Pharma Shows Business Leaders How To Recover From A Crisis

Ruben Onsu

Road to recovery highway sign getty There is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Covid-19: the pharmaceutical industry showed business leaders how companies and organizations can recover from crisis situations. In The Great Awakening, a recently released report about a national survey conducted by The Harris Poll, the […]

There is a silver lining to the dark cloud of Covid-19: the pharmaceutical industry showed business leaders how companies and organizations can recover from crisis situations.

In The Great Awakening, a recently released report about a national survey conducted by The Harris Poll, the company observed, “In previous crises, business was viewed as part of the problem. In [the coronavirus] crisis, business is clearly regarded as part of the solution. Corporate reputations surged across a variety of sectors, even in industries traditionally unpopular with consumers.”

The report noted, “What’s clear, however, is that the traditional drivers of corporate reputation—high-quality products and services, and delivering solid business results—are now simply the price of entry.”

Character And Trust Count

According to The Great Awakening, “What differentiates companies and reputations today is a company’s character, all underpinned by trust.” The report pointed out that:

  • Prior to Covid-19, only one-third (32%) of Americans had a positive opinion of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • After vaccines brought the end of the pandemic within reach, the number of Americans with a positive opinion nearly doubled to 62%.
  • Just less than half (44%) of Americans say their opinion of the industry has improved since the start of the pandemic—because of the actions the pharma industry has taken.

Laura Guitar, who leads rbb Communications’ Reputation & Risk Advisors, noted, “One key reason that business is enjoying a boost in reputation has much to do with the government’s failure in the early stages of the pandemic response, creating a crisis of convergence in which mishandling of a crisis of coincidence bled into a crisis of confidence.’

Looking For Answers

“When government fails, people look to business for answers to society’s issues,” Guitar said. “In response—and in conjunction with the social justice movement last summer—many companies chose to champion purpose and values. By doing so, those companies have been able to emerge from the pandemic’s crisis of coincidence in a position of strength. But holding on to that position will take intention and care.

“Ensuring that purpose is pervasive throughout the organization, meaning it is regularly employed as a decision making metric, is the most powerful thing any organization can do to confine its crises to those of coincidence,” she said.

About The Survey

The Harris Poll survey was conducted in several waves by The Harris Poll between March 15, 2020 and March 15, 2021. More than 114,000 Americans were interviewed. Each survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll among a nationally representative sample of around 2,000 U.S. adults. Data was weighted to reflect the U.S. general public across age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, income and employment.

Reputation Versus Branding

Caroline Sapriel is managing partner of crisis management firm CS&A International. She said, “Reputation is what others think/say not what organizations say about themselves, that’s branding. Reputation is granted by stakeholders not acquired by the organization.

“Organizations that can demonstrate consistent and sustained action to ‘fix’ the problem(s) are the ones most likely to not only recover but also emerge stronger from crises,” she concluded.

Success Factors

Crisis management expert Martha Holler, founder of Shine PR, said three things stand out about pharma’s actions in the pandemic.

Priorities

“They put people before profits. When brands align with the consumer and are seen acting, authentically, in consumers’ best interests, then brand love and profits follow,” she said.

Results

“They underpromised and overdelivered. It was a race against the clock to develop a viable vaccine and slow the spread of this deadly disease. With internal alignment of resources and a clear focus on a singular goal, pharmaceutical companies achieved what did not seem possible—safe and effective vaccine within six months,” Holler noted.

Visibility

“They kept senior executives visible and drove the narrative,” she recalled. “Oftentimes in a crisis, organizations circle the wagons and information is hard to come by. This leaves consumers, media, critics, regulators all wondering what they are hiding. This was not the case here,” Holler said.

Timing

Michael Toebe is the founder and practicing specialist at Reputation Quality. He observed that, “The pharma industry benefitted greatly by having a crisis develop that happened to be in their scope of competence and expertise. It was imminently qualified to respond. Its reputation at the time was being heavily scrutinized and criticized.

“Being able to put their intellectual and financial resources to use to develop a vaccine in the midst of a global pandemic was a tremendous opportunity to restore, or some might say, reconstruct reputation. It was granted the ability to change perception, judgment and a negative narrative,” Toebe said.

Based on the success of pharma and other industries, it is possible for companies and organizations to bounce back from a disaster, scandal or other corporate emergencies.

Commitment 

Scott Sobel, senior vice president for crisis and litigation communications at kglobal, said, “It is no surprise that pharma’s credibility has grown incredibly [by] developing Covid-19 vaccines in record time.

“Pharma and all businesses with reputation challenges can never sit back on their laurels. Those businesses need to continue to communicate past and future successes,” he advised.

Reputation Quality’s Toebe said business leaders can learn from pharma’s success by:

  • Clearly, accurately, promptly and fully recognizing the opportunity or opportunities that present themselves to solve big problems that are likely right in front of you.
  • Then humbly and confidently declare your intention to address it for the reason reason—to do “right” for others. 

Transparency

Christina Eyuboglu is the managing director of Adduco Communications, a B2B marketing communications firm. She said, “There’s a lot to be learned from companies that are helping us climb out of this pandemic and a lot of different forces at play that have created a more favorable reputation for previously low-confidence industries/companies.

“Chief among them is transparency. There was a lot of open information from several of the companies developing the vaccine from early on until today. This information wasn’t communicated through a board of directors meeting or company stakeholder meeting— it went directly to the press [so it would go] directly to the consumers.”

Connecting

“Effective crisis management, mitigation, and rebuilding reputation are dependent on connecting with target audiences on a personal trust level,” said kglobal’s Sobel. “You have to personalize clients, make corporations present as personal, caring and responsible entities with the same interests as the target audiences.”

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