling in. And if you did test the creative campaign with consumers before going to market, now is the time to highlight those results…


There’s no question where FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stands on generic medicines. Since taking the reins at the agency, he has publically committed to addressing drug pricing issues by facilitating access to “lower-cost, generic medicines.” The FDA kicked off those efforts this week with a public meeting, including a review of hindrances to the development and approval of generics. To increase visibility in instances where generic manufacturers have trouble accessing branded drugs, the FDA is considering a public shaming strategy of sorts: publishing letters that approve the sale of a branded medicine to a generic drug maker for the purpose of bioequivalence testing.


Accused of “thwarting” generic drug development, brand-name manufacturers have been increasingly targeted this year—through agency action, lawsuits, Congressional testimony, or proposed legislation. With the “brand vs. generics” conversation playing a larger role in the drug pricing debate, we expect patient advocates and media to pay event more attention to patent expiration dates. Communications around product lifecycles will become more important than ever, so companies with older branded medicines need to prepare messaging that shows investment doesn’t end at approval. Be able to explain ongoing work to make branded products more effective, easier to use, and more accessible to patients—even after commercial launch.


It’s no secret that Americans believe that pharma puts profits over patients—it’s a communications challenge we’ve been addressing in this very digest for the last year. PatientView, a UK-based research, publishing and consultancy group, just released a report indicating that President Trump may be helping to propagate that stigma. The report shows that among U.S. patient groups, the pharma industry’s reputation is the lowest it has been since 2013 and according to PatientView founder and CEO Alex Wyke, POTUS “changed the whole dynamics in the way pharma companies are viewed,” most notably for their ability to price drugs fairly. Everyone remembers Trump’s famous ‘getting away with murder,’ comment.


The report did find a few positives: patient groups in the U.S. rated pharma companies more positively on innovation, providing high-quality information, and access to clinical trials. And of the six pharmacos that yielded the most positive perception boosts year over year, four have made significant commitments related to pricing. Allergan and Novo Nordisk came out with transparency pledges, while Amgen and Novartis have initiated (and publicized) value-based contracts with payers. Pharmacos should take to heart that patients hold us accountable for what we say; manufacturers should be as transparent as possible and maximize opportunities to educate patients throughout the lifecycle of their medicines. That way, patients can better connect their appreciation of pharma innovation to the development and delivery of the therapies that they use every day.

 On a final note, we’re having a little state-based déjà vu. This week, we read about the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act, a measure that would grant VA drug pricing to state-administered health programs. You may recall a similar ballot initiative, Prop 61, failed in California last year; like Prop 61, support for the Ohio initiative is led by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, whose president Michael Weinstein was profiled last year in STAT. We’re keeping a close eye on this debate.

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