Cannes, France – Ed Harnaga, Vice President, Corporate Affairs at Pfizer, started out with a reality we've all struggled with: pharma does so much good and yet it elicits so much hate. It's an exciting time when rare genetic diseases are being cured, once-life-ending-diagnoses are becoming chronic diseases ... and also a time in which the headlines point to our industry as one with too many suits and not enough lab coats; too much profit and not enough empathy. Layer in the last U.S. presidential campaign and recent mergers and acquisitions and the target on our industry became huge, unmissable.

Pfizer did some research to understand people's attitudes. The found:

  • People see very little differentiation from company to company
  • They feel that medicine is a right and that pharma is standing in the way of their ability to live healthier lives
  • 75% thought we were making profit more important than helping people
  • Most believe academia - not pharma - is where cures are really created

One of Pfizer's four corporate imperatives is "earn respect from society." They knew they needed to fight the industry stigma. To start, they tested changing the focus. Pharma is only one part of a very complex system. In an ad called "fight club" they showed a doctor in a knock-down-drag-out with a payer before coming back into the exam room, beaten and bloodied, to hand the patient a prescription.

No surprise, it didn't test well.

Finding a Way to Make the Numbers Resonate

Then, Pfizer went into the numbers. They have a lot of them:

  • $8 billion in R&D annually
  • 1.7 million prescriptions given to patients for free
  • 90+ medicines in the pipeline
  • 46 drug access programs

But those are just numbers and data. They wouldn't make the emotional impact.

They stepped back and looked at the brands people respect most today. Harnage said, "what we found is that they want to know a brand and what it stands for. They want a brand with a soul. That realization fueled the campaign."

The brief focused on a simple human truth: People hate pharma but love science.

Dana Gandsman, Senior Director, Reputation Communications at Pfizer shared the top three campaigns the brand considered.

  1. Motivational speakers: This campaign came from the patient perspective. It showed real people saying, "if you don't stop working, I won't stop hoping" to Pfizer scientists. The test audiences didn't like it. They said it made people sad and didn't offer a solution.
  2. Mad scientist: This campaign was all about the drive to discover. Pfizer scientists said they were mad – mad that there wasn't a cure, that there was more to do. People didn't see the solution or the emotional impact.
  3. Before it became a medicine: The selected campaign was shared from the perspective of Pfizer scientists. It shows the inspiration, the numbers, the relentless drive. Each spot and video shows the personal stories of both patient and scientist.

Oh, and, p.s. some of their scientists are members of SAG now.

The campaign went to TV, instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all over their building. In fact, they wrapped each of their main corporate buildings in the campaign to fuel employee pride.

They reached 1.4 billion people via television and 900 million via social channels.

The result: a 47% change in perception.

See all the video stories.

Play with other ways Pfizer is helping people love science.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.