Put Your Commitment Where Your Patients Are

There has been an explosion over the past few years of online communities for people living with chronic illness. And is it any wonder? They provide a platform to feel heard, to feel understood and to feel empowered. They provide a sense of togetherness. But where do pharmaceutical companies -- the very companies responsible for making treatment possible in the first place -- fit into this picture? While these online communities generate more interest when they are authentic and real, it also helps when they are endorsed by a larger community; for example, doctors, nurses, advocacy groups, and yes, even the pharmaceutical companies that are likely supporting them financially.

A rallying cry from corporations

Simply endorsing a community is one thing. But more and more, big companies, including pharmaceutical companies themselves, are coming to understand that a more active commitment is critical to establishing a deeper relationship with patients. It must be sincere, though. It cannot be pat, generic or political. The pledge also needs to be tangible and sustainable, because the pledge itself is just the beginning. What is behind the pledge is what counts.



Bringing a pledge to life

What is important once a company makes a pledge is where it takes this commitment. Go grassroots and you win. Examples of this are when company employees join sponsored walks and runs and form teams to recognize and champion a community of patients. Patients like to see the empathy and commitment from corporations in real time and in person. When a corporation does this right, it can rise to hero-like status. However, there really is no half way. With this type of initiative, the commitment must be comprehensive and meaningful in order to create a groundswell. A "one-shot deal" could undermine any equity that a company had gained when it made the pledge in the first place.

A wide range of possibilities

Two examples show the range of sponsorships available to pharmaceutical companies. One is the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" movement that began in 2003. Two major pharmaceutical companies have supported this effort. The goal has been to raise awareness of the risk of heart disease in women and to encourage women in America to have cardiovascular testing. The initiative has consisted of large, wide-ranging media buys, a movement to wear red dresses and red pins, as well as digital viral marketing in the "Tell 5 Friends" campaign.

Another sponsored cause is the Alzheimer's Association, which has six pharmaceutical sponsors plus a range of other health organization sponsorships. This cause is geared to advancing clinical research and advocating for increased support and funding.

Measure for measure

Given this range of sponsored causes, the nature of measuring success can take many forms. As with any healthcare program, there are ultimate long-term goals (like sales and clinical outcomes), and there are short-term measures that are leading indicators of eventual success. In the case of Go Red for Women, the agency Cone has written a nice case study. The longer-term metrics cited include impressive numbers of media impressions, enrollments, survey results, funds raised, and global reach. Shorter-term metrics can be found via digital analytics, including Facebook posts and sharing with friends.

In the case of the Alzheimer's Association, the longer-term metrics also include increased awareness and funding, as well as the furthering of research. However, there are also activity-based measures rooted in participation: the Advocacy Forum with Congress and the AAIC research conference. Each of these can be measured by levels of participation and media coverage.

With any type of sponsorship or endorsement, pharmaceutical companies must ensure their commitment is well represented with positive progress on the cause. If exposed as a one-shot deal, the endorsement may actually erode any equity a company has gained by making the pledge in the first place. Just as patients with chronic illnesses must do battle day in and day out, companies must show that they are in it for the long haul and are moving in a positive direction.

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