Sunday 25 September 2016

Measuring success – how much trust is enough?

In 2011, the Australian pharmaceutical industry, led by its industry organization Medicines Australia, launched a consumer communications program designed to drive awareness of the importance of the Australian pharmaceutical industry and its role in the future of Australian economic and social health and wealth. In short, it was a major trust building exercise with the Australian public.

Under the consumer friendly label of ‘The Australian Medicines Industry’, the program was driven out of a need identified by the pharmaceutical industry to increase recognition of the exceptional work conducted by people in the industry and address research which had suggested that understanding and acceptance of the industry was well below par.

This research, conducted in 2009 and 2010 found that Australians had little or no opinion of the Australian Medicines Industry and their main concerns about health were waiting times in hospitals, access to doctors and government funding of health facilities and services in Australia. The pharmaceutical industry in fact didn’t really rate a mention on people’s lists of health priorities which prompted the Industry to take action.

Just over 12 months later, the program has now been seen in various news media around the country, a consumer focused website has been developed, an advertising campaign has been rolled out to the masses and happily, a measurement campaign has been put in place that has found that in the twelve months since the Australian Medicines Industry project kicked off, Australian consumers’ perception of the medicines industry has increased!

At this point, we have to keep in mind that was the first time the industry had united like this to really focus on making noise in the ears of Australian consumers and it came with a reasonable budget and a significant effort from member companies as well as third party suppliers and of course Medicines Australia itself. In an industry as highly regulated as pharma, it’s easy to understand why they had been shy in the past to engage with the general public.

So looking now at the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer results and reflecting on what we now know about the industry’s efforts in 2010 and 2011, one set of data stands out more than any other for me.

When the researchers looked at Trust in industries, the following results came back:

  • Technology = 83% trust representing an increase of 15 percent
  • Food & Beverage = 75% trust representing an increase of 10 percent
  • Brewing & Spirits = 70% trust representing an increase of 18 percent
  • Pharmaceuticals = 66% trust representing an increase of 10 percent
  • Automotive = 65% trust representing an increase of 10 percent
  • Consumer Packaged Goods = 65% trust representing an increase of 18 percent

Now, I am not overly acquainted with all of these industries, however I am in tune with the broader Australian media landscape and I cannot recall any consumer communication or public relations campaigns from these other sectors of industry, which prompts me to ask – why did pharma only increase its level of trust by ten per cent?

How is it that the alcohol and consumer packaged goods industries, had an increase of 18 per cent in trust, yet, the medicines industry, despite all its efforts, could only manage ten per cent?

In the year where Medicines Australia and its member companies made their largest investment ever in driving consumer engagement and trust in an industry that invests up to 1 billion dollars in Australian medical research and development, contributes around 4 billion dollars in exports, and provides over 14,000 skilled jobs – why did trust not sky rocket?

I don’t actually know the answer to my question. I’m biased because I really believe in the work of the pharmaceutical industry, but I do think that there is a warning that should be considered around this story and that is that trust must be measured in context.

In isolation, the ten per cent jump in trust is a great result for pharma in Australia. However, for this result to truly move Australian consumers from being bystanders to advocates who will take action on behalf of the industry, the industry needs to recognize where this result sits in context to other industries and build upon it.

I congratulate the Australian Medicines Industry for what has so far been a bold public initiative to address one of its biggest issues. For too long, pharmaceutical companies have been happy to quietly go about their business with their heads below the parapet.

Unfortunately, the risk in this strategy is that before long the proverbial hits the fan and it is at these times that companies and industries need to be able to call on their trusting supporters. Long term investment in transparent trust initiatives like the Australian Medicines Industry project will go a long way to help address this. It seems that this is a great example of where a sustained external communications and public relations program, rather than a big bang theory will lead to success.

Will Collie