How to recover from a damaged reputation: the pharmaceutical industry case

© Shutterstock
© Shutterstock
These last decades health scandals have severely tainted the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry toward its final users, patients. In this context and before considering any strategy to restore people’s confidence, a statement of the trust capital of the pharmaceutical industry among populations is essential.


The pharmaceutical industry has a poor reputation worldwide

According to the Reputation Institute, the reputation of an industry can by determined following seven criteria:

  • Products and services
  • Innovation
  • Workplace
  • Ethics / Integrity
  • Citizenship
  • Leadership
  • Performance

From this reputation will depend the market access, the collaborators recruitment, the growth, the collaborators loyalty and the last but not the least: the trust capital of the industry.

Recently several investigations were performed to evaluate the reputation and the trust capital of the pharmaceutical industry among worldwide populations. Overall, studies results showed that the sector, ranked ninth out of fifteen in US and seventh out of eight in 43 countries, have a negative reputation.

Pharmaceutical industry has multiple reputation challenges

By the nature of its activity and the health scandals of the last decades, the pharmaceutical industry faces reputation challenges constantly:

  • Drug pricing: As other industries, the main objective of the pharmaceutical industry is to earn money, especially when the average cost for a new drug development is about one billion of euros and lasts ten years. This can lead to expensive treatments costs which limit the patient access to innovation, especially when the drug is not reimbursed.
  • Corruption and lobbying accusations: In the past the pharmaceutical industry probably abused from questionable practices, however it is less and less true notably in France with the Bertrand law.
  • Research and development (R&D): As other industries, the pharmaceutical industry can be tempted to invest more in advertising than in the R&D department. However it raise an ethical issue. Indeed the high cost of certain drugs is justified with the high cost of R&D. Promoting marketing at the expense of R&D can give the impression that the development of a drug is not that high after all, which may induce suspicion toward the sector. In addition to face patent expiration and generics arrival, laboratories propose innovations constantly. It appears afterward that the innovation is not really real.
  • Drugs advertising: Contrary to US, drugs advertising are not allowed in France, due to their potential invasiveness on human body which can have consequences on health.
  • Counterfeiting drugs: It is false drugs with fraudulent label.

Major health scandals related to drugs occurred these last decades: Thalidomide®, Distilbene®, Vioxx® or more recently Mediator®. These scandals contribute greatly to the actual mistrust climate surrendering drugs and the pharmaceutical industry. Finally the determination of media to target laboratories, does not improve the situation, quite the reverse.

Recommendation for the pharmaceutical industry to rebuild a new reputation

Industrials have to work together to rebuild people’s confidence. Several options has to be considered.

  • R&D has to become the first priority of the laboratories with the development of real new innovations
  • Improvement of the communication on the drugs effectiveness and the disease cure to emphasize the notion of quality and safety of the pharmaceutical industrie’s products.
  • Educational campaigns management

In other words, it is in the pharmaceutical industry interest to communicate about its activity and its investments in R&D.




La confiance de la population envers les médicaments et l’industrie pharmaceutique – Thèse professionnelle. Cécile Raynal – MS Marketing et communication ESCP, promotion 2014.