New team maps campaign to promote pharmacist’s role

New team maps campaign to promote pharmacist’s role

Antoinette Alexander

For the first time in the history of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the organization is developing a program designed to enhance public awareness of the pharmacist’s role as a primary healthcare provider. The program is built around an ambitious communications campaign, which includes the development of a new communications team at NACDS.

The three-year program, known as “Project Pharmacy Care,” is intended to “re-establish both pharmacy and pharmacists as a critical link in a quality health care system,” according to Susan Guiterman, who was promoted to senior vice president of communications and external affairs at NACDS earlier this year. The unique element of the initiative, said Guiterman, is showcasing and involving chain members in helping to deliver a consistent industry message.

“We believe it will support our federal and state advocacy efforts and really increase the attractiveness of pharmacy as a career, positively impacting our members’ business climate,” she added.

NACDS is currently in the research and development phase of the project and plans to begin implementing initial elements of the program in the fall. It has not been determined how much the association will invest in the effort.

Using six different delivery methods–media relations, advocacy advertising, coalition building, the Internet, publications and community affairs–the association will work to send its pro-pharmacist message to consumers, employers, students, educators and policy makers. To help execute this initiative, NACDS has put in place a new communications team, which includes Guiterman’s recent promotion from NACDS’s vice president of state government affairs to her current position.

To focus on media relations and consumer outreach, NACDS has hired Kelley Gannon as vice president of media relations. Gannon will head efforts to carry chain pharmacy’s message to the general public through the consumer press. Vice president of public affairs Phil Schneider has been named vice president of external affairs and program development to build third party and community outreach programs. John Covert, director of communications, will handle NACDS publications and the association’s Web site, www.nacds.org, as well as develop new electronic initiatives.

“This integrated effort is really the focus of the department and a major undertaking we are launching,” said Guiterman of the Pharmacy Care Project. “We developed this plan by working with our members, and they are enthusiastic and ready to go.”

Evaluating the research

The impetus for the campaign was a study con ducted last year for NACDS by Wirthlin Worldwide. This study revealed that while 80 percent of the respondents viewed pharmacists favorably, when unaided only 18 percent considered pharmacists to be primary health care providers. “The Wirthlin research points out there is a large awareness gap when it comes to pharmacy,” Guiterman explained.

One of the outlets NACDS has identified as a means to help close this awareness gap is the media. In a move to promote national coverage of the campaign, NACDS has begun meeting with publications and other media outlets across the country to strengthen ties with reporters. The goal, said Guiterman, is to get news coverage that will “educate the public and opinion leaders on the value of pharmacy services.”

Advocacy advertising is another major vehicle, said Guiterman, who noted that NACDS is looking to develop and test public education advertising that emphasizes pharmacists as key health care providers. A third slice of the pie is coalition building, but with a twist.

“Coalition building is very important. We’ve worked for years with traditional industry associations, public health advocacy organizations and different consumer groups. But I think the key to success … is to form some unconventional strategic alliances,” she said.

Among the efforts that fall under this umbrella of “unconventional” alliances, Guiterman cited: unions with the media, to work on public service campaigns; and projects with labor and business organizations, to help educate employers on pharmacy health care. NACDS also expects to seek alliances with higher education institutions and student organizations, an especially important piece of the puzzle as pharmacy sales increase and enrollment in pharmacy schools decrease. According to NACDS, in 2000 total retail prescription sales reached $140.7 billion, up 16 percent from $121.7 billion in 1999.

One way NACDS is reaching out to students is by

publishing a pharmacy career guide in Glamour, a popular fashion magazine for young women. Guiterman said publishing the guide in Glamour makes sense because research shows that two-thirds of all pharmacy students are women. “We are looking for other outlets like that, non-traditional partners, to get our word out to the audience,” she said.

To extend its reach to association members, NACDS in April revamped its Web site, www.nacds.org. The site, which had more than 1 mil lion hits in March and again in April, is now easier to use and is customizable. It also features “members only” content and enhanced e-mail and print functions. In addition, the site enables users to access many industry resources, such as an online membership directory and NACDS publications.

Guiterman said that as NACDS moves forward with the communications campaign it will tie in its site by posting campaign materials, such as talking points, editorials and advertisements.

Building community affairs efforts

NACDS’s electronic communications–such as First Monday and Quick Clicks–also will serve as a forum for the association as it forges ahead with Project Pharmacy Care. First Monday, an international electronic newsletter that contains information about U.S. and international pharmacy operations, was launched in March. In May, NACDS announced the release of Quick Clicks, an electronic information resource geared toward associate members.

The sixth spoke in the wheel of Project Pharmacy Care is community affairs. “Our members are giving so much back to their neighborhoods, yet there is not a lot of public recognition that they play such a vital role in the communities in which they operate,” Guiterman said.

One example of NACDS’s community affairs effort is its alliance with “America’s Promise–The Alliance for Youth,” to help develop “Pharmacies of Promise” across the nation over a three-year period. These pharmacies will develop mentoring programs, sponsor internships for students, provide healthcare services and promote health insurance programs.

The NACDS Charitable Foundation has pledged at least $300,000 over the next three years in sup port of this initiative, and will expand that commitment through the contributions and volunteer efforts of its member chain pharmacies and their employees. NACDS also will seek to develop partnerships with its associate member companies that supply goods and services to the industry.

“This alliance with America’s Promise gives the entire chain drug industry a tremendous amount of opportunity,” Guiterman added.

“Covering all of these different facets and working with all of these different delivery mechanisms, we will reach our target audience,” said Guiteman. “By benchmarking, tracking and measuring our success we will know that we are closing that awareness gap.”

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