Search Network:

« Healthcare Communications OR Social Marketing? | Main | On Ethics, Transparency and Healthcare Public Relations »

Pharmaceutical Marketing = Pharmaceutical Public Relations
John Mack posted an article on his blog, Pharma Marketing Blog, today that raises some interesting questions about the role of public relations in pharmaceutical marketing.  In his post he says:

“Public Relations (PR) is not just for managing a company’s image and for damage control.  It’s also used as an adjunct to marketing products and sometimes the distinction is blurred.”  

Mack goes on to list a number of ways that public relations is practiced in the pharmaceutical industry, including reputation management, education and public affairs.  He also cites an article by Ilyssa Levins, president of HCIL Consulting, a healthcare public relations and marketing firm, published in the June edition of Medical Marketing & Media magazine.  In the article Levins asks pharmaceutical marketers to shift dollars spent on “help-seeking” or educational advertisements to public relations.  These commercials are non-branded – i.e., they do not mention a drug or device.  

Levin further articulated her rationale for advocating this shift in a press release she issued on June 23.  She says: “FDA requirements are becoming more nuanced, and that means as PR professionals, we need to be more careful and more thorough.”  However, this shifting environment does not mean that DTC PR campaigns can’t be “innovative and engaging.”  She argues that “well-designed PR can cost-effectively increase the ROI of disease-awareness advertising, deliver [convincing, third-party supported] messages . . . improve compliance, and demonstrate the industry’s commitment to advancing public health.”

Mack says that the “blurring” of the line between PR and pharmaceutical marketing increases the odds that consumers and healthcare providers will be inundated with additional “BS.”  “If the level rises too high, our . . . tolerance is exceeded and could result in negative feedback,” he argues.   

Reading Mack’s article raised a number of questions for me, which I address below. Does Public Relations Play Second Fiddle To Pharmaceutical Marketing?  

Mack describes public relations as “disguised” marketing.  He asserts that PR’s primary function is to protect a company’s image and damage control.  I don’t believe that PR plays second fiddle to pharmaceutical marketing.  In fact, it often has a critical role in marketing campaigns.  Marketers utilize public relations to educate patients on new conditions (i.e., condition the market), address misperceptions (issues management) and inform on issues (public affairs).  It is clear that PR plays a very important role in the marketing mix. 

Do Public Relations Pros “Buy” Media Coverage?

Mack suggests that one function of public relations is to “buy” media coverage. I don’t agree.  While pharmaceutical companies pay public relations firms to “pitch” media on products and services, PR pros don’t buy coverage.  Public relations practitioners have to work through the filter of the media.  This means that they can pitch a story all they want, but if the journalist is not interested, a story won’t appear.

The point is that the media decide whether and how they will cover a story.  (For example, a point often missed in the big blowup over Video News Releases is that public relations firms provided media with video packages.  The media decided to run them, but didn’t say where the information came from.)  

Now, are all of the conditions public relations professionals promote cures for cancer?  Certainly not, but as I mentioned in a previous post, pharmaceutical companies have every right to promote them – if it is done responsibly.  

Is Public Relations Unregulated & Non-transparent?  

I think many would agree that the current state of pharmaceutical marketing regulation is far from ideal.  In fact, in another post, I have suggested a number of ways that regulatory scrutiny can be tightened.  However, I do not think that public relations is completely unregulated.  For example:

-Public relations materials are assessed by internal pharmaceutical legal and regulatory teams, just like all other promotional items

-Fair balance must be included in all press releases mentioning a study, drug or device  

In addition, responsible public relations practitioners inform media about who is sponsoring a promotional effort and put them into contact with company spokespersons, upon request.  

So, while one may argue that regulation is inadequate, the public relations profession isn’t completely free from scrutiny.

Another question is whether public relations is non-transparent.  I would say yes.  This is because little is widely known about the exact nature of dealings between public relations professionals and the media.  What prompts them to cover a story?  What sources do they use to corroborate public relations practitioners’ claims?  In many cases, we rely on the media to practice due diligence, but there is little transparency in the relationship between journalists and PR pros.

 Closing Thoughts

Overall, I think that Mack makes some good points about disease awareness marketing.  Is it going to continue?  I think so.  This is because regulatory scrutiny of branded marketing will only increase.  Is it useful?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  

However, I would be loathe to describe public relations as marketing’s side kick.  PR has long been and will remain an integral part of the overall marketing mix.  

As always, your comments are welcome.  

4 Comments/Trackbacks


I've been involved in a number of healhcare-related PR programs, both for hospitals and for pharma companies. And there is a bit of a dilemma there ... you are communicating to the public about a particular disease (which benefits the public), but also encouraging them to seek out a particular treatment (which benefits the provider/pharma company).

It's a fine line, I know. But in every instance I've been involved with, the client was very concerned about maintaining an ethical approach, and any materials produced went through significant client review, which typically included physicians and legal.


Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, this is a tough issue that needs more attention. While I agree that materials go through significant review, many people don't think this is enough. What may work is having a set of guidelines that everyone can agree on. A tough job, but one that may become necessary.


am stressed with my research please can you help me on this topic.

Public relations management practice in media houses

1. To find out the policies guiding public relation practices
2. To establish the personnel involved in public relation duties
3. To investigate the facilities and tools used in carrying out Public Relations at organisations
4. To investigate the public relations procedures and measures adopted by the media houses.

THIS SITE GIVE VERY IMPORTTANT IDEA TO EXPRESS MY encuary, im very interest about pr practice in pharmaceutical industry and its disabdvantages.
If you sen me some ideas about it i will be happy and that will very helpful to my study.

submit a trackback

TrackBack URL for this entry:

post a comment

Name, Email Address, and URL are not required fields.

Comment Preview

« Healthcare Communications OR Social Marketing? | Main | On Ethics, Transparency and Healthcare Public Relations »


Watch Dr. Lamm VigRX Plus Review

Related Resources

recent comments

sponsored ads


Do you need help with your back? Try a naprapat the are experts in muscles and joints. And could help you with a lot of different health problems from your body.

Current News



Know More Media - Health Care / Pharmaceutical / Fitness

we support unitus