Monday, March 06, 2006

8000 Ambassadors

I was reading the February 21st issue of Advertising Age and found an interesting article that revealed that GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, is so troubled by the worsening reputation of its industry that — under the direction of Michael Pucci, GSK's vice president for external advocacy — it is turning all 8,000 members of its U.S. sales force into "public relations ambassadors."

The initiative — dubbed the "Value of Medicine" — has armed the sales force with salient talking points. Pucci has given them what he calls a "learning system" that takes 50 minutes to master and will enable the reps to answer questions about the company and the industry. GSK reps made 15,000 presentations last year, reaching 1.8 million people.

"Reputation matters," says Pucci. "In this industry, it's so important. We have to tell that story of how we're investing for the future."

Not everyone agrees with Pucci's strategy. One marketing executive from a rival company was quoted by Ad Age as saying, "I'm not sure I want 8,000 people on the ground given that level of responsibility ... to basically speak for the company and an industry ... The odds say there's going to be a percentage of them ... that will make a mistake, or stray away from the script."

I disagree. I think Pucci is just formalizing a given in today's world. Every employee in a company — from the CEO to the receptionist — is a public face of the company. Glaxo's sales reps are going to be asked about the high cost of drugs anyway ... so why not provide them with the answers!

The seeds for this new initiative were sown when Pucci read about a 2004 Harris Interactive poll on the perception of various industries, which revealed that pharmaceutical companies received a 44% favorable rating, a huge plunge from 79% in 1997, ranking them just above tobacco and oil companies.

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Blogger markrose said...

GlaxoSmithKline should be lauded for this prescient move. It takes enormous will to change entrenched behavior of a large corporation. Resistance can be intense. But the fact is that open communication is here to stay and those who realize that can build goodwill by assisting, not resisting, the move to open access. By turning the sales force into goodwill ambassadors they are saying "the company story is in your hands ... the future of our industry relies on you." That's strong involvement and a heavy responsibility. It would be interesting to revisit the company in a year to see how the 8000 Goodwill Ambassadors of GlaxoSmithKline have a)changed the perception of the company b) affected the industry as a whole (a tough challenge for one company) c)altered the dynamic of how they work together and with their customers.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006 8:54:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Makovsky said...

Good thinking, Mark! I like the idea of revisiting the company in a year to see what changes have been brought about.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006 11:01:00 AM  

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