Corporate reputation: pharma deserves to top the world’s most admired list

Industry communications counselor Laura Liotta comments on the importance of supporting the pharmaceutical industry’s positive reputation.

As a communicator, I find it frustrating that our industry is so misunderstood, mistrusted, and undervalued when we are making such major contributions to mankind. Yes, I admit there are earned blemishes, but the overall contributions are undeniably impressive and admirable.

Our value

Pharmaceuticals have saved and improved lives, lowered healthcare costs, and strengthened the economy for decades through a commitment to innovation. And, our progress and growth continues year after year. In 2012, the US FDA approved 43 new medicines – the largest number in 15 years.

The statistics speak for themselves. The AIDS death rate has dropped by more than 80 percent since the approval of antiretroviral treatments in 1995. Since 1980, life expectancy for people living with cancer has increased by about three years, and 83 percent of those gains are directly attributable to new treatments. According to a 2011 statistics update by the American Heart Association, death from cardiovascular disease fell a dramatic 31 percent between 1998 and 2008. All it takes is one story of a child with a life-threatening genetic disease and a groundbreaking treatment to see the clear human benefit of new medicines.

“…the biopharmaceutical sector directly supports about 650,000 jobs in the United States…”

Further, pharmaceuticals help to reduce overall healthcare costs and strengthen the economy. PhRMA calculates that the biopharmaceutical sector directly supports about 650,000 jobs in the United States, and each of those jobs translates into additional spending − adding up to approximately four million American jobs in total. In addition, new and better medicines are getting people back to work, reducing sick days, unemployment and disability, and helping to increase productivity.

Most admired companies

The Fortune World’s Most Admired list is the report card on corporate reputations. This year, only one pharmaceutical company, Johnson & Johnson, made the list. So why aren’t more pharmaceutical companies featured on this list? To better understand, let’s look at the nine attributes Fortune uses to compile this list:

1. Innovation

2. People management

3. Use of corporate assets

4. Social responsibility

5. Quality of management

6. Financial soundness

7. Long-term investment

8. Quality of products / services

9. Global competitiveness

America’s leading pharmaceutical companies excel in all of these areas. Take innovation; the biopharmaceutical research sector is one of the most science-driven and research-intensive sectors in the US. Our industry’s excellence at scientific collaboration has led to tremendous progress in formerly unchartered territories such as immunotherapy, personalized medicine, and genomics.


“Globally, over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have provided more than $9.2 billion in direct assistance to healthcare in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”


Our best corporate asset is our people. The pharmaceutical industry attracts the best, the brightest, and the most passionate people in science and business. The industry’s financial soundness is evident in our commercial success in a high risk area and the large return of revenues put directly back into R&D. PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $49.5 billion in 2011 in discovering and developing new medicines. It takes approximately 10-15 years to develop a drug at an average cost of $1.2 billion. Only two out of 10 marketed drugs return revenues that match or exceed R&D costs. That is an unparalleled long-term investment that I would put up against any company in any industry.

In the area of social responsibility, pharmaceutical companies are deeply committed to providing access to medicines for individuals who may not be able to obtain these novel treatments financially or geographically. Each company participates through individual and collaborative patient assistance programs. Globally, over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have provided more than $9.2 billion in direct assistance to healthcare in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We are responding to most, if not all, critical global disasters while also taking care of our local communities.

In terms of product quality, I challenge anyone to find higher standards for quality than our highly regulated industry. And, we are very competitive in the largest global markets, emerging markets, and even in the underserved smaller regions of the world.

Improving corporate reputation

So, why is our industry so misunderstood, mistrusted, and undervalued? Is it because we are so busy doing great things and not spending as much time highlighting them? Are our adversaries speaking with a louder voice?

“We are all ambassadors for our industry, so we need to spread the word on our significant contribution.”

All of these questions underscore the importance of an investment and commitment to corporate reputation and corporate communications as a critical business strategy. Companies need to effectively communicate to all stakeholders the collective contributions of the industry in these nine areas. First step, conduct an internal and external audit of how you fare and are perceived against these criteria and determine areas for improvement or focus. Then, strategically design a campaign that can be implemented across all markets and departments within the company.

We are all ambassadors for our industry, so we need to spread the word on our significant contribution. In addition to your own industry experience, a good place to go for more information is The next time someone questions you about what you do, share these facts and remind them about the high value of the pharmaceutical industry and our commitment to move mountains in the quest to cure cancer in our lifetime.

There are many reasons for you to be proud to work in the greatest industry in the world.



About the author:

Laura Liotta is the president and founder of Sam Brown, Inc., a leading independent, healthcare communications agency that has been serving the life science industry for more than 14 years.

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How can we get more pharma companies to feature on the Fortune World’s Most Admired list?