Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sales Reps Make Poor Spokespeople

I read with despair the article in today's AdAge about Glaxo's strategy to use its sales force as a "PR Machine" ("GLAXO DRAFTS EMPLOYEES TO POLISH INDUSTRY IMAGE: New Strategy Makes Entire Sales Force a National PR Machine").
"Deciding to eschew a traditional corporate branding campaign, Mr. Pucci [Michael Pucci, GSK'’s VP-external advocacy] instead has unofficially 'deputized' his sales force to speak on behalf of GSK and the industry about the affordability of prescription medication; how today's medicines fund the next generation of blockbuster drugs; access to state and federal programs that offset drug prices; and even some common misconceptions about direct-to-consumer advertising."
I have written about Pucci's efforts previously (see "The Empire Strikes Back" and "GSK Strikes Back with a Grassroots Campaign") and I even praised the strategy.

However, I did not pay enough attention to what appears to be Pucci's key tactic: using the 8,000-member GSK sales force to carpet bomb "every county in every state in the country."

I have very little faith in the ability (or even the desire) of sales reps to become
credible spokespeople, especially after reading "Hard Sell" (see "Generation X Pharma Reps").

Sales reps, however, are plentiful and are perfect agents for spewing forth the party line equipped with "aids" and canned presentations, which I am sure is what Pucci is arming them with.
But credible they are not!
I imagine an encounter between a Gen-X sales rep and a Rotarian member after the Powerpoint presentation: "Dude, what will it take to get you to love my company?" Sales reps just have to close the deal!
And credibility is the whole enchilada! Why send out the LEAST credible employees to do PR? Come on, Pucci! Get with it!

Pucci and GSK (and other pharma companies for that matter) need to broaden their horizons and enlist
MORE CREDIBLE employees to carry the PR load. I said this before -- use your rank-and-file employees (secretaries, researchers, etc.) to tell their OWN stories not "salient talking points and answers to tough questions," which are the features of a typical detail!

Also, get with the 21st century version of buzz! Forget the "Rotarians, Elks, Lions Club members, and senior-citizen groups" -- they cannot create buzz. Try blogs, podcasts, etc. If you need help with this, I'm sure there are dozens of people -- including myself! -- who can help you. But, really, get help.

1 comment:

  1. A GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) executive's approach of deploying their sales agents as part of their PR campaign is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

    GSK's previous tactic of featuring company scientists in commercials may somewhat endear industry scientists to the public because scientists in R&D still retain a level of credibility. It makes sense to have a public relations campaign that shows these scientists in their element and try to make a connection with the general public.

    In case of sales representatives, an accurate depiction of these folks in their element would have to show them to be immaculately tailored and carrying expensive PDAs to schedule lunches and dinners as part of their sales campaigns. Mind you, some companies even dictate how their reps should dress and style their hair, but most can spot a rep in a doctor's office by his or her perfect grooming and perky attitude.

    Even if we leave out the company cars and lunches, reps currently do not foster an image of trust or credibility with the public. Until industry- and public image of sales agents grow closer, any PR strategy involving sales reps will only give interest groups and anti-industry activitists more fodder.

    In GSK's case, maybe the horse is not even there for the cart.

    Money is better spent training sales reps to deliver clinical value, or restructuring sales incentive programs so that reps are rewarded for fair-balanced clinical service instead of promotional lip service.


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