View Photos

Members Lounge

Past Meetings

March 25, 2015

Turn the conversation around

Kris Rieger from Merck began the meeting by reinforcing that the PMCQ is trying to transform itself into the premier partner for education, career development and networking. He also announced that the PMCQ would soon be launching a new website, so stay tuned! Kris said that it would be interesting to know what pharmaceutical companies are doing beyond their commercial interests to contribute to the greater good of society. To show one of the Merck initiatives, Kelly Leinster presented Merck for Mothers, which has improved access to healthcare for more than 3.6 million mothers around the world. Through the program, Merck has committed itself to a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth.

Kris introduced the speaker for the evening, Terry O’Reilly, the host of Under the Influence on national radio, an award-winning copywriter, best-selling book author and multi-prize-winning advertising sage.

Terry began by asking the audience for their definition of “brand”. He said that there are many different definitions out there, but his definition is:

  • Your brand tells people what you stand for and what you stand against. It is a crystal-clear definition for your stance and what your companies’ goals are.

He added that most competitors stand for the same things, but what they stand against is different, and that is where the opportunity lies.

Terry then showed photographs of four important scientists: Edwin Hubble, Wilhelm Röntgen, Max Planck and Albert Einstein and asked the audience if they recognized any of them. Everyone recognized Einstein and Terry pointed out that was because he was a great “brand”, a brand that was so powerful, he became the “Kleenex” of science. We have the perception that Einstein was the foremost thinker of the 20th century, and perceptions are hard to remove or change.

Terry pointed out that positive perception creates a relationship with the public and customers. If people feel positively toward you, they’ll listen to your messages and take them to heart. This is why your brand, be it your product, company or industry, is so important and needs to be protected. It determines what people think of you and whether they will listen to you. If your brand is negative or fuzzy, your own identity will be working against you.

If people view you with suspicion or they have an incorrect or negative perception of what you do or how you do it, you have to “change the conversation”. But changing a perception is one of the toughest tasks you can face in marketing. People treat perceptions like possessions and don’t want to give them up.

Terry gave an example of how a brand “changed the conversation” with Marlboro cigarettes. When the brand launched “Mild as May” was their slogan and it was marketed as a feminine cigarette. It even had a red tip to hide lipstick marks! Phillip Morris was forced to make a decision to end the brand or try to save it, so they asked their advertising agency if it could be saved. The agency turned to research and did focus groups with brand-dedicated smokers, blind-folded them and gave them a succession of cigarettes. They discovered that the smokers couldn’t identify their brand. Terry said, “In many categories we drink the label and we smoke the advertising. The perception hinges on the perception of the brand and not the qualities.” So the agency for Marlboro took the insights they’d garnered from their research and chose the most masculine image in America at the time – the cowboy. With that, they created one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time. The storytelling imagery of this campaign stayed consistent and became more vivid as time went on. It’s a case study that proves that perception can be influenced and it was done by completely changing the conversation.

In order to “change the conversation” or change perceptions, you need to ask yourself: What is your greatest area of opportunity? You have to find a leverage point, which is always buried deep in research, but it’s there. Terry advised that neutrality is key when conducting focus groups, in order to let the research reveal itself. He said he’s always astonished by how often he was wrong about what he thought the real problem was. Sometimes it was more complicated, but many times it was a tiny problem that he thought was much bigger. It’s a matter of asking the right questions and listening to the answers. He said, “The best marketers are the best listeners.”

He provided another example of how perceptions were changed with a radio commercial he did for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. People weren’t coming to TSO performances, so Terry leveraged their area of opportunity, which was empathy. The commercial was designed to make people feel welcome at the TSO and to dispel their fears. With this commercial, the TSO completely changed the conversation completely.

Terry acknowledged that changing a perception is a difficult and delicate thing that requires consistency and patience, because it is a process and not an event. He left the audience with the following key points on how to change the conversation:


  • Dig for an insight
    • Look for meaning instead of facts
  • Find your greatest area of opportunity
    • Change the conversation and overcome negative perception
  • Be proactive, not reactive
    • Ask yourself: What do people think about you right now? What do you want them to think?
    • The gap between those two questions is your marketing campaign


The floor was then opened for Q&A, which is outlined below.


  • Q : What are your thoughts on pharmaceutical advertising?
    • You have to do “ballet in a phone booth” with all your regulations
    • Need to do something compelling, unique and interesting
    • Embrace the obstacle; the greatest creative is inside obstacles because creativity loves constraint

  • Q : Can you comment on changing the conversation in the digital age?
    • We now judge companies on how they respond to someone else’s comment and how they handle it
    • Companies can go online and listen to what consumers think about their company or products which is a huge opportunity
    • Sometimes your biggest haters are your biggest fans; if you respond to them properly, you can change their perceptions of you

  • Q : How often do people find true insights?
    • We need great strategists, not more creative people, which is where agencies fall down
    • We don’t dig deep enough into the research; the insights are always there, you just have to find them


    View the ‘Turn the conversation around’ video brought to you by Pro-Staging.

Lara Holmes
Medical Writer
Cell: 514-425-4977


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Green Shoots of Opportunity:
How to Find and Harvest Green Shoots in Pharma

Virtual Meeting
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Online only!

Tel: (514) 486-3458
Fax: (514) 486-4794

Creative by Toc Toc Communications
Printing courtesy of Data-Ad
AV courtesy of Pro-Staging
Digital courtesy of
Engage Presentations Inc.

Register now

Click here