To promote R.Ph.s, Calif. association launches radio spots

September 27, 2004

Pharmacists don't get enough respect. That's an aspect of modern life that the California Pharmacists Association wants to change. CPhA and the nonprofit Pharmacy Foundation of California (PFC) launched what may be the nation's first radio campaign designed solely to elevate the image of pharmacists.

Pharmacists don't get enough respect. That's an aspect of modern life that the California Pharmacists Association wants to change. CPhA and the nonprofit Pharmacy Foundation of California (PFC) launched what may be the nation's first radio campaign designed solely to elevate the image of pharmacists.

"We're not selling a product or trying to get people to buy something," said CPhA spokesman Bill Bradley. "Pharmacists are highly trusted, but the public doesn't know how highly educated pharmacists are and how much they can do to improve health care. We want people to realize pharmacists are more than people who count pills. A lot more."

In August, the two groups launched a pilot campaign in two test markets, Sacramento and San Diego. Listeners of selected talk radio stations heard 15 spots highlighting "Pharmacists ... The Other White Coat." The immediate goal is to boost public awareness of R.Ph.s, said PFC executive director Lynn Rolston. Recent surveys found that the public does not realize that R.Ph.s are the second most highly educated health professionals after physicians.

"The campaign is great," said Fred Mayer, president of Pharmacists Planning Service Inc. "Pharmacists have never had good public relations. What we really need is the pharmacist-equivalent of 'Dr. Kildare' on TV to get the message across. But until that happens, radio is a great way to let people know their pharmacist is somebody who can help improve their health."

In advertising jargon, CPhA is running an "awareness campaign." It is designed to build visibility and name recognition, not to build pharmacy traffic. There are no calls to action, nothing asking listeners to take any specific action or look for a particular product. That comes in 2005 or 2006.

The $60,000 radio campaign, funded by CPhA, is the opening salvo in a five-year program. Future segments will highlight pharmacists as providers of advice and counseling on the appropriate use of medications. Also in the mix will be spots featuring R.Ph.s in less familiar roles such as management of medication therapy and chronic diseases like diabetes. The entire campaign focuses on pharmacists as a network of medication specialists who are part of CPhA's newest commercial venture, Premier Pharmacists Network (PPN).

Still in the planning phase, PPN will organize a variety of local, regional, and statewide networks of R.Ph.s and pharmacies to deliver direct patient care, with fees based on services provided. The networks will be developed for and marketed to payers. Potential targets include government, employer groups, and consumers.

The first step, Rolston explained, is to transform pharmacists' image and the potential value of pharmacy practice among state legislators, decision-makers who buy healthcare services, and public opinion leaders.

The program was launched in Sacramento, the state capitol, to reach legislators, public officials, and the dozens of statewide organizations headquartered there. San Diego is also the site of CPhA's annual meeting in early 2005. Local publicity associated with the meeting will help reinforce the message that R.Ph.s are the most accessible providers of health care.

Why radio? For one thing, Bradley said, it's the most affordable medium. The $60,000 that will buy more than 200 radio spots would be little more than a down payment on similar print or television exposure. More important, he said, radio is more effective in reaching CPhA's target audience.

"Radio has the greatest penetration in the markets we want to reach," said Paulette Bruce-Miller, spokeswoman for Crocker/Flanagan, the Sacramento ad agency that created the campaign. The legislators, opinion leaders, and decision-makers CPhA and PFC are trying to reach are generally adults between the ages of 46 and 64, she said.

"Radio is the one medium boomers trust and respond to," said Phil Goodman, president of the Boomer Marketing & Research Center in San Diego. "They grew up with radio, and it's the one medium they still have faith in." Radio works because it can be focused on very specific markets, he explained. According to radio rating service Arbitron, the average adult aged 18 to 64 listens to radio more than 21 hours weekly.

"Baby boomers are making decisions in the legislature and other arenas that impact healthcare spending," Bruce said. "Boomers are getting older, having more health problems, and managing their aging parents' health. The message is that your pharmacist is the one person who can help you with all of these things."