In addition to announcing a new corp comms model, the Arthur W. Page Society is having a spring conference in NYC that wraps up today. Yesterday, I sat in on the “CEO Spotlight,” which was placed on healthcare/pharmaceutical company Novartis.
Novartis faces a dilemma, according to CEO Joe Jimenez. “We’re ranked first as Fortune magazine’s most admired pharmaceutical company, but the whole industry suffers from a poor reputation,” he said. He bemoaned that “public trust of pharma even ranks below oil and tobacco.”
The key factor driving pharma’s bad reputation is “the high cost of medications, and the public thinks all the industry cares about is making profits,” Jimenez said. “Pharma companies need to better explain the substantial R&D costs needed for clinical trials,” he added.
Another factor is perks, including golf trips for doctors that pharma companies sponsor. “These are avoidable and make the industry a target,” he noted.
Despite this industry challenge, Jimenez said Novartis aspires to be “respected and successful.” The company has an active pipeline with the most new drugs introduced in the past fifteen years. “Under our corporate mission, ‘caring and curing,’ we put science first and profits later,” he explained. “Since we’re a Swiss company, my board of directors isn’t on my back to attain quarterly profits.”
The CEO also emphasized that Novartis should “tell our story in a more compelling manner. Now we spend too much time being defensive and fending off criticism.” Instead, he believes the company should talk about its effective therapies and CSR initiatives. They’ve partnered with the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation to “eradicate ancient diseases people thought had disappeared years ago.”
This morning, Tonya Garcia dropped by and the focus was digital, digital, and more digital. But none of the panelists — Corey duBrowa, VP of global comms and internal public affairs at Starbucks; Kelly McGuinness, VP of global comms at Dell; and Wendy Strong, EVP of corporate communications at USAA, the financial services group serving members of the military — were advocating for life in a computerized bubble. Rather the idea is to couple social media with offline activities.
“Some engagement happens in the digital world and some in the real world,” said Strong. One of that organization’s target audiences is military wives. “We have a community online where military spouses can come together. At the same time, we’re out on the bases working with groups of military spouses giving advice” and doing other work.
At Dell, they host live training classes, which the moderator, PulsePoint Group principal Bob Feldman questioned. Put simply, people like to learn and work on things together IRL, said McGuinness. “Kind of like this event,” she added, referring to the conference.
Starbucks’ duBrowa also mentioned that the company is “playing around with Instagram.” The company sees it as a way to learn more about what its customers think about.
The mention was in response to a question about ROI. According to Strong, she got a call out of nowhere saying that the USAA was actually going to give her more money to work with because their work had shown results. But duBrowa also cautioned that you can take that too far. In the case of Instagram, if you don’t invest a little to see how it works, you don’t know what you’re missing.
“If you don’t have some sort of ROI to think about new platforms and new ways of doing things, you fail,” he said. “But you have to leave some room in the margins.”
In between segments, Tonya talked briefly with Alistair McLeish, chairman of Speyside Corporate Relations, a corp comms and public affairs consultancy that’s based out of Geneva but focused on emerging markets. After a brief chat about who knows what, he mentioned that they’re “always looking” for experienced people to work in places like the Gulf States and Latin America.