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Goodwill towards pharma is growing but inconsistent Grayling survey finds

Safety of treatments, honesty and ethics most important factors in US

2020 put a spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry and it still shines bright. At no other time in history has there been so much content created, shared and consumed about the companies working to create coronavirus vaccines. Much of the industry has been in overdrive, creating new vaccines at record speed while also facing an onslaught of misinformation.

A worldwide study by communications agency Grayling* set out to assess public perceptions of the pharma industry and found that people generally feel more positive towards the industry than they did before the pandemic. However, levels of positivity vary significantly according to country and experts warn the goodwill may not last unless pharma companies are more transparent.

The survey of 3,000 people in six countries – the UK, US, France, Germany, China and Russia – found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents felt that the pharmaceutical industry has a positive impact on society. In the US specifically that fell to just over half (55%) with three in ten (29%) believing that the industry has a negative impact overall. Across all markets almost half (49%) of those surveyed viewed the pharmaceutical industry more positively than before the pandemic.

Pharma brands face a perception challenge

The survey also found that people are more likely to have heard of pharma manufacturers due to the pandemic but, while overall sentiment towards all the pharma brands we cited had improved, the picture is mixed.

Of respondents in the US, three in five (59%) adults said they knew a little or a lot about the pharmaceutical industry in general, with one in ten (10%) claiming to know ‘a lot’.

Pfizer, the most commonly known vaccine producer in the US, enjoyed a healthy approval rating (68% positive) among those who have heard of the brand in the US. Meanwhile, more than a third (42%) of people said what they heard about Johnson & Johnson was negative.

Factors influencing US adults’ views of pharmaceutical companies in general

When thinking about their views of pharmaceutical companies in general, the most important aspect for US adults is how safe their treatments are (82%), followed by how honest and ethical they are (77%). Three quarters (75%) said the amount of research and development companies conduct into new research is important to them, followed by how fairly they price their treatments (72%).

Less important factors among US adults include whether they also produce consumer healthcare brands they trust (55%), and whether they are based in the US (47%).

The COVID pandemic made pharma companies relevant for everyone. People that hadn’t needed to give them one thought previously were now highly engaged, researching and forming opinions. Knowing where they stand is a crucial to inform effective communications strategies for all companies, and especially now for those in the pharma industry.

As part of its Emerging from Covid-19: What Next for the Pharmaceutical Industry? report, Grayling also interviewed 14 leading pharmaceutical industry experts for their thoughts on the future direction of the pharma sector in a post-pandemic world. To learn from them and to see the complete US and global findings please click here to download a copy of our report.

To hear more about our healthcare practice in the US, please reach out to Lucia Domville.

*Grayling together with Opinium Research to survey 3,000 members of the public in the UK, US, France, Germany, Russia and China.