While some bankers (and even some Fools) would like to see executives at the likes of Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), Citigroup (NYSE:C), and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) get bonuses -- TARP money notwithstanding -- pharmaceutical companies seem to have figured out that perception is pretty important.

Well, many of them, anyway.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) CEO William Weldon turned down an increase in his base pay this year that was recommended by the compensation committee. He's still guaranteed just over $1.8 million and potential bonuses, but the idea of not taking a raise should play well with investors.

Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) also got in the act. It cut the pay on severance packages for many of its top executives. The executives that are terminated without cause -- after the merger with Wyeth (NYSE:WYE), for instance -- would still get one to two times the total of their annual base salary and target bonus, but remember, it's all about appearances. A silver parachute looks good to investors when all they've seen previously is gold.

And then there's Merck (NYSE:MRK), which seemed to have missed the memo. Last year, CEO Richard Clark got a 20% raise in his total compensation that totals a whopping $17.3 million after adding up all the perks. Most of that increase came from an increase in the amount of stock options, which are now underwater, but again, it's all about how investors perceive the value of the compensation. Increases of 20% when its stock fell nearly 50% just doesn't sound right.

Sometimes in investing, public relations are just as important as earnings -- especially during the bear market we are in.

Johnson & Johnson is a current pick of Motley Fool Income Investor; Pfizer and Bank of America are former recommendations of the newsletter. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.