How many times in the last year or so have you participated in planning sessions where the discussion centers on the strong desire for the brand or company to be perceived as trustworthy, to act with transparency and authenticity? Last week’s planning session was yet another example, giving me cause to pause…
In a world where trust is paramount yet scarce, BioPharma is no exception. The latest Harris Interactive 2010 poll continues to show Pharma close to the bottom on the trust barometer with 11% of adults rating Pharma as generally trustworthy. And with the increased public scrutiny, under which companies and brands find themselves due to the evolution of social media and ‘citizen/e-Patient journalism’; it is no wonder that anyone and everyone who touches the BioPharma and Healthcare industry is focused on improving transparency.
What does transparency mean for a company or brand today? It’s a word that seems to mean different things to different people.
- Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making
- Minimum degree of disclose to which agreements, dealings, practices and transactions are open to all for verification.
- Essential condition for a free and open exchange whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.
Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares the following with its stakeholder publics. In transparent companies:
- Its leaders: are accessible and are straightforward when talking with members of key audiences
- Its employees: are accessible to reinforce the public view of the company and to help people when appropriate.
- Its values: ethical behavior, fair treatment, and other values are on full display
- Its culture: the way things get done is not a secret
- The results of its business practices, both good and bad: successes, failures, problems, and victories are all communicated
- Its business strategy: a company’s strategy is a key basis for investment decisions so is of particular importance to the investment community and other key audiences
Transparency is NOT: Full disclosure. It does not mean you have to share absolutely everything about your organization or that you produce a never-ending sea of data and information in order to bolster the perception that you are keeping nothing hidden.
I like the way that Shel and John define transparency beyond the typical reporting aspect, including a focus on the actions of a transparent company or brand’s leaders and employees.
Pharma is certainly adopting more open reporting and communications in general; Most pharma companies publish their ethical standards and guidelines [E.G. click here for Pfizer’s standards] and already are or will be required to publish their relationships with Physicians due to the Sunshine Payment Act. Many are continuing to diligently work to avoid mishaps in communicating clinical drug safety, to provide employees with social media guidelines, to initiate corporate blogs etc. [E.G. JNJ BTW, AZ Health Connections, Sanofi’s Discuss Diabetes]
But, the fact remains, that few Pharma leaders speak openly to the public and few allow or encourage their employees to be visibly accessible and to ‘help the public’ (Afterall, helping might result in seeing and/or acknowledging an AE)—There are many Pharma companies whose risk profile will not allow their employees to read patient blogs or patient comments for fear that this will open them up to further FDA actions.
With the exception of Paul Levy -who as President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston became one of the first CEO’s to start a blog back in 2006 to actively communicate with employees, patients and key stakeholders- I’m not sure there are other leaders/CEO’s who are investing their time to consistently blog and openly communicate in the bioPharma industry.
Pharma: Can Transparency Lead You To The Right Path?
Earlier this year, Seth Godin wrote an interesting post: Why You Might Choose To Be In Favor Of Transparency? His hypothesis goes somewhat like this…using an example where thousands of doctors signed up for a service that, among other things, would try to prohibit patients from posting reviews…His argument goes beyond ‘truth’ or ‘choice’…it turns out that transparency increases profitability…
When consumers get used to transparency, they’re also more interested in the quality of what you sell, and are more likely to willingly pay extra. They’ll certainly cross the street to buy from an ethical provider. And once people start moving in that direction, the cost of being an unethical provider gets so high that you either change your ways or fade away….The arguments holds true for doctors. Once information about good doctors becomes widespread, patients will be more willing to seek out those doctors, rewarding the ones who consistently take better care of their patients. The entire profession doesn’t suffer (we’ll still go to the doctor) merely the careless doctors will… Sunlight (transparency) is an antiseptic and the marketplace rewards those that behave—and the entire market grows (and profits) when the standards increase.
Can the genuine act of transparency lead to greater BioPharma industry profits? What do you think? Do you have any good examples of Pharma transparency that you’d like to share?
Does your company/brand have what it takes to truly be transparent?