Let’s Be Advocates for the Advocates

One of the foundations of effective public relations is establishing strong relationships with potential advocates for a cause, brand or company.  In the pharma industry, one of the most critical allies is the patient advocacy group (PAG) sector.  Whether it’s securing optimal market access, or gaining access to funding for outreach and awareness activities, the industry and PAGs need each other’s support like never before.

The good news is that a recent survey by PatientView of 850 international, national or large regional patients’ groups found that about half of the groups have current or past relationships with pharma companies.  Of those, about 85% say their relationship is good.

But there may be some suspicion lurking beneath the surface—another survey by the same organization reported that only 37% of PAGs considered pharma companies trustworthy.

So how can we as consultancies help foster mutually beneficial relationships based on a foundation of trust?

One way is to ensure that we start with solid knowledge of how advocacy groups are formed and operate, which in turn helps us understand their drivers and motivations.

A patient group’s evolution broadly follows some key stages:

  1. An individual (usually someone personally affected by a specific disease) recognizes the need to do something to improve the situation and starts to act.
  2. Like-minded individuals come together to collectively share expertise and deliver more.
  3. Raising a group’s profile and securing more funds to support its work.
  4. Greater professionalism and a more businesslike approach to operations, such as forming a board of directors.
  5. Registering as a charity.
  6. Geographical expansion and service diversification.
  7. Mergers and growth.
  8. Establishing international networks and influence.

Pharma companies are likely to form alliances with PAGs in the later stages of their evolution, but it is important to remember that they have usually grown out of one individual’s vision and mission.

Building trust is critical—and that means being transparent and reliable. There are plenty of regulations governing financial transparency surrounding pharma/PAG relationships, but it is just as important to be transparent about our aims and objectives when partnering on a campaign or other project. PAG partners also value stability in a relationship—no one likes to be dropped after a project is completed or have their key contacts constantly changing.

Finally, we need to remember that the value exchange in the relationship doesn’t always need to be financially based. Pharma companies, and their consultancies, hold a wealth of knowledge, expertise and services that PAGs may not be able to access otherwise. Providing help with business planning, market research, public relations, insight into health service reforms, organization and operational development, and process and systems analytics may provide value far beyond that of a non-restricted educational grant.

As a consultancy, it is often our job to help form and manage these critical relationships, and we can best do this by being the advocates for the advocates.



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