SBJ/November 11 - 17, 2002/Opinion

Take dose of smart PR to sign up drug brands

While team sponsorship executives may not be public relations professionals by trade, knowing what drives PR can create education opportunities for pharmaceutical companies and ultimately increase team revenues.

Since its inception, the pharmaceutical marketing business has been driven largely by public relations initiatives. While the Food and Drug Administration has loosened restrictions on marketing directly to consumers, the budgets affected by those rules apply mainly to brands whose drugs are indicated for mass conditions like allergies and acid reflux.

Public relations is the ultimate activated sponsorship. Its objective is to be the story or at least part of it — not on the sidelines or on a wall or on a jersey. PR is relevant. Unfortunately, plain old sponsorships aren't always.

Team executives should understand that the goals of PR campaigns are different than the marketing budgets spent by an in-house brand manager, marketing VP or a media buyer.

Knowing the goals, objectives, tactics and strategies of a media-driven communications plan will only help increase the number of pharmaceutical sponsors for any given team.

Goals among PR agencies are often diverse, but increasing awareness of an ailment or a condition is usually paramount.

For instance, if a pharmaceutical company's product is the majority-share market leader for treating a certain condition, then awareness about that condition is its primary goal. Brand building is secondary, because sales will follow with increased diagnosis. So, a traditional sponsorship deal is not attractive.

However, if team executives can help find new ways for PR professionals to deliver their message the PR way, they'll attract more money to their teams.

While it is true that big brands use and embrace mass advertising and traditional team and league sponsorship, PR firms still view the use of athletes as the default way to get involved in sports. Most have never been offered anything but traditional signage or a team's attempt to show "integration," which rarely meets their needs and turns them off to marketing with them.

A pharmaceutical message can be seamlessly integrated into existing team community relations without over-commercializing the events. These are not rate-card elements that can be valued at the start of a season; they must be customized to each individual client and brand and public relations firm.

Players can still be involved, but there are other ways to integrate messages using existing team community initiatives. For example, donor days, blood drives, hunger drives, education programs, field building, cooperative announcements and other non-signage elements can be effective.

Keep in mind that consumers' health is inherently involved in the pharmaceutical business, making it both complex and sensitive. Moreover, any type of adverse media coverage can quickly send a company's stock price to new lows. Therefore, significantly more research and preparation is required to present appropriate communication initiatives and to avoid sensitive areas that may turn off a pharmaceutical brand.

By integrating public relations and community relations initiatives into the pharmaceutical brands, teams can receive positive exposure in their marketplace and generate revenue simultaneously.

Joseph M. Perello (joe@perello.net) runs Perello & Co., a sports marketing agency in New York City.

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