Keeping communication healthy
Building best practice
The pharmaceutical and healthcare business is one of the most challenging areas of communication. Communicating on life science and healthcare issues demands a specific set of skills, an in-depth understanding of medical matters and a high level of experience. To achieve set objectives, a multifaceted public relations strategy is very often deployed, such as government relations and regulatory affairs, lobbying, business-to-business, corporate and consumer communication, as well as media relations and leveraging social networks via digital channels.
For instance, topics addressed in communicating healthcare issues differ from improving the quality of everyday life and tips to lose five extra kilos before summer, to highly sophisticated and complex stories on achieving new milestones in the research of cancer or HIV therapies. Lately, public health has been in prime time news referring to H1N1 influenza and the role of the pharmaceutical industry. On one hand, manufacturers are lauded for offering vaccines, while on the other companies are under fire for their testing policies and animal rights.
Because of industry complexity and sensitivities, it is absolutely necessary to have a thorough understanding of the target audiences to be addressed in each communications campaign.
Key audiences in the healthcare sector include:
• Originators of communication – pharmaceutical companies, healthcare institutions or individuals
• Authorities – national and local regulators
• End recipients of messages – current and potential patients
• Expert conveyors of messages – doctors, scientists
• Intermediators of messages – patient organisations and groups; also celebrities and public figures
• Media – reporters as influencers with an increasing importance of digital and social media contributors.
Because of industry idiosyncrasies, the role of the communication consultant is very important and absolutely necessary. On the basis of experience, skills and understanding the complexity of the issue, the consultant’s role is to advise healthcare companies to identify the best model of communication to satisfy the business needs and goals of their clients – sustainably and ethically.
Importance of endorsement
The goal of communication campaigns is the delivery of key messages to audience groups and interaction with those groups. Such messages may be product-oriented, educational, related to responsible-business practice or simply generating news about the company itself for regulatory disclosure reasons. In case of educational campaigns or launching new therapies, third-party endorsement is frequently used to generate audience support for the company’s position and typically those are doctors, key medical specialists or patient associations. Communication consultants identify the correct endorser suited to the subject matter and of appeal to the target audience, to balance the goals of the selected third-party endorser with those of the company.
Traditional media or going digital?
Slovenia’s high internet penetration and usage of social media networks shows that digital communications should be increasingly deployed beyond traditional media in a healthcare campaign’s communications mix. The anonymity offered by the Internet ensures that potential patients can research otherwise sensitive health-related topics before self-referring for treatment or seeking other forms of support.
Successful communication in this fast moving sector requires a truly integrated approach. In our experience successful communicators and consultants need to understand the public policies, local attitudes and traditions and channel them effectively to an increasingly well informed and demanding consumer with clear messages, conveyed in a responsible and credible way.
Špela Bizjak is the Head of Healthcare Communications at Mmd Slovenia