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Superheroes in Training: MedThink on ExL Pharma PR Summit

Dawn A. Crawford, Manager, Social Media, for MedThink Communications, a full-service healthcare communications agency in Raleigh, North Carolina, attended the ExL Pharma 6th PR and Communications Summit in NYC and shares a recap in this guest post. Follow @MedThink on Twitter and Facebook.com/MedThink.

Anyone who has ever read a comic book or seen a movie based on a comic knows the feeling of “MAN! I wish I could do that!” It is all about watching a superhuman feat in the name of greater good.

MedThink had that same feeling many times at the ExL Pharma 6th Public Relations & Communications Summit held at the Pfizer World Headquarters in NYC. It felt like we were getting firsthand knowledge from true pharma superheroes. These are the companies forging the way in social media, taking strategic risks and engaging patients.

In the conservative world of pharmaceutical marketing, pharma and social media are often in a villainous relationship. They are at-odds trying to find a way to work together, but the struggle ultimately ends in cliff-hanger tactics that always leave you wanting more.

At this conference, the leaders in pharma social media shared their success above and beyond the constraints of regulations. Each industry representative was careful to state they were working within the current legal framework, but was also proud to point out that no letters from DDMAC mentioned social media practices. Furthermore, there have been very few, if any, adverse events reported through social media.

One standout case study in social media super-skills was from Kate O’Connor, Boehringer Ingelheim’s executive director, public relations. She highlighted their program Drive4COPD, which is a multiyear public health initiative to screen the millions of people who may be at risk for COPD. The campaign is fully integrated with a website and sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Digg. The campaign enlists celebrities including Danika Patrick, Michael Strahan and Bruce Jenner to carry the message to multiple audiences with greater reach.

The biggest lesson learned was planning. Boehringer Ingelheim trained their spokespeople and internal teams with extensive messaging on what they could and could not say, ensuring all communications were within regulatory guidelines. They even trained ambassadors on FDA, FTC and social media guidelines, so they were fully prepared for all regulatory boundaries. As with any successful communications and marketing plan, preparation is always key.

The second takeaway was in combining online and offline events. While they leveraged celebrity Twitter accounts, including Bruce Jenner with his 39,000+ fans, they also held interactive offline events at NASCAR races across the country. This smart integration of both virtual and real-life experiences truly set this program apart, demonstrating the power of a fully integrated communications program.

Another intriguing session was the Health Care Blogs session, which included Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician and parenting expert blogger for MomLogic; John Mack, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Pharma Marketing News; and Gina Maisano, a patient-advocate blogger and president of the No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation. Each of these bloggers welcomed more interaction from pharmaceutical companies and their agencies. They wanted more comments and questions. Being part of the conversation and being helpful to our blogger allies can be a huge win for pharma, and most importantly, patients.

The legions of professionals engaged in pharma communications have a lot to learn from the speakers at this summit. We all have the potential to be social media superheroes ourselves. We just need to take a confident step off the edge of social media and fly.

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