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Pharma needs new thought leaders

"Pharma leaders need to step up and take a stand on key issues.” Craig Badings

“Pharma leaders need to step up and take a stand on key issues.” Craig Badings

This opinion piece by Craig Badings first appeared in Pharma in Focus, the only independent source of local news for Australian and New Zealand pharma professionals

“In a time of profound change in the industry, pharma leaders need to step up and take a stand on key issues.” Craig Badings, partner at SenateSHJ and co-founder Leading Thought.

In our book #Thought Leadership Tweet 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign, co-author Dr Liz Alexander and I conclude: “Thought leaders are brave: explore areas others don’t, raise questions other won’t, and provide insights others can’t.”It’s often said that too much red tape stifles creativity. How then does the pharmaceutical industry navigate piles of bureaucracy and still innovate and drive a thought leadership position?

To answer I will use some examples of thought leaders in the industry and identify areas that could be ripe for pharmaceutical thought leadership.

You don’t even have to be 100 per cent confident that you’re right all the time. That’s what we mean by “brave”. Thought leaders are courageous about putting forward provocative, new ways of thinking about issues and they step up to stimulate, lead and shape conversations. In fact, what they put out is often the conversation starter that leads others in their industry to think and act very differently.

Who’s doing it well

Some examples are:

  • Sir Richard Sykes, Glaxo Wellcome’s chairman in the 1990s and one of Britain’s most admired businessmen, who not only transformed GlaxoSmithKline into the world’s largest drug company but championed the UK’s science base and fought tooth and nail to keep R&D and manufacturing in Britain.
  • John Lechleiter, chairman, president and CEO of Eli Lilly who is currently writing a series of posts for Forbes about pharmaceutical innovation and the link to clinical trials.
  • David Epstein, division head of Novartis, who has stated publicly that the industry has a major trust issue. He and the Novartis board have taken a stand on being more open and transparent in informing and supporting the medical fraternity, as well as patients and carers. It’s not just talk; Novartis has committed to renewed ethical guidelines for supporting investigator-initiated clinical trials and is currently drafting a patient declaration, a public charter to which they will be held to account. They’re also committed to driving a culture of doing what’s right for patients, throughout the organisation.
  • Gordon Naylor, head of CSL‘s flu vaccine business, who is driving a campaign to highlight the benefits of vaccines to society.
  • Then there are people like Matt Boyd,  vice president regulatory affairs at Sobi, and Marc Monseau, former director communications and social media at Johnson & Johnson, who are in their own way, leading the use of social media in the pharmaceutical industry. Both have invested considerable time helping their organisations to be more open and engaged with their external audiences via social media channels.

Whether you agree that the above-mentioned deserve the mantle of thought leader or not is a moot point. We can try to fit people into neat definitions of thought leadership, but if the market defines you as one, then you are one.

That said, I believe thought leaders are best identified across two key criteria:

  • evidence of an overarching focus; that is, one thought leading topic that the particular company ”owns”; and
  • content that demonstrates or showcases a unique, revelatory and/or provocative point of view.

Opportunity for pharma leaders

Now is the time for pharma leaders to step up, display some courage and take a stand on key issues. The industry faces profound change, among them declining innovation, increasing regulation, rising costs and tougher, more competitive market conditions.

As a result, drug companies will probably be forced to explore a new model, one that creates more value for patients, providers and payers. This provides an opportunity for leaders with courage and vision to own one of the many potential thought leadership platforms on offer, just as Novartis is already homing in on the ethics space.

One only need consider some of the massive thought leadership opportunities across genomics, research, scientific and medical data mining, stem cell therapy, prevention and cure versus treatment, regenerative medicine, the patient experience, vaccines, the human technology interface, marginal versus real study and trial efficacy and the value to society of a new medicine, to realise that the list is virtually limitless.

What are the benefits?

A strong thought leadership platform owned by senior leadership is more important than ever, not only for brand awareness, but to discover, develop and articulate the company’s higher intent. Done properly, thought leadership in the industry can differentiate a business from its competitors and provide that all important bridge between it and the full healthcare spectrum.

To achieve this requires a strategic approach, one that is endorsed by the senior management team.

There are many examples of thought leadership done well and the companies that get it right will reap numerous internal and external reputation rewards and the likelihood of becoming a beacon for the industry, an agent of meaningful education or change and a magnet for top talent.

About Craig Badings

I am passionate about thought leadership. I help/coach companies and individuals arrive at a robust, strategic thought leadership position and help them take it to market. I have written four books on the topic. The latest, "#THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign" was co-authored with Dr Liz Alexander. My first book on the topic was: "Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership" which outlines a methodology for arriving at a thought leadership position. Both can be found on The third was written with Mignon van Halderen and Kym Kettler-Paddock and is titled: Thought Leadership - how to differentiate your company and stand out from the crowd and the fourth was an ebook with Dr Liz Alexander on five global thought leadership case studies which can be found on this site. I have spent 28 years in the PR consulting industry working across South Africa, London and now Australia where I am a partner in privately owned PR company, SenateSHJ. My areas of expertise include:Thought leadership and strategic communications, corporate and brand positioning, reputation management, crisis and issues management, media coaching and media relations.

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