Pharma Industry at a “Once in a Generation” Inflection Point

Having worked with Pharma companies around the world for decades, we can sense that things ‘feel’ very different around the industry today – but what does the data tell us?

Pharma Reputation in Context

We’re not back to the Pharma reputation heyday of the 1980s (when Merck, Pfizer, and others consistently topped Fortune’s Most Admired list), but having continuously tracked industry reputation for the last 18 years, at The Harris Poll we can confidently say the industry is now in a unique position – stronger than we have ever seen (60% positive today vs. 26% positive in 2008), and currently experiencing one of the biggest increases in positive perception we have ever seen across any industry (+20% positive shift since January 2020).

Specific pharma companies are also starting to break through again. Looking at our most recent study on cross-industry reputation and relevance during COVID-19 – The Harris Poll “Essential 100” – a number of pharma companies stand out, particularly on the dimension of “Resolve”, which measures whether companies should be providing solutions during the pandemic, as outlined below.

Pharma Companies in Harris Poll “Essential 100” – by “Resolve” ranking:

  • #3 – Johnson & Johnson
  • #8 – Pfizer
  • #16 – Bayer
  • #58 – Gilead
  • #70 – Merck
  • #78 – GSK

Source: Harris Poll Essential 100, fielded May 20-22, 2020 (n=2,032 U.S. adults ages 18+)

One of the key pharma-relevant insights from this study is the shift in American expectations during COVID-19 – with a major emphasis on answers, solutions, and utility vs. aspiration.

What are the specifics COVID-19 surge?

In addition to our more macro reputation tracking, we’ve also dug into the specific shifts we’re seeing tied to COVID-19. As we’ve discussed in a few conversations with Fierce Pharma, MM&M, Forbes, and others, we’re seeing a lift in favorability, with 40% of Americans reporting a more positive view of the pharma industry since the start of the pandemic, largely because of specific actions taken in response to COVID-19 – very much in line with what we would expect given the insights from our “Essential 100”.  The main drivers of this more positive view are closely tied to the industry’s overall response to COVID-19 and efforts toward developing testing, vaccine, and treatments, but that’s not the whole story. About 2 in 5 Americans or more are also seeing broader actions and support being taken – including protecting healthcare workers, medical supplies, improved collaboration across companies, and education/ advocacy. For many Americans, they are seeing the Pharma industry in action, in a way they have never seen before.

Drivers of positive view of Pharma industry during COVID-19:

Source: Harris Poll, fielded May 15-19, 2020 (n=2,026 U.S. adults ages 18+, of whom n=1,025 have a positive or more positive view of the pharmaceutical/drug industry since the start of the coronavirus pandemic)

Is the current momentum sustainable?

There is much reason for optimism around current momentum. Across industries, there is often a lag between leadership setting a new vision and showing progress. In the case of the pharma industry today, pharma leaders have set bold goals (e.g., around vaccine and treatment development) and organizations have already both moved quickly and begun to receive credit for their actions. That said, known industry lighting rods – pricing and access – are still lurking in the background. They are currently secondary narratives, driving negative sentiment with a small minority, but are ready to galvanize opposition if not addressed aptly in the current environment.

Maintaining and accelerating momentum

When looking at the top channels and touchpoints for information about the Pharma industry during COVID-19, news coverage and various types of advertising top the list, clearly reinforcing the need for both taking the right actions, but also reinforcing and bolstering those actions through marketing and communications.

For more information, please contact Managing Director, Rob Jekielek: [email protected]