Price and reputation are indubitably, inexorably intertwined

In a riff on the old real estate adage of "location, location, location," we'd like to offer a pharma trend for 2016 that's all about "reputation, reputation, reputation."

Martin Shkreli

With proper credit to former Turing CEO Martin Shkreli and Valeant Pharmaceuticals ($VRX) for price hikes and poorly managed "secret" relationships that put pharma in the headlines and onto politicians' radar, we're also quite confident the pharma reputation onslaught will continue--whether the gripes are legitimate or not--to be a big issue in the coming presidential election year.

What's a pharma to do? Step one, don't panic. Pharma's reputation had actually stabilized before the Turing scandal and political one-upmanship began. A PatientView study in February found that 39% of people thought pharma had a good or excellent reputation, up from 35% in 2013. While that has likely changed by now, thoughtful response is always better than knee-jerk reactions.

That said, however, the next step should be to address it. Big Pharma held back in the fall as the bad news swelled, but saying nothing was the wrong approach. As biopharma chemist and blogger Derek Lowe said then, "The problem is that silence gives consent. People will say 'well, they're not saying anything against him, so they must be with him.' Staying silent looks like you're OK with it."

While more CEOs have stepped up since then to denounce Shkreli's antics, more head-on conversation will need to follow in 2016. As politicians continue their assault, pharma needs to keep reminding consumers and physicians about the good things they like about the industry--innovation, R&D, awareness and disease support campaigns. Keep tackling the issues raised by the media through marketing, corporate PR, CEO speeches and at conferences.

Pharma companies also might want to consider adding a third step to the cost and reputation quiver. Patient advocacy groups and communities sponsored by pharma aren't new, but going directly to individual e-patients for advice, engagement and conversation is becoming more common, such as WeGo's model that matches willing patients with pharma companies. Take a page from the consumer marketing where word of mouth is one of the best sources for awareness, referrals and reputation.

- read PatientView's release (PDF)