Emma Knott, associate director and head of Social Media at Publicis Resolute, says there’s power in pharma’s core narrative

The Labour Party recently published its policy paper, ‘Medicines for the Many: Public Health Before Private Profit’, and with it reignited the age-old rhetoric of scepticism and mistrust in the pharmaceutical industry. Yet, for those who work in this industry, we know it is founded in science and bursting with individuals who are driven by a desire to improve health for all. So, how can pharma better tell its story, changing the dialogue once and for all?

In today’s world, information – and misinformation – is everywhere. People share their opinions, other people search them out, and stories grow. The anti-vax movement is just one example of how powerful and damaging this can be. Mistrust in pharma, and scepticism over profit vs. public health, is nothing new, but how industry responds to it and looks to engage with the general public needs to change. It is clear that the core story of why the industry exists and who it serves simply doesn’t resonate.

We all know the power of a good story – it holds us captive, stretches our imagination, teaches us something or allows us to marvel. That is why, in a world of communications, it’s our most powerful tool.

Let’s strip the pharma story back to its origin. Once upon a time, there were men and women who discovered certain chemicals had magical properties that helped heal people from certain illnesses. The pharmaceutical industry was born. However, it soon became clear that these treatments were not suitable for everyone and so a system of regulation was established to control the development, manufacture and marketing of new therapies. In response to this, and due to continuing growth, pharma companies developed internal divisions and each one established its own way of communicating with its external customers. The result? Somewhere in all that change, the core story got lost.

Meanwhile, out in the big wide world, the people the industry serve (healthcare professionals and patients) found their voices and began to tell their own stories. The rise of social media has seen the birth of the e-patient, sharing their experiences of living with a condition and treatment, as well as the formation of HCP communities where doctors share challenges in treating patients and look to one another for advice on best practice.

It is therefore of little surprise that within this maelstrom, the pharmaceutical industry has lost its way. But it is now time to stand back and take stock. There is consistency and power in the core narrative that weaves across all external audiences – a passion and drive to develop treatments that help improve the lives of everyone across the globe, supported by constant reinvestment to sustain innovation. And it is our job as communications professionals to support and guide them in this process.

Imagine the children of the future picking up a ‘storybook’ that starts like this…

Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, teams of dedicated scientists set off on a mission to beat some of the world’s worst diseases. Before then, people were dying from measles, AIDS and cancer. The journey wasn’t easy; there were many battles, false starts and stumbles. But they didn’t give up, and they eventually destroyed those demon diseases.

I am going to tell you how they did it.