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COVID-19 Q&A: How Pfizer Prepared Early For the Pandemic

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Focusing on Digital Communication During Coronavirus

We all know that COVID-19 has had a transformative impact on content, marketing strategies, and the ways in which we work (in fact, NewsCred recently commissioned Sirkin Research to conduct a survey aimed at identifying the specific impact of the coronavirus on marketing teams).
But we wanted to speak with some of our best customers directly, in order to learn how they were leading their teams in these unprecedented times, and get a better sense of how we could help.
In this edition of “COVID-19 Q&A”, NewsCred’s CMO, Matt Malanga, sits down with Ellen Gerstein, Senior Director of Content Strategy Engagement at Pfizer to discuss some of the adversities her team is experiencing around shifting focus to digital campaigns and customer engagement.

Q: What are your biggest challenges with dealing with the coronavirus for you and your marketing team?

EG: When we think about how we are handling communications during COVID-19, I feel like we’ve been doing this for a really long time, but really we haven’t been. We started communicating in February, which is probably very early when we started getting signs that things were going on in Asia. We were paying attention. We were seeing what the U.S. was talking about in relation to world events. We started out very slowly with some content on handwashing that we had used for a previous, I think World Hand Washing Week, that’s what it is, awareness time.
We weren’t comfortable with responding yet because followers were looking for information about how we were responding to coronavirus, and we weren’t responding yet. So, we started out with the handwashing content, and we got a very good reaction to it. In fact, we had some members of senior leadership notice it and say, “We need to be doing more of this. We need to be a trusted source for information. And we need to show that we are a company that cares.” So, from the beginning we had a North Star to work towards. And I think that made it much, much easier. The biggest challenge that we found is the content hasn’t always been what we thought it would be, in terms of what followers are looking for.
Our audience has been looking for very straightforward content that answers questions. It’s as if they’re all going to a search engine at the same time and saying, “What is coronavirus? What are the symptoms? How do I know if I have it? Where do I get a test?” And when we’ve followed that kind of guidance, in both our feature stories that we’ve put on our site, as well as our social content and videos that we’ve done, that’s what’s gone over really well. And that’s been surprising to us and also somewhat of a challenge because we’ve wanted to do bigger communications, but really people need trusted guidance. The fact that they’re looking to a pharmaceutical company to provide it, that’s a big responsibility, and we were more than willing to take it on.
I will say that one of the things that we’ve really relied on, in that sense, is the Idea Lab on the NewsCred CMP. Because, very early on, I was putting in coronavirus when it was the novel coronavirus and it didn’t have a name. I was putting that in and seeing what the search terms were that were coming up, where the traffic was. And one of the things that we pegged early on, that we still kind of marvel at, is the search terms for coronavirus in cats and coronavirus in dogs ranked very, very high and they still continue to. But it was the CMP’s Idea Lab that brought it right to light and really did inform a lot of our subsequent content plays, and where we would go. Because again, to be a trusted source of information, you have to be able to answer the questions that people are asking. And that showed us what questions people were asking, and we were able to move from there.

Q: How have your priorities shifted? Your budget shifted? Maybe the tactics shifted?

EG: It’s brought the prominence of digital communication really to the forefront. I’ve said that one of the best things about this whole event, if you can say there’s a silver lining, is that silos have been breaking down. Whereas teams that normally wouldn’t look to us and kind of think, “Oh, there’s that internet thing. I don’t want to deal with that team.” All of a sudden coming to us saying, “You know what? The meeting that was supposed to take place in Frankfurt, in June, has been canceled. So, currently it’s all going to be online and we’ve got to live tweet. What does that mean?”
I would say our priorities have shifted to the degree where… Our followers are still looking for information on COVID-19. If we post something about Earth Day, which happened last week. We still get comments about, “You don’t have any treatments yet? And what are you doing here?” So, we understand that the audience still has that as a priority. At the same time, we don’t want to abandon those patient communities that we have worked for a very long time to develop relationships with. So, the prostate cancer community, the ulcerative colitis patient advocacy groups, we still need to provide them with content and connections wherever possible. We don’t want to just abandon them right now.
In some cases we’ve been able to talk about how COVID-19 affects those with underlying conditions. One of the things that we’ve done, that was really helpful, was to get our Chief Medical Officer and our Chief Patient Officer on very simple videos. Where they’re talking to the camera, and talking to the viewer, and answering those very basic questions.
We actually had an article written, and then we turned it into a script for our Chief Patient Officer. So she could answer those questions in real-time, which was fabulously received. And again, it’s these simple things that… I’m looking for these big whizzbang moments and there’s something so simple that we were getting phone calls from other organizations asking if they could share it, and use it internally, use it externally. So, it’s been shifting priorities, but at the same time, staying in tune with that North Star and really what we’re trying to do right now.

Q: How has NewsCred’s Content Marketing Platform been helpful for you and your team?

Being able to keep track of what people are working on and know where things are with approvals. We’re a regulated industry. So, we can’t just publish anything. It has to go through medical, legal, and regulatory review, in most cases. So, if you have 20 or 30 pieces of content going around, having the CMP and being able to keep track of where everything is going, and who’s doing what, is very helpful.
In my fantasy world, someday, they will be a part of the platform, as well. We’re not dealing with the people who embrace tech. Let’s just say. Someday. Someday, Matt.

Interested in learning more?

Contact us to learn how global brands, like Pfizer, manage their remote teams and shift strategies during a global pandemic.

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