Caroline Roan proudly wears “two hats” at Pfizer – one hat for the company and one for the corporate foundation. She began her corporate responsibility journey focusing on behavioral health, first at Yale University’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, then at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a member of the Foundation’s Community Health Team. From there Caroline moved into the corporate world at Pfizer, starting out in philanthropy, and subsequently broadening her professional portfolio to encompass corporate reputation, corporate advertising, and corporate responsibility (CR). She currently serves on the Conference Board’s Corporate Contributions Council and the Lincoln Center Corporate Fund’s Leadership Committee. Caroline has an undergraduate degree in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College and an M.P.A. from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.
1. AccountAbility: It’s interesting to see how Pfizer has decided to link Reputation, Brand, and Corporate Responsibility. Tell us the rationale for that.
Caroline Roan: When we think of Corporate Responsibility at Pfizer, we think of it as the “How” in how we do business. Nothing influences our reputation more than how we do our business. So putting our corporate reputation efforts together with corporate responsibility seemed a natural extension of this concept.
Brand is the “What” we do. Our corporate brand builds from our core business and product areas and their value proposition and potential for differentiation in the marketplace. In contrast, reputation is the sum total of all of our stakeholders’ individual perceptions based on how we operate, interact and communicate as a company. After all, the expectations of stakeholders are what ultimately drive reputation. In short, we create our brand but earn our reputation.
One of our challenges is that the corporate brand is less recognized than our product brands. When you think of Pfizer, you think of a house of brands, rather than a branded house. Now that’s fine. We want people to think of our products, because the heart of what we do is discovering, developing and bringing to market new medicines. But, that poses challenges – and opportunities – for us as we try to tell the Pfizer business story.
2. AA: Have you been able to track brand reputation rising and falling with your CR efforts?
CR: In some cases, we have been able to demonstrate that actions we’ve taken as a company have had a direct impact on the perception among important stakeholders that Pfizer is doing the right thing. Research tells us that people are concerned about how we market our products and how we communicate safety and risk. The things that broadly fall into the bucket of CR are very much drivers of reputation. For Pfizer, people tend to think that what we do is good, but we could be doing it in a better way. That’s a perfect example of the disconnect between what we do and how we do it.
3. AA: What do you see as the biggest CR-related reputational challenges for the industry today? How are you handling these at Pfizer?
CR: Access and pricing, and safety of medicines remain key issues facing the industry and Pfizer. In terms of access to medicines, we are engaged in research partnerships to develop medicines for diseases like malaria, HIV, and neglected tropical diseases. Our approach has been two-pronged. First, we invest in projects from a commercial perspective like the advance market commitment with GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) and second, from a philanthropic commitment to improve access to medicine. It’s our view that it will take both approaches to be successful in providing access to medicines in developing countries.
On the safety side we continue to work to address the transparency of our clinical trials to ensure that product information and the risk profile of our medicines is clearly understood by patients and physicians. Many of the results of our clinical trials are available on the U.S. Government website so patients can go and look at those results directly.
4. AA: Are you optimistic about the potential for common ground and mutually agreeable solutions?
CR: I think the global dialogue on access to medicines remains quite divisive. We tend to think of it as one step forward, and potentially two steps back. For us to solve the issue of pricing and access, we need to work across sectors, and that means with all our stakeholders, even with our critics, to create sustainable systems to ensure access to medicines — particularly in emerging markets.
It is a complex set of issues that go into the word “access”. It’s the health care infrastructure and delivery system in emerging and least developed markets. It’s government commitment to healthcare. It’s the pharma companies’ commitment to ensuring that the products they make can be made available to those patients. It takes every stakeholder at the table, having discussions, willing to compromise, and working together to create solutions. And we know that there isn’t one right answer or that it’s one actor’s responsibility. It takes time.
But people are impatient and that’s understandable because when people are sick they want to have access to medicines that will help them get better. We can all appreciate that in the context of the human spirit.
5.AA: What about sales and marketing practices for the industry? A number of companies have had high profile issues in the last couple of years. What affect has this had on the industry and how do you observe practices going forward?
CR: Marketing certainly remains a big issue. What makes this challenging is that marketing practices vary widely from country to country in terms of what is allowed. For example, in the U.S., we have direct to consumer advertising which is not allowed in other countries.
No one has a playbook for this.There is a perception out there that drug companies pay doctors to recommend medicines, take them out, and buy them dinners. The reality is that none of those activities have been going on for some time. Still, there is a perception that that is how the pharmaceutical industry operates.To counter this, we have undertaken educational campaigns to show how we work with doctors and the importance of the relationship between the drug company and the doctor to make sure patients have a full understanding of the products that are available to them and the risks and benefits of using those medicines.
At the core, it’s about ensuring compliance and transparency and creating a culture of accountability. We’ve done a lot of work to drive home the message of accountability and reinforce the importance of the behavior of each and every colleague in our global company in driving compliance. Our interaction with health care professionals is absolutely essential in delivering the medicines that improve people’s health and well being and we are committed to conducting ourselves with the utmost integrity. Transparency in our relations with providers is so important to our business.
6. AA: What do you see as the state of the industry’s reputation in key markets such as the US, EU, and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa)? What role will CR play?
CR: Reputation is such a major issue for us in the U.S. and Europe. We try to work effectively to communicate the value of innovation and of the pharmaceutical industry to society but many people in the U.S. and Europe are very skeptical. We are more hopeful and optimistic about the BRIC countries, particularly in Russia and India. We’re trying to do the right thing to grow in these markets. We’re trying to learn from what we did wrong in other markets so that we don’t make those same mistakes again. What’s important for us is to use this opportunity to grow responsibly in these markets and communicate effectively the value proposition of our medicines and industry.
7: AA: It’s no secret the industry is in a state of flux. Nearly all the major companies have questions about pipeline and future earnings. Where should CR be at this time – in the front seat or the backseat?
CR: I may be overly optimistic but I think if we really begin to integrate corporate responsibility into our business strategy, then we can and should be in the front seat despite earnings pressures. In order to make this happen, we need to move beyond thinking of CR as a “nice to have” and rather look at how we grow markets and our business within a responsibility framework.
8: AA: Are there things that a healthcare company like Pfizer needs to do from a CR perspective that have little bearing on Reputation and Brand?
CR: There is a lot of convergence between CR activities and the issues that affect our reputation. Our corporate responsibility efforts are motivated by a business rationale that goes beyond a desire to improve our corporate reputation. As a publicly traded multinational company, some of our CR efforts, such as corporate and financial governance, workplace labor practices and environmental sustainability, are central to protecting our license to operate. Also, it’s simply what is expected of a successful business and a responsible company. Although they don’t create much of a distinctive brand or reputational halo, there is certainly a rationale from a business perspective for doing them. CR activities such as research and development support for neglected tropical diseases, and public health programs in developing countries, also help protect our license to operate. Those activities can have not only a reputational impact among certain stakeholder groups, but help develop new markets as well. The reality, however, is that they don’t necessarily have a short term business value.
In emerging markets, if you’ve been there a long time and have been doing the right work with the right stakeholders and are seen to be helping address the government’s pressing social priorities, it’s more likely that you’re going to have better relationships and more trust. And if people trust you, they are more likely to engage with you in a productive dialogue that can help benefit the business.
In the end, you can’t overpromise. Corporate responsibility is not a short term quarter-by-quarter return. It’s a long term investment in building credibility and trust among stakeholder groups that matter to the business.
9. What is the reputation of CR within Pfizer?
CR: Our new CEO has established four core strategic imperatives for Pfizer. Imperative number 3 is to be respected by society. No other endorsement is greater than that in terms of the importance of the responsibility agenda. Now, does that necessarily translate directly into what people internally think of our CR team? No, not always. But what it does do is give us the opportunity to demonstrate to our executive team and the company the importance of responsibility, reputation and brand in driving and supporting respect by society for the work we do in the industry and at Pfizer.
My job is to ensure that Pfizer has a best-in-class corporate responsibility department and approach. And if one day we don’t have a CR department, that’s fine, because it means we’ve done our job in driving responsibility into the company’s overall business strategy.
10. AA: Any final thoughts or guidance for your fellow CR colleagues?
CR: As I think about the effort to drive the responsibility agenda into the business strategy, I would say to CR practitioners that the more credibility and legitimacy you have in understanding the business, the more likely you are to advance this agenda for years to come.