Drug Makers Turn Doping Scandals into Good PR

Here’s an interesting way for controversial brands to maintain or improve their reputations: take an industry’s biggest scandal and turn it into a PR win through effective advocacy and counter-messaging efforts.

We’ve heard a good bit about EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs in the past few months thanks in large part to athletes like Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorious, the Olympian double-amputee and accused murderer who apparently liked to mix his alcohol with illegal steroids. Lest we forget, these drugs primarily serve as useful medicines that can help lengthen and improve the lives of those affected by chronic conditions like anemia.

In a determined PR move, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline–two of the world’s largest drug makers–have joined the World Anti-Doping Agency in an attempt to prevent the abuse of their products and protect their names from the inevitable backlash.

The companies haven’t just promised to test each new drug candidate for potential abuse by athletes; In 2012, Glaxo became the first brand to sponsor the Olympics dope testing laboratories in London and launched an ad campaign to hype its efforts to Olympians honest (while simultaneously producing the drugs they used to cheat).

This is a significant shift for pharma brands, which haven’t always had cozy relationships with regulatory agencies and often discouraged authorities from testing athletes for their products. It’s also an interesting case study in reputation management.

Sometimes the best defense is an aggressive offense.