Pharma's pandemic reputation gains score a 'most-improved' medal in annual ranking

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The pharma industry continues to steamroll through reputation polls with positive ratings, the latest in the RepTrak annual tally. (Getty Images)

Pharma continues to shine under the pandemic spotlight. The Global RepTrak 100 is the latest to mark the industry's image improvements—noted as the poll’s biggest year-over-year gain among all its industry categories.

Pharma earned a solid No. 8 spot ahead of industries such as retail, transportation and media and entertainment.

Ironically enough, while the bump was attributed to pharma companies’ “key role in getting us through the pandemic,” none of the leading COVID-19 vaccine makers made the top 100. The top-finishing pharma brands were Sanofi (No. 64), Novo Nordisk (No. 71), Eli Lilly (No. 82), Roche (No. 87) and Bristol Myers Squibb (No. 94).

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The lack of vaccine makers in the highest ranks could reflect the survey’s timing—RepTrak, formerly known as the Reputation Institute, collected its data from more than 68,000 respondents in December and January, when initial vaccine rollouts were just beginning. Next year's data may better reflect the vaccine realities, the reputation tracker predicted.

“If there was ever a year for Pharma to move from an ‘average’ to a ‘strong’ score, it was in 2021. Pharma will likely see a bigger bump in 2022 as more people get vaccinated,” the report concluded.

The industry still has room to grow in certain geographic locations as well. While it scored “strong” on average in Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, it stayed “average” in North America, the survey showed.

While pharma companies didn’t make the top 10 overall—Lego, Rolex and Ferrari led the list—one company cracked the top ranks among baby boomers. Novo Nordisk came in at No. 8 among survey respondents ages 56-64.

The survey measures results in seven areas: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership and financial performance.

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Pharma led all industries in RepTrak’s combined categorization of environmental, social responsibility and governance (ESG), a measure that is becoming increasingly important to brand strength.

RepTrak called the pharma lead on ESG “somewhat surprising” considering the general vaccine spotlight in 2020. But it noted the industry was still able to show off its ESG efforts in a way that obviously resonated with consumers.

Still, the group warned the industry not to take its leadership position in ESG as a rubber stamp. The halo effect pharma is getting from the COVID-19 vaccine's speed and effectiveness showed up in pharma’s high social score—the S in ESG—versus its environmental and governance ratings.

“While this high ESG score is good for Pharma, the industry should make sure that this positive perception mirrors its actions and initiatives—otherwise, it may face a severe backlash in coming years,” the report warned.